Author Patricia Nicol reveals a selection of the best books on: Whisky

Author Patricia Nicol unveils a selection of the best books on: Whiskey

  • Patricia Nicol says Burns Night is perfect to celebrate the end of dry January
  • Whiskey rationing has lowered the mood at Compton Mackenzie’s Whiskey Galore
  • Whiskey plays a role in Roddy’s fall in Graeme Macrae Burnet’s Bloody Project

Tired of dry January? Even vegans? Then I could suggest Burns Night as a solemn occasion to see them both off.

Today is the day the Scots, the Scottish diaspora, and arguably a more niche cohort who love sheep casing dishes, celebrate the birth of Scottish national poet Robert Burns. My husband and I tick all three boxes above. After about ten dry days in January we will enjoy a little dram alongside our haggis, neeps and tatties.

Whiskey can be dangerous, but in Compton Mackenzie’s Hebridean war cape Whiskey Galore, it really is Uisge Beatha, Scottish Gaelic for “the water of life”.

The book is set in 1943 on the fictional twin islands of Great and Little Todday, where whiskey rationing has made the mood terribly bad. When the SS cabinet minister, who is flying to the USA with a load of export whiskey, runs aground off the coast, the islanders gather to rescue their cargo. The mood lifts instantly, as happily evoked in a vocal scene in the classic film version from Ealing Studios 1949, available on iPlayer through February 14th. Fill your boots.

Whiskey plays a role in Roddy's fall in Graeme Macrae Burnet's Bloody Project (pictured)

Patricia Nicol unveils a selection of books on whiskey, including Compton Mackenzie’s Whiskey Galore (pictured left) and Graeme Macrae Burnet’s Bloody Project (pictured right)

In the crime fiction fiction of Tartan Noir, whiskey is used as a libation to induce a confession. It can also be a lonely crutch: in the early hours of the morning, Ian Rankin’s Detective Inspector Rebus from Edinburgh often sips at Highland Park while pondering a case.

Graeme Macrae Burnet’s 2016 booker shortlist His Bloody Project is a historical drama set in the northwestern highlands. These are allegedly papers related to the murder trial of 17-year-old Roderick Macrae in 1869, including his written confession. Ale and whiskey play their part in Roddy’s downfall.

Even so, he judges other people’s drinking. He describes the people in the neighboring hamlet of Aird-Dhu and writes: “Together with everyone who works in the fishing industry, the men devote themselves to the unbridled consumption of whiskey, while their wives are notoriously wanton.”

While exposed to the dangers of too much whiskey, I’ll have a little sniff tonight. If you do too, then Sláinte!


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