Raise a parting glass
We can all recall the sweet melancholy of letting go of that last drop of a treasured Society bottling. Scott Mansfield, SMWS manager for the state of Queensland in Australia, reflects on what it means to say goodbye
This festive time of year heightens our awareness of the year gone by. Good riddance 2020 eh? Maybe in this, of all years, we need to remember what is good in life, to honour what we have lost and to celebrate what we cherish. No better way to do this than with a fine whisky. After all, the science backs us up.
Dr Natalie Dattilo is a psychologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, specialising in how memories are formed. She argues that all too often we choose to let negative experiences create the strongest memories.
Dr Dattilo advocates we stop to take in the happy moments, give your attention to the sights, sounds and aromas and lock in those positive memories.
"We are more likely to recall emotionally vivid or emotionally charged memories when that is a heightened sensory experience,” she says. Powerful memories? Celebrating life? Ah ha, a unique cask strength whisky would fit that bill!
Consider how often talk turns to casks gone by at Society gatherings. Wistful musings of Cask No. G13.1: “A complete revelation”, a 4-year-old Japanese grain aged in a port puncheon; so young and yet so in the pink.
I wish I could … ah well, it’s gone now.
That’s the paradox of enjoying Society casks, there’s a panoply of new aromas and flavours to explore, but we know that our time together is fleeting. This is what sets the SMWS apart, each unique expression is another marker on our whisky journey. We wind our way through new distilleries, new casks, new memories; each different but so often so familiar.
I love that spark of excitement on receiving the next Outturn. Where shall we go next? Sensing the stomping of a rumba dancer, elegant and beautiful with Cask No. 6.39: A Belter of a Dram! Or warming yourself next the embers of a beach bonfire with Cask No. 53.332: Storm-tossed kelp on an Islay beach.
Sometimes realms fantastical lie on the horizon. Imagine Riding a duck bareback up Mt Etna with Cask 30.94. "We stood at the foot of the volcano; a towering eminence of tightly packed fruitcake and sticky toffee pudding, and gazed up towards the bellowing clouds of pork crackling infused smoke.
Climbing onto the back of a giant duck and gripping the leather reins we began our ascent with the spicy smell of nutmeg, clove and cinnamon becoming heavier as we advanced. The ground shook as figs, dates and roasted chestnuts were blasted high into the sky and rivers of molten toffee passed nearby.” Unforgettable.
Whisky is so often the perfect accompaniment to life’s significant celebrations. It always has been. A new year; a new addition to the family, sealing the deal or the passing of a loved one. Stretching back in time immemorial, whisky lifted spirits and warmed the hearts of those looking to mark an occasion. Highland crofters (small farm holders) would spirit away uisge-beatha distilled from the last of the harvest, to ward off the dark chills of winter.
Hogmanay (aka New Year’s Eve) marked the lengthening of the days. To this day there is the grand Scottish tradition of “First Footing” when at midnight a household would welcome its first guest who crossed their threshold. It is said that should that guest be tall, dark haired and good looking the year will be good.
Some believe that blond-haired folk brought ill tidings, a long distant echo of ancient fears of Viking invaders. More fortuitous yet, should this guest bring a dram of whisky, hopefully someone to share, Cask No. 29.271: Tall, Dark and Mysterious will do, the year ahead would be prosperous.
New seasons and new life often give us pause to celebrate the future unknown. A new hope is born with that little ray of sunshine. Long have new fathers taken to wetting the baby’s head through imbibing of few drams with friends. Imagine toasting future glories with Cask No. 41.83: Sherry, Sherry Baby.
As the seasons turn and love matches are made, a dram or two binds us in celebration of a life together.
Cask No. 72.58: Rewarding long lasting romance and Cask No. 71.76: Scent with love would perfectly partner any tying of the knot. You may have come across a quaich, a two handled cup, in your whisky journeys. A symbol of unity, the quaich, sometimes known as the ‘love cup’, would be held by the bride and groom who would drink to mark their union and toast their future.
Alternatively, drinking whisky from a quaich solemnised the peace between two clans. The clan chieftains would each pour a whisky into the quaich to blend their spirits. Each in turn would drink from the quaich, holding it with both hands (you can’t hold a dagger this way) and pass it to their new ally. Stand up, Cask No. 55.61: The Ambassador of Lavender.
It would be all too easy let 2020 linger long in our thoughts. A year of isolation and loss and we are left to hold up in its wake. For all that, let us choose to celebrate what is good in life. Choose to remember new life and honour the good times we’ve had with those from whom we have parted. Hark the call to the gathering, family and friends await you. Mind to have that whisky with you, ready for the midnight crossing of the threshold. Raise a parting glass to a year to remember.
Good night and joy be with you all.
Our Queensland manager Scott Mansfield (pictured) celebrated his 50th birthday on 4 November. He is tall, dark haired and questionably good looking.