What Comes Naturally

By Sam MacDonald on Fri 27th Jan 2017

Sam MacDonald

“No matter what anyone tells you about the fine old drop of mountain dew, it stands to sense that a few old men sitting up in the back haggard in the mountains with milk churns and all matter of improvised apparatus cannot hope to make decent spirit.”

Brendan Behan

It is true that the oldest records of distilling (for the purposes of drink) in this part of the world, belong to Ireland. Bushmills is the world’s oldest licensed distillery.

So we Irish are justified in our claim that we invented whiskey. However, inebriation and memory tend to be mutually exclusive (and allusive) and distilling more than likely pre-dates the practice of keeping a journal or diary.

What is true is that the northern part of Ireland and the western isles of Scotland are naturally and socially suited to the production of spirit, whether it is matured or not.

I have always enjoyed telling people that while countries around the world produce a drink called whisky/whiskey, their history of doing so is intentional; whereas for Ireland and Scotland, it is incidental.

Barley grows here naturally and our climate is consistently cool and damp. This might make us all feel miserable, but it is perfect for maturing spirit and it gives us the inspiration and the inclination to drink the stuff!

However, in order to define anything, a barrier must be created and a finality must be assumed. Drink is no exception. Since the time of Napoleon Bonaparte, this definition has been achieved through the creation of ‘appellation’, otherwise known as a border. I always preferred the other French term for this – ‘terroir’ – because that is an inherently indefinable concept which acknowledges the nature of alcohol rather than its nationality.

Dal Riada is the most important whisk(e)y producing region in the world. If the Rift Valley is the cradle of civilisation, then I’d suggest Dal Riada is the baby bouncer of spirit-induced drunken debauchery.

Whisk(e)y began here because nature demanded it. From barley to bottle, our climate and community suits the spirit.

But in a world where definitions are necessary in order to alleviate needless pub chat, What defines the whisk(e)y of Dal Riada? We’ll get to that next time.

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