October 9, 2021
"... an agreeable man with a pepper-and-salt beard" - The Irish Times
Originally from Glasgow, Dave is an award winning writer who has spent most of his working life in the drinks industry in many and varied guises including being a pub landlord, working in an off license, and working in an Australian winery as a 'cellar rat'.
Best known for his writing (and his talking), Dave can also be found on screen, most notably in The Amber Light, which we highly recommend watching.
I think the first thing to emphasise is that whisky is a versatile spirit, but has been corralled into standardised methods of consumption - neat, after dinner. Yet its global success was built by whisky and soda. It works in cocktails, it can be chilled, served with food (shellfish and cheese both work, though not at the same time, I suspect). Different flavours suit different occasions - lighter and long before a meal for example, richer and slower after; maybe a smoky whisky when outdoors.
The key is to explore, and the biggest part of my job is to try and help people - be they consumers or bartenders - along that route - and most importantly have fun! Ultimately, it’s about stories.
I would disagree that it is on a continual growth curve. Scotch whisky has always been forcibly strapped into a rollercoaster. We are currently on an upward trajectory thanks to people’s desire for provenance and authenticity, creating a growing demand for single malt. The fact it is made at a single distillery makes it more real - while the vast array of flavours contained within the category means that once you’re gripped by the whisky bug you’ll want to start stravaiging around the world of whisky.
But Scotch no longer has the world to itself. There are now 40 single malt distilleries in England, 40 whiskey makers in Ireland, 200 single malt producers in America, close to 100 in Scandinavia… and I could go on. All are making fantastic whiskies and it puts Scotch’s share under threat because, globally, sales aren’t keeping pace with this boom in production. So, expect a dip. Only the best will make it through.
I baulk at being called an expert. I am still learning. I suppose, like many of my generation I was brought up on the White Heather Club’s ersatz ‘Scottishness’, but swinging kilts and music hall songs didn’t really reflect life in Glasgow!
My connection with the place and the culture deepened in teenage years when I started hillwalking, listening to folk musicians such as Dick Gaughan and the Incredible String Band and, when I got to Uni, studying Scottish literature.
Maybe all of this has allowed me to put whisky in a wider cultural context. Rather than being ‘a drink’ or ‘a brand’ it’s the product of a real place, made by people, and whose story has been influenced by and influences Scottish history. You can’t separate the two.
I would tell them to change their schedule! Scotland is a country best approached in a leisurely fashion. There’s a good reason why none of the roads are straight.
But since you insist, I would urge you to don appropriate clothing, head to Elgol on Skye, sail across to Loch Scavaig, then walk to Loch Coruisk, via the shortest river in Britain. You find yourself in the belly of the Cuillin. The energetic can then head through the glen to the Sligachan Hotel, otherwise sail back to Elgol, and head to Torabhaig distillery for a dram.
Off the top of my head:
The Scottish sense of humour
The Cal-Mac breakfast (or its macaroni cheese if it’s later in the day)
The West Coast and islands, especially when explored by boat
The woods of Sunart
The new wave of folk musicians: Alasdair Roberts, Rachel Newton, Lau, Lauren MacColl, Jenny Sturgeon, Jarlath Henderson. None of them are things of course.
The smell of a peat fire - at home or in a distillery.
The smell of a traditional dunnage warehouse.
I was tempted to say Denis McQuade aka ‘The Madness’ who, in the 1970s, played on the wing for Partick Thistle and was either dreadful or possessed by genius (often at the same time which helped to further bamboozle opponents, though also his own side), but that would be trivial.
My current hero is Patrick Geddes (1854 - 1932), biologist, geographer, ecologist, town planner, educator. He redeveloped Edinburgh slums, owned the Outlook Tower (Camera Obscura), created the first student residences, planned Tel Aviv and Bangalore. His work, forgotten for most of the 20th century, is now gaining greater attention - and relevance.
‘How many people think twice about a leaf, yet the leaf is the chief product and phenomenon of life: this is a green world with animals comparatively few and small, and all dependent upon the leaves. By leaves we live.
‘Some people have strange ideas that they live by money. They think energy is generated by the circulation of coins, whereas the world is mainly a vast leaf-colony growing…we live not by the jingling of our coins, but by the fullness of our harvests.”
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The Complete Bartender's Guide
Distilling Knowledge: A Professional Guide to Spirits and Liqueur
Dave's next book, 'Sense of Place' will be published by Mitchell-Beazley next autumn. His back catalogue is available through all good independent bookstores & bookshop.org