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An American tourist asked me the other day if I was a whisky drinker.

“Yes,” I said, puffing out my chest like the upstanding Scotsman I am, after all that’s the answer he was looking for. I hate to disappoint the tourists.

“What’s your favourite?” he asked, although I had the feeling he wasn’t looking for a recommendation as such and probably knew more about single malt whisky than I did.

“Well that depends,” I said sounding as worldly wise as possible. “Everyone has their own palate…” and then I went off on a colourful speech about the differing qualities of Islay malts to Speyside, but eventually settled on Aberlour. A bottle of which I am very slowly working my way through at the moment – 15 year old, sherry cask.

What struck me was the romantic associations whisky has –  and I’m twisting this back around to writing here – with the creative impulse. The well-worn image of the writer at his desk, glass of whisky at hand. It worked for Hemingway (although I’d imagine whisky was only one of many tipples he enjoyed). I went through my wannabe 1920’s writer stage, reading Miller and Hemingway and Fitzgerald and smoking Lucky Strikes and drinking cheap whisky. Bringing this over to the novel I am researching, it seems that not a moment went by in a Drover’s life when he wasn’t enjoying his ram’s horn of uisge beatha. Every market and business transaction was coloured by the alcohol, and these guys walked miles every day over hill and through glen with little to eat.

I had a dram last night while puzzling over a new short story, and I can’t say it was the whisky that helped, but 770 words appeared on the page that I was reasonably happy with. At least, I hope it wasn’t the whisky that helped. That could become expensive.

The tourist turned out to be fairly knowledgeable about malt whisky, and had the preference for the peaty burn of West coast malts, those Islay and Jura whiskies that to me, I’m afraid, are like drinking TCP. But I don’t claim to be a whisky connoisseur. Perhaps it comes with age, that preference for a more complicated flavour, something challenging to the  jaded palate. For the same reason that I now enjoy the taste of asparagus and olives – things I  found disgusting as a younger man.

I’ll save the more complicated flavours for the days when my writing has matured to a similar degree.