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PART OF THE The Gift of Reading ISSUE

‘No other drink is named after a country, which is why whisky is more than just a drink for me. When I’m feeling homesick, I’ll have a dram.’

Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish are better known to us as the stars of Outlander, but here, in Clanlands, they have become intrepid travel writers, travelling around the Highlands on a road trip to remember. Here is an extract from their journey, as they appreciate our national drink.

 

Extract taken from Clanlands: Whisky Warfare and a Scottish Adventure Like No Other
By Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish
Published by Hodder & Stoughton

 

GRAHAM

I wish I was the whisky-drinker Sam is. I stand in admiration as he chooses a whisky, casting his eye appreciatively over the selection, murmuring with surprise at a particular bottle he’s not tried before. Ordering with confidence, tasting with élan. You can see the barman realises this is a man who knows his shit. I just stand there nodding impressively, once again managing to look like I know what I’m doing without actually having a clue. And Sam and I have sampled some good ones. We both went to an Italian fan convention where our green room was furnished with a 1939 Laphroaig (listed at an eye watering $40,000 per bottle), a 1953 Mortlach and a 1970 Glenfarclas. Incredible.

And now, Richard and Sam are waiting for me to choose which whisky to sample and it’s not that I don’t like whisky, please don’t get me wrong, it’s just I don’t know what I like at nine in the morning nursing a hangover, after a bowel-loosening drive with Heughan. . .

SAM

The concentration of driving a boat on wheels has made me parched; as we say in these parts, my thrapple is dry. Richard hands us a glass of twenty-six-year-old cask-strength whisky distilled in the Black Isle in the northern Highlands at a gentle 46.9% proof.

All: Slainte!

Graham looks at me sheepishly as he takes a sip. He struggles to swallow. Richard explains it’s cask-strength, meaning it’s not watered down. I love the stronger stuff – it’s heavier on the tongue and feels special. If you’re a fan of Scotch, even just ‘nosing’ a whisky and smelling the sugars or flavours can be very enjoyable. The clear liquid takes on the colour and flavours of each barrel, such as French oak, as many are aged in barrels that previously held bourbon or sweet wine. As they age, the whisky deepens, becoming more balanced and less fiery, with notes of butterscotch, cinnamon, honey, leather, citrus and tobacco. The smell can transport you . . .

Graham: You remind me of Jilly Goolden.

Sam: Who?

Graham: Never mind, before your time. Similar hairstyle.

Richard recommends a wee splash of water with cask-strength whisky, which breaks up the oils and releases more flavour. Scotch. No other drink is named after a country, which is why whisky is more than just a drink for me. When I’m feeling homesick, I’ll have a dram. It brings me great comfort: the smell brings back memories of Scotland; the taste takes me home. . .

Many crofters supported themselves by generating income from the sale of their whisky. The earliest written record of Uisge-beatha, ‘Water of Life’, is in the Scottish Exchequer Rolls for 1494, where there is an entry of ‘eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make aquavitae’. A boll was an old Scottish measure of not more than six bushels. (One bushel is equivalent to 25.4 kilograms). Shared around the hearth, it would ‘bond’ men together as they exchanged stories and banter, just as it does today, even with Graham’s stinky chat. Oops, he’s slumping. ‘Sit up, Graham.’ Honestly, it’s like going out with yer granddad. Next he’ll be telling stories from the war . . .

 

Clanlands: Whisky Warfare and a Scottish Adventure Like No Other by Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish is published by Hodder & Stoughton, priced £20.00.

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