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The Literary Dram

A Spirit in one hand, a Book in the other

The Whisky:  SPRINGBANK15 years

www.springbankwhisky.com

The Book:  WHISKY FROM SMALL GLASSES by D. A. Meyrick

A Scottish crime novel set in the region of Campbeltown with whisky in the title, penned by a former manager at Springbank Distillery, paired with Springbank’s own 15-year-old. The stars are surely aligned.

THE WHISKY

The yellow-brown colour of late autumn leaves. Sightly cloudy and flavour-rich, a touch oily, a touch smoky. Sherried nose, caramels and worn leather, fruits and dark chocolate. From strength to strength. Warming the palate with tannic spice, caramelized coconut. Lingering to the point of huge respect. (46% abv, non chill-filtered, no colour added)

Campbeltown is at the southeastern tip of the Kintyre Peninsula, not an easy place to get to even by Scottish standards. The isolated coastal town once boasted over 30 distilleries. It billed itself as the ‘whisky capital of the world’. But in the early decades of the the 20th century quality gave way to quantity. The Depression hit and so did Prohibition in the United States. The railway gave easy access to the whiskies of Speyside. By 1930 only three distilleries remained.

Springbank was one of them. Founded in 1828 by the great-great grandfather of the present owner, Hedley Wright, it has remained in the hands of successive generations of the J & A Mitchell family. Springbank is the oldest independent distillery in Scotland and prides itself on its traditional methods. If you were to visit one distillery in the country to get a feel for prime whisky-making from another era, this would be it. Springbank continues to be held in the highest regard, not just by traditionalists, but by whisky enthusiasts everywhere.

It is the only distillery in Scotland to carry out the total production process on site, and the only one to malt all its barley by traditional floor malting. Continuing from its unique two-and-a-half-times distillation and long fermentation, through to the bottling, the whisky is truly ‘handmade’. Springbank is proud to note it employs considerably more people than most distilleries its size.

Unlike other Springbank whiskies, the 15-year-old is matured solely in ex-sherry casks. It makes for a fuller, richer experience than the younger bottling. It is somewhat sweeter, with a measure of peat showing through. It is often thought of as an after-dinner drink, with or without the cigar. By all accounts a grand dram. The perfect accompaniment to a good page turner.

THE BOOK

Whisky is mentioned by brand three times in the novel – Springbank (of course), Highland Park, and Talisker. For our central character the double dram would seem a common refuge at the end of a long day toughing it out on the crime scene. Whisky weaves unobtrusively through the story, set somewhere on the Kintyre Peninsula, a locale likely modelled on Campbeltown.

The fictional coastal village is Kinloch. Washed up on shore at Kinloch is the first of the three dead bodies that set the story in motion. It prompts the arrival of Detective Chief Inspector Jim Daley, impatient, overweight, freshly done in by an unfaithful spouse. He has been sent from Paisley to take charge, together with his pal, DS Brian Scott. The pair play off each other with a vernacular dexterity that continuously enriches the book, just one example of the author’s smack-on skills with dialogue.

Once the reader bonds with the lead characters, the story flies, as incident builds on incident, all flavoured with the banter of well-drawn characters traversing the Scottish landscapes, and its adjacent waters. In fact one of the best scenes takes place on the rough open ocean, where seasickness adds that extra measure of grimy realism to the crime scene. Throw in a boatload of Latvian drug smugglers, together with high-level police corruption and there is all the reason a reader needs to keep the pages turning.

Author D.A. Meyrick credits his co-workers at Springbank with being inspiration for some of the humorous characters that show up in the novel. Meyrick later had a stint as a Glasgow police officer, which no doubt has also served him well. When a bout of ill-health forced him to give up that job he turned to writing, a life-long interest, as a form of therapy. Whisky from Small Glasses is the result.

And a great success it has been. A follow-up novel – Death of Remembrance – is not far from publication, this time with a big name publisher in Edinburgh. A beginning writer off to a terrific start.

I’m not normally drawn to crime fiction, and I have to admit it was the title of the book that caught my eye, as did several enthusiastic reviews, propelling me into ordering the book from the UK. Now it’s the novel I’ve chosen for the next meeting of the guys at the book club. Seven of us sitting around discussing its merits, mimicking the accents, lapping into whisky-flavoured edibles, and raising some small glasses of Springbank 15-year-old. Sounds rich to me.

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