Friday, December 15, 2017

Whisky Galore with Blended whisky (again)

Yesterday I bought a DVD of the 'Whisky Galore' remake. Now in all honesty I had my doubts about this film, it didn't really seem to make much impact when it came out, and the original was so good it was always going to be a tough act to follow. That film is one of my all time favourites for it's warmth, humour, and atmosphere. It's that rare thing, a film that's as good as the book it's based on.

Compton Mackenzie wrote a lot, and I have read a little of what he wrote - enough to know that some books work better than others, and that 'Whisky Galore' and 'Monarch of the Glen' deserve their classic status (or just about classic status, they haven't quite had the full treatment yet, but they're both brilliant, it's telling that whenever I've been in Leakey's* there's about a yard of Mackenzie's books, but never either of these two).

Anyway, the remake is pretty bad. The characterisation is generally poor, there's a ridiculous sub plot shoe horned in about the Duke of Windsor and a missing despatch box, and a secret service man who doesn't really end up doing anything. Captain Wagget lives in a lighthouse, which you wouldn't particularly want to do in war time, and doesn't leave anywhere for the lighthouse keepers to live either, but more importantly looses the sense of how he sees his social position as the local Laird. Mostly though, it's just not funny, which is unforgivable.

In case anyone doesn't know, 'Whisky Galore' was based on actual events, in 1941 the SS Politician went down off Eriskay, 28,000 cases of whisky in her hold, and amongst other things the modern equivalent of several million pounds in cash. Islanders from across the outer Hebrides looted the wreck until customs and excise had it blown up. The money doesn't appear in 'Whisky Galore' and whilst grabbing the liquor might (and was) seen as legitimate salvage, taking the money which subsequently turned up all over the world is perhaps a bit harder to justify.

The whisky would most likely have been 'blended', a term that's currently used slightly dismissively for a product that has been seen as second rate compared to a single malt. That's starting to change again for a few reasons. Blended whisky is a mix of single malts, made from malted barley in a pot still, and grain whisky, which also uses other grains and is made in a continuous still which gives it a much smoother, somewhat sweeter, lighter, style. You can use any number of single malts to create the flavour profile you want, with the grain whisky providing a background that for itvall to marry together in.

Traditionally blends, especially the bigger brand names, offered consistency and quality - and they still do. The Famous Grouse for example uses significant amounts of Highland Park and Macallan, Johnnie Walker has some of Islay's finest in it, and there's a whole new generation of premium blends and 'Vatted Malts' (a mix of several single malts) and they're worth looking at.

Given the choice between a no age statement malt at around £40 or a premium blend at between £20 - £30, I would expect to find rather better drinking with the blend, and any familiar brand of blended scotch will reliably give value and quality (some of the very cheap ones might not make for particularly interesting or characterful drinking, but you might not be looking for that). I'm very pleased to see that slight prejudice against disappear.

*The second hand book heaven in Inverness


  1. I saw Whiskey Galore on TV many years ago, and waiting for it come around again!

  2. its a brilliant film, I have a copy on DVD that comes out regularly.