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The Literary Dram

A Spirit in one hand, a Book in the other

The Whisky:  Douglas Laing & Co.Scallywag

www.douglaslaing.com

The Book:  The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

I know of no other fox terrier smart enough to find herself on a whisky label. Nor do many find themselves in seriously good fiction. Asta, the canine charmer in Dashiell Hammett’s classic crime story jumps to mind, on the big screen at least. Alas, in the book she had the temerity to be a schnauzer. But for the sake of good whisky we’ll link the two. Scallywag, meet Asta. THE WHISKY

In the tulip glass a golden yellow, then, within range of the nose, sensitive, delicately sweet, and spicy. A mélange of vanilla, earthy nut fruits, sherry. No one overwhelming the other. Together — a subtle triumph. The palate activates the spice in a semi-creamy, peppery fruit compote, a charming lead-up to Christmas. (46% abv, non-chillfiltered, no added colour) And yes, it goes without saying, a top dog of a whisky.

Douglas Laing & Co. is a Glasgow-based, innovative independent bottler. Founded in 1948 by Frederick Douglas Laing, the firm was subsequently run for many years by his two sons, Fred and Stewart. In 2013 the brothers amicably split the assets and went their separate ways, Fred and his daughter Cara heading up the original company, and Stewart and his two sons establishing Hunter Laing & Co.

Douglas Laing & Co. remains one of Scotland’s largest independents, with a broad range of premium single malts and blended whiskies, from the serious and sophisticated to the rogue Big Peat, the very popular, adept mash-up of four Islay malts. The label image resembles a bruiser of a lumberjack on a bad hair day, which seems no hindrance when it comes to winning awards. Scallywag follows in its footsteps, except this time the malts are from Speyside (including Glenrothes, Macallan, Mortlach, Inchgower and Dailuaine). The high-end blended malts are aged in Spanish sherry butts and ex-bourbon casks. The packaging is fun, 1930-ish sophisticated.

Scallywag, a small batch release first bottled in 2013, was inspired by the distillery’s long line of smart but mischievous fox terriers, in particular one by the name of Binks. The dog has since passed away, but the inspired dram lives on.

THE BOOK

The Thin Man was Dashiell  Hammett’s fifth and final novel. It was published in January of 1934, just a month after the repeal of Prohibition in the United States. The country was ready to drink and the novel gave every reason to, if one were to judge by the lifestyle of the chic New York couple at the centre of the story. Scotch arrives on page two and a drink is forever close at hand, any time of the day. Hammett’s book defined the hard-boiled detective story, making Nick and Nora Charles among his most enduring characters. They’re a witty, wisecracking pair, having great fun with the game of love, indifferent to what society makes of them. They are the perfect vehicle for Hammett’s mastery of dialogue.

The plot (and all crime novels must rely heavily on plot) centres around the murder of Julia Wolfe, secretary and former lover of Claude Wynant, a one-time client of Nick. Ex-detective Nick is drawn into solving the crime against his will, complicated by the fact that Wynant is a strange no-show throughout the book. His lawyer is on the scene, as is Mimi, his ex-wife, and new hubby, and nobody seems to be playing it straight with the two young adult children.

What rescues the novel from being mundanely convoluted is Hammett’s writing style and his development of the lead couple. The writing owes a debt to Hemingway in its threadbare, forthright manner, relying for effect on the candour and cheekiness of Asta’s owners, Nick and Nora. The dog, too, has his moments, and perhaps even more of them in the movie and its several sequels. Asta’s a scallywag, no doubt about it.

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