Friday, December 9, 2016

The Monarch of the Glen with Douglas Laing's Rock Oyster

If you remember the tv version of 'Monarch of the Glen' forget it, all it has in common with Compton Mackenzie's work of comic genius is some names and a vague location. If you haven't read it, do. It's a book I've given, and tried to give, to a few people (a total fail to turn up a copy in the second hand bookshops of Inverness thwarted my most recent attempt.)

Not so much really happens, the glens are alive with impoverished lairds doing their level best to separate rich Americans from some of their hard earned dollars, and there's an unfortunate run in with some hikers. The joy of Compton Mackenzie is in the details, and in his affection for the people he's caricaturing. Hector Macdonald's might not be as common a type as they once were, but they're still around if you know where to look, and in an uncertain world there's something comfortingly nostalgic about this book. Mostly though, it's just brilliantly funny.

I believe Hector Macdonald had some fine (possibly illicit) malt whisky, but the usual thing in the 1940's when this book was published, and earlier when it's set, would have been a blend, and as interesting things seem to be happening on that front it feels like a good time to enjoy both.

Whisky terminology can get a bit involved, but basically you get single malt which means malt whisky (barley base, pot distilled) from a single distillery. Blended whisky is a mix of various single malts, and grain whisky, which doesn't have to be all barley, is made in a continuous still, a process that gives a spirit with a higher alcohol content and which is smoother and lighter than pot stilled spirit. It's also cheaper to produce. It basically to smooths out the rough edges and help marry everything together in a blend. There is also vatted malt, which is a blend of single malts but no grain whisky- which is what Rock Oyster is.

As the profile, and price, of single malt has grown, blends have been rather looked down upon, but for generations they represented quality and consistency which single malts, when available, didn't provide.

Rock Oyster has who knows what in it (Jura and Arran for sure, possibly Scapa, maybe Bunnahabhain, maybe Old Pultney - part of the fun is trying to guess). It's a salty sweet sort of a whisky, maritime is definitely the best way to describe it, and for my money the best in This range from Douglas Laing (though I would like both Timorous Beastie and Scallywag just for the glorious packaging, never mind the decent dram inside). That's the best in a pretty strong selection (I really like this whisky).

At around £40 this is a premium product, but it's worth it, and generally I'm finding malt blends to be more interesting than their single no age statement cousins (though that's a personal, rather than a quality, judgement) at the same kind of price.

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