SHARE A DRAM WITH
Crime writer and whisky enthusiast Val McDermid has been a fan of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society since its early days, after receiving an educational journey across the whisky regions from a friend’s father who was something of an aficionado. That, along with her own family connection with Islay, led to a passion for the gentler side of the island’s malts. Val says she regrets making her recurring character, Detective Karen Pirie, a gin drinker and not a whisky fan – because she keeps being sent bottles of gin and can’t stand the stuff. Unfiltered editor Richard Goslan caught up with Val to find out more about her whisky passion
What would be your ideal scenario to enjoy a dram?
Up in a cottage in Wester Ross or Sutherland, sitting in the window, watching the sunset over the Minch, with a faint shadow of Lewis in the background. Can’t beat it.
Favourite whisky-drinking music?
Something instrumental, because I don’t want it to interfere with my enjoyment of the whisky. I like some of the Nordic composers like Jóhann Jóhannsson, so I’d have that on in the background.
Best box set?
I’m last off the block with this one, but we’re currently working our way through Better Call Saul. We started watching it when it first was on, and for some reason we didn’t really take to it. But everybody kept telling us, ‘It’s so good, it’s so good.’ We went back and after two episodes, we went: ‘What did we not like about this?’
Fantasy whisky-tasting companion?
I have a strange fascination with Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe. I’ve written a play about the last day of his life, which was commissioned by the Lyceum but for various reasons couldn’t be put into production. So I’m hoping that will be picked up somewhere else. But I’d love to sit down and share a dram with someone who died far too young. My friend Emma Smith, who’s a professor of Shakespeare at Oxford, says that at the point Marlowe died, he was a better dramatist than Shakespeare. He was stabbed in the eye in the course of a day’s drinking, he was a wild boy, there’s no doubt about that, but he was an extraordinary writer. I’d love to have a dram with him and talk about the projects he never got to do.
Most memorable dram?
The first time I had a Bowmore on Islay, it was probably back in the early 1980s, I’d gone to Islay for a wee holiday, I wanted to see if I could track down family graves and things like that ‘cause my great-grandfather came from Islay. And I can remember sitting, watching the sunset with my first dram of Bowmore on Islay. That was memorable…
A guilty pleasure?
I’m not telling you about that! Actually, we’re not long back from a holiday in Belgium and we discovered a beer called Martha’s Guilty Pleasure, a cherry beer, absolutely gorgeous. So I have a real guilty pleasure that I can turn to.
Samoa, I’d like to go and see Robert Louis Stevenson’s house.
When I was in Australia, we had a night of ‘bush tucker’, so I can say, ‘I have eaten witchetty grubs.’ And it’s not something I want to repeat particularly! I’ve eaten various odd things like insects and things, but the witchetty grubs stick in my memory, for all the wrong reasons.
Here in Edinburgh, there are so many to choose from. But I’ll drop into the Bailey from time to time, which is a very traditional pub, and very warm and welcoming.
If you were a flavour profile, what would you be, and why?
Something between lightly peated and the peated, I think. I’m not sure if I’m ready for Old & Dignified yet.