There are five million people in Scotland. And every year, 524,009,191 million litres of whisky are produced in their name.
That’s more than 100 litres for every Scotsman, Scotswoman and indeed Scotschild.
Try this: Scotland is one of the world’s key producers of offshore oil. But if you lined up the 520 million barrels pumped out of the North Sea in 2009 alongside the bottles of whisky coming off the distillery production lines, it would take you longer to count the Scotch.
So, not surprisingly, it’s kind of a big deal around here. But while the black gold is produced in deeply unpleasant conditions, the bottled gold is lovingly created in some of the prettiest countryside on the planet and in some of the quaintest workplaces imaginable.
Even the bigger Speyside distilleries seem to be from another age and their weird copper stills closer to the industrial revolution than the digital revolution.
And then there’s the pride. Each distillery (and there were 71 at last count) believes, with an unshakeable conviction, that their whisky is the finest in the world.
You can see the effects of this everywhere on the Whisky Trail.
The Glen Grant distillery for example is almost surgically clean (the five-year-old is a gem by the way) as if any settled dust would be an insult to the drink, while even the Glenfiddich distillery (the biggest, and slightly frowned on by whisky snobs) has the appearance of a particularly well-appointed Braveheart village.
And all this, remember, in the heart of the Scottish Highlands where every misty, heather-clad crag conjures images of clansmen knocking lumps out of each other with improbably sized broadswords.
It’s very beautiful.
If there’s a catch, then it is this. You can’t really do the Trail without a car —the public transport is challenging to say the least.
And you can’t really do the whisky with a car.
Fortunately Speyside has more than enough pubs and hotel bars whose shelves are positively groaning under the weight of scotch. So enjoy the history, marvel at the simplicity of the process, be charmed by the Scots, then dump the car and get the barman to pour you a large one.
Think of it as your own personal whisky trail ...
Know your drink
• There are an estimated 2,500 Scotch whiskies. Taking time to select the one which is right for you is part of the joy. This is part history (every distillery has its own folklore), part geography (Islay malts are the generally the smoky ones, Speysides the more rounded) part aesthetics (the look and feel of a bottle and its label are important) and part economics.
• To water or not to water— it is a hotly contended issue among Scotch drinkers. Some say whisky is designed to be watered to bring out its full qualities, others that it is made to be drunk neat.
• It’s important to acknowledge the drink by inhaling the aromas — which can be quite feisty. The nose is almost as powerful a sense as the actual taste. Don’t feel you have to put a name to the aroma, just enjoy the whole experience.
• Finally take a nip —enough to coat the tongue well, so the that sweet flavours are picked up on the tip of the tongue, sour and salt flavours by the sides and bitter flavours at the back. It takes time so hold the drink awhile.
• It’s been said that a quality single malt should taste like an angel crying on your tongue. That’s a big claim, but there is no doubt that there is no drink like it in the world. Few drinks are so well crafted, imbued with so much history and so much part of a national culture.