Through the years, famous people have left us with quotable quotes about whiskey, sometimes prophetic and sometimes humorous. Well-known examples include “I should never have switched from Scotch to martinis” (allegedly Humphrey Bogart’s last words); “I just had 19 shots of whiskey. I think that’s a record” (allegedly Dylan Thomas’s last words); and the ever-popular advice from W. C. Fields, “Always carry a large flagon of whisky in case of snakebite, and furthermore, always carry a small snake”.
In the next few posts, I’ll cite works by literary notables and songwriters both acknowledged and anonymous, as they put their own passionate feelings about whisky into their prose and poetry for our enjoyment.
Aqua vitae, uisge beatha, eau de vie, water of life have all been cited by bards, wordsmiths, lyricists and laureates in their creative works. In 1577, Raphael Hollinshed published in his Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland: “It sloweth age, it strengtheneth youth, it helpeth digestion, it cutteth flegme, it relisheth the harte, it lighteneth the mynd, it quickeneth the spirits, it cureth the hydropsie, it repelleth gravel … and trulie it is a sovereign liquor if it be orderlie taken.” Incidentally, the accounts of Kings Duncan and Macbeth in Hollinshed’s Chronicles are generally agreed upon as being Shakespeare’s primary source for his Macbeth.
The first recorded sale of grain specifically for the purpose of distilling, as well as ingredients and influences in the making and aging of whisky are cited in Drams, by the UK’s current Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy. Duffy is the first woman to hold the title in over four centuries. Rumor has it that whisky fits somewhere into remuneration for the unpaid status of the honorary position.
Carol Ann Duffy
Poet Laureate of the U.K.
In Glen Strathfarrar a stag dips to the river where rainclouds gather.
Dawn, given again, and heather sweetens the air. I sip at nothing.
A cut-glass tumbler, himself splashing the amber … now I remember.
The love of the names, like Lagavulin, Laphroaig, loosening the tongue.
Beautiful hollow by the broad bay; safe haven; their Gaelic namings.
It was Talisker on your lips, peppery, sweet, I tasted, kisser.
First the appearance then the aroma, mouth-feel; lastly, the finish.
Under the table she drank him, my grandmother, Irish to his Scotch.
Barley, water, peat, weather, landscape, history; malted, swallowed neat.
Out on Orkney’s boats, spicy, heather-honey notes into our glad throats.
Allt Dour Burn’s water – pure as delight, light’s lover – burn of the otter.
The gifts to noses – bog myrtle, aniseed, hay, attar of roses.
The snows melt early, meeting river and valley, greeting the barley.
What does it whisper, the Golden Promise Barley, to the cool salt breeze?
Empty sherry casks, whisky-sublime accident – a Spanish accent.
Drams with a brother and doubles with another … blether then bother.
The perfume of place, seaweed scent on peaty air, heather dabbed with rain.
Liquid narrative of Scots and Gaelic, uttered on the tasting tongue.
With Imlah, Lochhead, Dunn, Jamie, Paterson, Kay, Morgan, with Maccaig.
Not prose, poetry; crescendo of mouth music; not white wine, whisky.
Eight bolls of malt, to Friar John Cor, wherewith to make aquavitae.
Aqua Vitae or uisge beatha, eau de vie or water of life.
A recurring dream: men in hats taking a dram on her coffin lid.
The sad flit from here to English soil, English air, from whisky to beer.
For joy, grief, trauma, for the newly-wed, the dead bitter-sweet water.
A Quaich; Highland Park; our scared sips in the shared dark when the lights went out.
Water through granite, over heathery moorland, peat, moss, grass, reed, fern.
The unfinished dram on the hospice side-table as the sun came up.
What the heron saw, the leaping salmon’s shadow, shy in this whisky.
Another whisky heavy-hitter offering a wonderful whisky quote was Alfred Barnard, writing in 1887 in The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom: “Again, I wish to stimulate an interest in the art of distilling among those who trade in whisky, and to aid in demonstrating what I am convinced is correct, that good whisky, as a beverage, is the most wholesome spirit in the world.”