Wintertime, whisky* time. I like smoky-peaty single malts from Islay and have to constantly remind myself of the correct pronunciation, /ˈaɪlə/ but more than that, the single malt whisky world keeps up this beautiful illusion of little distilleries scattered throughout Scotland and its isles.
It does so with flowery prose in blurbs on textured labels and charming bottle tubes that describe stormy heathland and river mouths, castle ruins and crags, bays and coastlines, with serif-heavy or scripted, gilded typeface. Evoking the sensation of small operations is furthered by processes described as “small batch distilled”, “nonchill filtered”, and the like.
I’m tempted to say that it couldn’t be further from the truth.
- Diageo owns some of the most well known single-malt whisky brands: Talisker, Oban, Johnnie Walker, Lagavulin, Caol Ila, Dalwhinnie…
- Beam Suntory owns Laphroaig (my all-time favorite), Jim Beam, Bowmore, Maker’s Mark, Knob Creek, and many others;
- The Distell group owns Bunnahabhain, Tobermory, Ledaig and quite a few more;
- Ardbeg (another favorite) and Glenmorangie belong to the LVMH (Louis-Vutton Moet-Hennessy) conglomerate (together with Veuve Cliquot, Moet Chandon, Hennessy, Dom Perignon, etc. etc.);
- Aberlour, Glenlivet, Jameson, Scapa? Owned by Pernod Ricard;
- Bruichladdich, you say? Remy-Contreaux;
- Jura is owned by Alliance Global – the company that is also the main McDonalds franchise holder in the Philippines (WTF, right?)
It is, pun intended, sobering. Not surprising though that the beverage industry too has long gobbled, or in this case perhaps, slurped up most distillers of spirits. Just like Kraft Foods, Unilever, etc. have bought up companies and concentrated their power in the food market. It’s a different kind of food chain nowadays.
While sipping on Bunnahabhain I began to wonder: what about all that peat? Won’t they eventually just run out?!
And then… the realization… wait a minute… all that peat is actually burned! It is well known that wood fires, while cozy, are not exactly energy efficient, compared to fossil fuels, so what about all that burning peat? Peat is the first step towards coal, actually! National Geographic calls it “The Forgotten Fossil Fuel” and Peatlands keep a lot of carbon out of Earth’s atmosphere. On a winter evening, am I complicit not just by running the heater, but also by sipping smoky whisky?!
Apparently, it’s not THAT bad. Nowadays, only a small amount is used, and solely for its flavor – ie. not for drying the barley anymore. Phew. And indeed, “Scotland’s whisky industry is preparing to launch a new plan to protect precious peatland“, finds the author of this article (but the first paragraph almost reads like the blurb on a whisky bottle).
Sitting here in California, thousands of miles away from Scotland, I can’t help but wonder: what’s the carbon footprint of a nice and smoky, peaty dram? And can peat-smoky whisky actually be produced sustainably, in the long run?
Related and, to end on a lighter note, speaking about runs…
I have ordered whisky online, for the first time. A bottle of Kilchoman Machir Bay, which I can’t find locally. I became interested in the course of doing a little research for this post: Kilchoman is one of the very few independent distilleries on Islay. (now that I mentioned it here of course, the sheer influential power of this personal blog will lead to it immediately being bought by one of the giants mentioned above, no doubt).
It was supposed to be delivered today, via FedEx. “By the end of the day” said the tracking information – that awesome kind of time window that makes you sit at home all day when signature and ID are required for the delivery (which is, needless to say, the case for a delivery of alcoholic beverages in California).
In the last tracking information update, I read that the truck left Oceanside at 9:33 AM. Such precision, and all they can give me is “by the end of the day”, really?!
It was 10 AM. I felt that a “tour de sac” pandemic morning run was absolutely safe, even while Shuwen was working in the back yard and wouldn’t hear the doorbell. I changed, left the house. Ran down the street, and out of a cul-de-sac comes – the FedEx truck! It made a left turn, going in my direction, passing me. I turned around and ran after it – a friendly neighbor smiled and knew exactly what was going on. 🤣
The truck made a right turn, away from our house. Phew. I myself made a left turn, towards our house, looked back and saw the truck now making a left turn onto the next side street. Sherlock that I am, I figured it would make a delivery there, continue up the street that parallels ours, and then circle back downhill to our house, from the other direction. Gotcha. I was ready. I waited. It could be only minutes.
It is clear that, by the sheer ability of receiving the delivery and signing for it, I completely jinxed it. The FedEx truck didn’t come.
And so I began to write this article. The FedEx truck didn’t come. Shuwen finished her yard work and came inside. The FedEx truck didn’t come. I went for my run. The FedEx truck didn’t come. I took a shower (usually an ideal activity to summon a delivery truck!). The FedEx truck didn’t come. We had lunch. The FedEx truck didn’t come. It is mid afternoon now and I was hoping to go for a walk while the sun’s still out but – the FedEx truck still wasn’t here. 😩
UPDATE: seconds after I hit “Publish” on this article, the FedEx truck came. Out of sheer spite, I just know it!
*) I support and adopt the “unwritten rule” that the spelling should follow the preference in the country of origin: whisky for Canada, Japan and Scotland; whiskey for the United Kingdom, Ireland and the United States.