If you ask a large number of people what does whisky (or whiskey) means to them, and what is the first thing that comes to their head when they hear the word, 9 out of 10 people will talk about the drink’s characteristics,the sensations, some might talk about the hangovers they had, but a rare few will talk about the music that the word conjures in their mind.
To me the word brings to mind music. Music not in the traditional way of instruments playing a score, but more of the music of nature: the whisper of the wind blowing over the hills of Northern Scotland, the mellow flowing waters of the Spey river, the roar of crashing ocean waves onto the pier near the town of Tain near the Glenmorangie distillery and even the braying of the bulls in the pens. The musical sounds of Whisky country!
It is something that all those that travelled Scotland to savour this wonderful liquid experience but may not take the time to notice and appreciate; it is a sensation to be absorbed and appreciate slowly, much like a good dram.
Most distilleries have a stream or pond they use when making whisky, and each plays its own tune. Some streams are slow-churning flat stream-beds and some are thunderous cascading waterfalls. It is sometimes difficult to hear the music around you when there are distractions such as other visitors, cars and any other source of noise, but in those rare moments of silence and social isolation, it is then that the echoing sound of the place can be heard and sip into your mind, as slowly as the flavours of the dram descend on the palate in the first taste, that is how the music of a place enters your ears and your mind: bewitching, mesmerising and beautiful.
This has dawned on me in the Glen Grant distillery I visited a long time ago, the drink itself was not to my palate, but the gardens and the music of the stream with its surrounding ambiance enticed me deeply, I felt that the place was so “right”. It was fulfilling in a sense that other distilleries have not been until then. Since then, I always strive to find a moment to listen to the home of the whiskey, and once I heard the music of its birthplace, its place in nature’s symphony, only then do I step inside and experience what the musical composition tastes like; and if I didn’t hear it, I go inside and see maybe the drink will show me the song.
So in the next time you travel Scotland, take the time to listen to the land and it’s music.