On June 20 the world will celebrate whisky in all its forms during the cleverly titled World Whisky Day. And, you’ll like this, we like reading books. True story. All of which conveniently provides us with the opportunity to present a piece on the greatest whisky-drinking writers of all time. Here then is a list of the wisest wordsmiths in history who have kept a bottle of bourbon, Scotch or indeed Japanese whisky close to the type writer.
Hunter S Thompson – read while drinking Chivas or Wild Turkey
The mind-stabbing prose of Thompson is generously flecked with mind-expanding substances but to name one beverage as is favourite is possibly as contentious as his copy. From the ‘extremely dangerous drugs’, quart of tequila and pint of raw ether in his Fear & Loathing car boot, to the shed loads of rum downed in The Rum Diary, Thompson liked to mix it up, ut his affection for whiskey was consistent throughout and photographs often capturing him brandishing a bottle of Wild Turkey or Chivas Regal Scotch: Turkey to write, Chivas with the morning papers. If it’s Turkey go for the 101, at 50.5% it’s bursting with grainy sweetness into spice and dry oak backed with beautiful rich caramel, all in all, as ballsy as Thompson, 101 (£31.55) from Whisky Exchange. For Chivas Regal (£52.45), the 18 year old perfectly presents the prowess the house has for blending fine malts.
Ian Fleming – read while drinking an Old Fashioned
Fleming enjoyed a gin but was advised to switch to bourbon by the doctor and while his most enduring character, Bond, James Bond, is known for a martini, he orders more Scotch and American whiskey in the books. We’d ask James to drink lees, drink better, but then we never had to kill man and rustle up some charm for the ladies in the same day, so who are we to judge. Added to which, he’s not a real person, so we can enjoy his litany of literary liquor indulgences. The Bond of the books sipped Scotches such as Haig & Haig, Black & White and Johnnie Walker amongst others. But the Americans make more of a mark on his liver, indeed Jack Daniels is ordered in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice; Virginia Gentleman bourbon is in The Spy Who Loved Me; Harper bourbon in Her Majesty’s Secret Service; Canadian Club in Dr No; and Walkers Deluxe in The Man With the Golden Gun. Japanese also gets a look in, Suntory the sip of choice. Jack is as familiar to drinkers as Fleming’s apparently secret agents is to bad guys, but if you’re committed to character try the Single Barrel (£42.95) Whisky Exchange, or use it in an Old Fashioned
Robert Burns – read with Highland
Bawdier than Shakespeare and wittier than the watered-down Wordsworth, Burns was the ultimate 18th century blue-collar bard who boasted an insatiable appetite for alcohol. Having ploughed the infertile soil on his father’s Ayreshire farm as a child, he cherished the transubstantiation of fermented grain into the fiery water of life – as depicted in “John Barleycorn”, his earliest ode to Scotland’s national drink. Perhaps have a dram while you dip into his “Scotch Drink”, a 21-verse celebration of Scotch whisky and the evils of excise, which proved rather awkward when, some years later, he was employed as a tax-collecting excise man. But while he collected money on everything from tea and tobacco to salt and soap, Burns turned a blind eye to the widespread dealings of illicit alcohol and, aged just 37, proudly went to his grave having never demanded a single penny in duty from a whisky distiller. Accounts indicate an affection for highland whisky, so try Glenmorangie Lasanta 12 year old (£48.35) for a more recent edition to the highland selection.
Graham Greene – read while drinking J&B and soda
Greene made it to a ripe old 86 having mixed drinking and writing for 60 years, surviving a stint in Sierra Leone for MI6, a battle with a bi-polar condition and riding his luck through ‘games’ of Russian Roulette with his brother on Berkhamsted common. That is to say, actual Russian roulette. With a real gun. ‘I was beginning to pull the trigger about as casually as I might take an aspirin tablet,’ he reputedly said. With all this in mind we’d argue the liquor can’t have done him a great disservice. Whisky permeates the pages of his work, most notably in Our Man in Havana as it takes centre stage in the drinking game. Taking on Cuban copper Captain Segura, protagonist Jim Wormwold converts his collection of 100 whisky miniatures into draughts pieces. ‘When you take a piece you drink it,’ thus creating a natural handicap as the better player is encouraged to drink more, presumably weakening his strategic senses. It’s a top banana idea and can provide a tasty treat while simultaneously educating you on drinking boundaries. With this many miniatures on the table you have a choice, for authenticity, Greene went for J&B (£20.45).
Haruki Murakami – read while drinking Nikka from the Barrel
When he spoke at the Edinburgh International Book Festival a few years ago, Murakami, the Japanese author of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and 1Q84, was excited about a trip to Jura and professed an affection for the Islay malts. And well he should be. He is also often quoted thusly: ‘Whisky, like a beautiful woman, demands appreciation. You gaze first, then it’s time to drink.’ Lovely stuff. And he mentions Cutty Sark in the pages of his celebrated novels. So he loves the Scottish gear, but he is Japanese so we’d be remiss not to take this opportunity to celebrate his native options, of which there are many. Nikka from the Barrel though, is available, which is a useful start when it comes to our strongest recommendations, since the success of the spirit means stocks of some of our others are especially low. Nikka’s blend includes a collection of single malt and grain whisky, and is a punchy whisky that is tempered with a drop of water to mellow out some of the fire and fruit (£38.45).
The Thinking Drinkers will be talking all things liquor and literature in their next tasting event, the Thinking Drinker Sessions, on June 1 at London’s Museum of Comedy. You can also catch them at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with their new show The Thinking Drinkers History of Alcohol. Tickets and dates at www.thinkingdrinkers.com