The bard is back

Despite being unable to perform in person during the pandemic, SMWS Tasting Panel chair Robin Laing found the inspiration to write and record a new album of whisky-fuelled songs and poetry

Robin Laing is Scotland’s Whisky Bard – he drinks whisky and sings for a living, not too shabby a niche. During the Covid lockdown he was still able to drink whisky, but singing, at least to a live audience, was definitely out (although he did keep Society members smiling with some online performances).

With five albums of whisky songs and four whisky books behind him, Robin clearly has a passion for the cratur and is frequently inspired by it to compose songs and poems.

However, he says: “Without the buzz of going to gigs and interacting with people, I think I had begun to lose interest and energy for writing new material.”

Then along came an unexpected call from Thomas Ewers, the CEO of Malts in Scotland, from Germany. Thomas is a fan of Robin’s music and had previously invited him to ‘sing the whisky’ in his hometown of Paderborn and at various German whisky festivals.

Thomas said: “Robin, I love your whisky songs and I know you enjoy my whiskies – so why don’t we do something together – a wee creative project of songs and poems inspired by decent drams?” Robin wasn’t doing much else thanks to Coronavirus, so he agreed (provided Thomas would send him some bottled inspiration).

The end result was a collection of nine songs and one poem. Thomas was so pleased with this collection he insisted a CD should be made. So, the fruits of a number of weeks of songwriting were taken into the studio in April 2021. Producer (and guitarist) Steven Polwart and sound engineer (and drummer) Mattie Foulds distilled Robin’s raw material into an accomplished album of listening pleasure, with the help of Stuart Nisbet (electric guitar, dobro, banjo), Kevin McGuire (double bass) and Jackie Macdonald (backing vocals).

Robin performing at the SMWS branch in Denmark


Thomas says his work of importing good Scotch single malt into Germany, “is like building a bridge between our two countries”. The first track Building bridges takes up this theme and plays with it. In Robin’s opinion: “Whisky has maybe done more for international relationships than city twinning or the United Nations!”

Two corn whisky liqueurs called Onkle Joe’s Hütte and Miss Sunshine gave rise to two matching songs; Uncle Joe is about “a guy a bit like me”, says Robin. “He’s had an interesting life but is now getting a bit old and tired and likes to take it easy in his rocking chair with a good dram and a fine cigar.” Miss Sunshine is one of those enigmatic songs – it could be about a woman, or it could be about a corn whisky liqueur – take your pick.

Other Malts of Scotland series also inspired songs – Angel’s Choice is one and Images of Scotland is another. The song Angel’s Choice is about – you guessed it – distillery angels, and the chorus has a line that goes: “Whisky and music’s a wonderful thing”; who could argue with that? Images of Scotland bottles have sketches of Scottish places on the label and Robin’s song of the same name imagines German whisky lovers enjoying the dram, looking at the image and remembering or planning a whisky pilgrimage.

The Dark Side of Islay is a series of old Islay malts, mostly matured in sherry casks, showing sea monsters and dragons on the bottle and mentioning some of the island’s lost distilleries. Robin was inspired to write The Dark Side of Islay, an atmospheric poetic tribute to the Island of Islay, recited on the CD with wistful musical accompaniment.

Magic ship of dreams is a fantasy booze cruise from Scotland to Germany, the title track Up in the Dram Room is about the joys of experiencing great drams up in Thomas’s tasting emporium and Barley bree for Charlie-o is a song story about a Scotsman who got carried away in the Dram Room and in his exuberance, inadvertently answered the question: “What does a Scotsman wear under the kilt?”

“The biggest challenge for a Scotch whisky snob like me,” says Robin, “was to write a song in praise of German whisky, but Thomas supplied a bottle of The Westfalian Masterpiece, matured in an ex-Laphroaig port cask – inspiration flowed and Masterpiece is about whisky as art.”

Up in the Dram Room will shortly have a sister bottling of 18-year-old Bruichladdich from a Duoro wine cask, which will be number six in the series of Robin Laing’s Inspiration bottlings of Bruichladdich.

To order your signed copy of Up in the Dram Room, contact Robin at robin@robinlaing.com. CDs are £10 plus post & packaging. You can also order the album directly from www.musicscotland.com

Unfiltered has five signed copies of Up in the Dram Room to give away to lucky members whose names are picked out of the virtual hat. To enter our draw, email unfiltered@smws.com with the subject line ‘Up in the Dram Room’ by 30 November.