The Whisky Gout
US-based member Troy Gregory lets his imagination take flight with a selection of Society bottlings and this fantastical piece of whisky fiction. Pour a soothing dram and be grateful you’re not sharing it with a case of whisky-related gout…
ILLUSTRATION: BOB DEWAR
James Gillray must have tippled his fair share. His aesthetic rendering of Gout has whisky all over it. Most authorities will tell you that whisky and gout are seldom on speaking terms, or worse, that gout sufferers should prefer whisky to other liquors. Bollocks!
Whisky gout is a unique strain of the affliction, sure, but one that should not be ignored out of question. I bear mine with particular pride.
The wee devil that bites the base joint of the big toe drinks whisky and prefers a uric mixer with most of his brands. He is careful, that wee devil, to leave the drinker in discomfort enough to render further sitting and tippling inevitable. But he respects the strong drink.
Gout devils who feed on game meats and beer surfeit themselves shamelessly, but cask-strength drams check the whisky gout’s propensity to excess. The more-than-occasional whisky gout sufferer who likewise prefers his drams heavy, oily, and chockfull of ABV will have a much easier time of it.
Unlike red-meat and game gouters, and distinctly different than ale gouters, whisky gouters often abide their afflictions philosophically, in which advanced attitude they sometimes engage the wee demon in learned discourse. I know this to be true.
My own researches in this field are extensive and extend back nearly a decade. My findings might be of interest to others of similar dispositions.
I oftentimes give my research over to single-region whiskies, and on the occasion related below, I had settled with extreme prejudice on Speysides. I was holed up in my bothy for a miserably wet and cold early spring, and for six weeks on end I sat in my overstuffed chair and held conference with Gout. I always prefer a pre-breakfast 15 or 35 – I had little trouble convincing Gout of the merits of such philosophy – and with a pilfered butt and a pilfered barrel at my disposal, and dampness a visible presence in my rooms, we carried the preparatory-to-meal drink through breakfast and up the threshold of lunch.
After lunch, Gout and I fell to vintages of more substantial heft. We chewed 26.123 and 61.8. We tippled mature 44.73s, 41.101s, and, mature-beyond-its-fourteen-years, 84.19s, all without dilution; and we finished, during the final week of our excursion, with (among others, of course) seven bottles of 30.25 – and dear, dear they were to me. Four bottles into the latter and Gout’s tongue began to loosen. By our second dram into the fifth he waxed both loquacious and poetical.
He knew I had a cupboard full of 1.179: The Artist’s studio, and the promise of that favoured tipple worked on him as a skilful hand upon a stringed instrument. And what music he sounded! Much of our conversation was given to the amber stuff, me to drams I had particularly favoured over the years and the places in which I had favoured them; he to the first joints of big toes that carried particularly fine distillations of whisky and uric. My stories were confined to the mere decades of my experiential whisky education, but his, God bless him, extended into the dark backward abysm of time – even into the Middle Ages.
Oh the toes he had inflamed!
We weren’t but two days into the conversation when I became overwhelmed with a downright, righteous, privileged honor to host such a worshipful connoisseur of the right stuff over the first joints of big toes. That my own toe should be so honoured! That the wee demon whose cuspids had lodged on the topside of James Hogg’s unwashed left foot and the heather-bathed, wire-haired massive knuckle – when knuckles knuckled hard – of Robert Henryson, well, that I should entertain such a guest!
The wee fellow who nursed at my joint was present – was actually a beholder to the scene – when Henryson told the witchdoctor to bugger an oak knot, but he’d be damned if he’d chant faint hymns to the Quercus robur, pedunculate bark-whore in his back pasture merely to unbind the gnarled turd from his own stubborn arse. Henryson, said the grinning devil between pincers, always had his way with language. Henryson in fact held to life just long enough to allow the last of his mistress’s husband’s medicinal distillate to be extracted by my friend before giving up the ghost in a shitestorm of epic magnitude. (Would have tainted the joint’s liquor beyond consumption in less than an hour, I was ruefully informed).
And that wasn’t even the best or most memorable uric-laced dram my fellow tippler had extracted from a host.
John MacDonald, Lord of the Isles, suffered a bout with my companion the very night James IV landed on Islay to campaign against him. These of course were the days before whisky bore labels and when it merely passed by the universal moniker Uisce Beatha. Uneven stuff to be sure, but with much higher highs and lower lows than in our present market. When the stuff of the past was grand, by God, it had no peer.
I wiped my eyes and nose with the back of my sleeve. I had long considered myself an expert in the best manufacture my country could offer, and I realised at that dejected and melancholy moment that I was a mere pretender to so esteemed a title. I knew nothing. Shortly after we finished the last of the 1.179, the sun began finally to glint and my parasite grew less reminiscent and finally gave up residence altogether one mid-teens Sunday. It saddened me to see him go.
I took some consolation in the notes I had recorded during our six weeks’ acquaintance, notes that became particularly fulsome over the past week and a half. The notes, I reasoned, would be almost as good as my dear, late companion for the long days and evenings in my bothy.
I'm a bit of a nut for the commonplace book, and I’m never without a leather-bound volume of empty pages. I had filled three volumes over the past eleven days. They sat there, piled atop each other, on the headboards of my upended casks.
Something again like pride swelled – in my chest this time, not my metatarsophalangeal. I flipped open the top volume and stared at the scratch. Not a word in twenty was legible. I resolved to do my transcribing-best for posterity but knew the task would be Herculean. It would be a good many publications before my bank account would bear up such a feast of soul as late had occupied my bothy’s cupboards. In the meantime my head split from another of friend Gillray’s acquaintances.
And recollection, O, I just couldn’t think of it at the time! Perhaps like some mnemonic spread of examination notes for an Oxford first my pages would trigger memory. (Though they had failed me in that capacity before.) I hoped for the best, at least, as I peered into the distant bottom of The Artist’s studio.