For the Centenary Of The Scotch Whisky Association

By Liz Lochhead

“If freedom an whisky gang thegither”: Robert Burns

When we sit wined and finely dined,
Dressed up in oor best, braw and fancy,
Oh, it’s a far cry tonight, in this company bright,
From the rude and hoorin howff o Poosie Nancy.
Friends, we hae a history:
Rough stuff. ‘Rascally Kilbagie’
Mair fiery by faur than ‘lost Ferintosh’ and fit,
fit for but ‘the most rascally part’,
fit for but the bard’s Jolly Beggars,
fit only for ‘rectifying’ into Hollands gin
— in the back lanes of London,
Mother’s Ruin.
Sing, drunk for a penny,
Blin fou for tuppence, quaff
An ye shall hae straw for free
When you maun sleep it aff.

Two hundred and fifty years…
How many thousand bottlings
to the honeyed finish,
aromas of lavender, sherry-cask or gorse;
essences and esters of salt, pine, nutmeg, smoke;
tinctures of topaz, amber, mahogany,
palest straw, purest gold, liquid?
Liquors, elixirs, infused with — is that a
hint of anise, even liquorice?
Toddies tea-coloured, smooth and soothing —
can you taste tobacco, heather-nectar, rain or moorland,
smell the sea?
How many thousand bottlings, angels’ shares,
new market leaders in the field,
till today’s best blends and the triple-distilled?

Ask MacDiarmid, ask Ettrick Hogg —
Wha took his whisky ‘by the joug’ —
Ask Rab himsel, an he will tell you whether —
— Language made essence, thought distilled —
Inspiration’s whit a dram might yield
If poetry an whisky gang thegither?
Consider. Answer. Aye, right well thegither.
Though – taken by the jug-fu – either yin’s reduced to blether.

And friendship an whisky surely gang thegither?
It’s the aqua vitae we imbibe wi yin another.
A hip-flask in the cauld, uncorked, a shared swig,
A deal sealed wi a word and a dram,
Och, see us a splash of water from thon china jug,
Gie us drappie in my coffee mug,
There’s aye a drouth for true companionship, until at last
The luggit cup o the quaich is passed.
Sweetness sipped from a chinked glass, cheers!
Savour friendship.
Its flavour will mature for years.

And – if freedom an whisky gang thegither –
How do you like your freedom? Swallowed neat?
Distillations of history, language, weather
In an usqueba o barley, burn water, peat.

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