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01 March 1999
A Whisky by any Other D(r)am Name
By Douglas McKay

When I retired for the first time I put on my kilt, shouldered my rucksack and toddled off around the world. It was not long before my knowledge of whisky was found lacking in some areas.

Ordering a Scotch Whisky in Scotland is easy, you just order a whisky, and you will always be served a Scotch. All other whiskies (eys) have to be ordered by their individual name, eg. Canadian Club, Jack Daniels, Jameson, etc.

Abroad you have to order Scotch Whisky otherwise you are liable to be served the local firewater. You even have to watch carefully when you order Scotch Whisky, because Scotch Whisky is adulterated in many countries and what is inside a bottle of Scotch Whisky can stir the imagination and split the head the next morning.

Across the Atlantic in the Americas, I found a rich new seam of descriptive names for a dram. A belt is just a mouthful - a small offer sometimes taken straight from the bottle. The boilermaker is the equivalent of the Glasgow hauf an' a hauf - a small whisky and a small beer. Now a brace, that is a good stiff drink. Perhaps the best known shot in America is measured by two fingers, three or four, the last bringing a smile to any face. Also in America, a jigger is a measurement used for both cocktails and whisky.

A slug is not the most inviting meal, but it is a good measure of whisky, normally taken in one mouthful. A snifter and a snort is not only part of the drug scene, but they are small measures of whisky.

The way the Americans serve whisky was just as interesting and for me, unusual. Malt was not in vogue at this time, blends held the stage, especially Dewars. The usual glass was an 8 ounce highball type filled up with ice, topped up with whisky - poured by hand without a measure, and if you were lucky enough to be in Hawaii, a straw and a slice of pineapple was the finishing touch. Enough to make me teetotal!

The drink in Japan was the Mizuwari taken at the end of the working day, a whisky well diluted and taken out of the individual's own bottle, kept on the shelf at the local. Too often, the Mizuwari stretched for several hours as the Japanese drowned their sorrows.

Now in Scotland we have a much richer vein of descriptive terms for a dram, many of them preceded by the adjective, wee, giving away one side of our national character.

You can have a Cloch, an' Dichter, a drappie of the Cratur, or a wee strupach. These names seldom give you an accurate estimate of the quantity dispensed, but they can indicate a degree of generosity. Always take a dram rather than a nip, the first is more generous. A goldie gives an idea of colour, and three whites and a goldie was the ration of distillery workers in the times of dramming. Alas, the Customs & Excise have stopped this wonderful tradition. Perhaps the most descriptive, a Deoch an Doruis (Josh and Dorish) owes its fame to the song by Sir Harry Lauder, and is worth waiting for, being a good dram on the doorstep before departure.

In Glasgow there is the hauf an' a hauf and you can proceed to a wee swallie, or wee yin. This allows you to move on to a libation, tipple or sensation in Edinburgh. A nobbler, noggin or skelp is for the more hardened imbibers.

Then of course, there was the skalk, the morning dram, a real drink. It was about a pint of young, strong robust whisky, a jet propelled start to the day. Nowadays, we make do with a smidgeon, smir or sup even trying a caulker, peg or Te bheag, but none could compare with the skalk.

I now have a collection of some 50 terms for a dram of whisky, if any of you know other terms, please forward them to me at the Society. I will disprove one side of our national character and offer a prize of a bottle of Society whisky for the most interesting term with it's country of origin.

Douglas McKay, once a geography teacher and headmaster, is a former Chairman of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society and has a passion for his native spirit.

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