"Having long been possessed with an ardent desire to see the Distilleries of Scotland...", Alfred Barnard, 1885

"O Thou, my muse! guid auld Scotch drink", from Scotch Drink, by Robert Burns

Friday, 23 March 2012

Rumblings from the Cask - Dram 5. Barnard, Burns and Cutty Sark

Barnard found his time visiting Scotland’s distilleries as a good reason to quote often from the poetry of Robert Burns, particularly those regular mentions of whisky, and at Rothes this association reaches a level not seen since we were in Campbeltown many, many months ago (yeah, I know, I really need to crack on with this).

After quoting unaccredited from Burns poem Scotch Drink in his previous report on Glen Grant, Barnard does the same again for Glen Rothes ending his 1887 report with the preface to that poem:

Gie him strong drink until he wink,
That's sinking in despair;
An' liquor guid to fire his bluid,
That's prest wi' grief and care:
There let him bouse, an' deep carouse,
Wi' bumpers flowing o'er,
Till he forgets his loves or debts,
An' minds his griefs no more.

This is a reworking into Scots of Solomon’s Proverbs 31, v6-7, a practice that Burns adopts occasionally when using biblical verses as prefaces to his own works.  Barnard had previously quoted this verse in his Glengyle distillery report, and he also concludes his 1899 return visit to Glen Rothes with another verse he has used before, this time in his Kinloch distillery report from Campbeltown and which is from Burns’ Third Epistle To J. Lapraik, 1785:

Your friendship, Sir, I winna quat it,
An' if ye mak' objections at it,
Then hand in neive some day we'll knot it,
An' witness take,
An' when wi' usquabae we've wat it
It winna break.

I noted on my Kinloch report that this was the poetic equivalent of ‘you're ma best mate, so ye are’ when you’ve had a few too many of the falling down water, although Barnard doesn’t record having tasted any whisky on either visit to Glen Rothes.

All The Glenrothes releases
The Burns connection continues through the later Highland Distilleries booklet being titled Willie Brew’d a Peck o’ Maut, which is taken from his 1789 song of the same title, one which we have previously noted at Campbeltown Distillery as being a bawdy celebration of a night that Burns spent drinking with his best friends until well past dawn.  I’m not convinced that Barnard fully appreciated the meaning of the poem when the title was selected for what essentially appears to be a corporate marketing brochure, and on that earlier occasion he had credited it incorrectly as a song that Burns sang when visiting his sweetheart Highland Mary in the town!

I don’t think Burns ever visited Rothes.  The only recorded journey of his that ventured this far north took him along the Moray coast, where he had stops at nearby Elgin and Fochabers, before continuing on east to Banff and returning to Edinburgh via the east coast, all in the summer of 1787 (Cairney, 2000).  However, continuing the tenuous connection between his poetry and Rothes, the whisky brand Cutty Sark also owes its name in part to him.

Cutty Sark Visitors' Centre at Glenrothes Distillery
Cutty Sark was a nickname given to one of the witches in Burns magnum opus Tam o’ Shanter.  But not just any witch.  This was Nannie, a strong yet winsome wench who caught Tam’s eye as she danced, and held his gaze “like ane bewitch’d”.  Tam calls her Cutty Sark as she was wearing a sark (a nightshirt or slip) that she had originally had as a young lassie and which therefore was now “in longitude tho’ sorely scanty”, or as Berry Bros. enticingly put it “the abbreviated chemise of a winsome wench”.  Nannie was the only one that caught up with Tam’s horse as he fled the scene and that speed perhaps inspired Cutty Sark being given as a name to the fast tea clipper that ran the line between Britain and China.

Brig o' Doon at Alloway, where Tam's mare Meg met her fate
The ship is now berthed at Greenwich in London, the last remaining tea clipper in the world after having been retired from service in 1922, the year before Berry Bros & Rudd launched their premium blended whisky of the same name.  A line drawing of the clipper still adorns the label of a whisky that was first conceived 89 years ago to this very day.  The aged versions of the whisky are exceptional drams with varying characteristics and a 25yo ‘Tam o’ Shanter’ special was released for Burns Night this year, 222 years after the poem was written, described as a rich, full-bodied and boisterous whisky in keeping with the story, and indeed the lassie known as Cutty Sark herself!

Tam o' Shanter tells of the dangers that can befall drunken behaviour and Burns concluded the poem with a word of warning to us menfolk:

Now, wha this tale o' truth shall read,
Ilk man, and mother's son, take heed:
Whene'er to drink you are inclin'd,
Or cutty-sarks run in your mind,
Think, ye may buy the joys o'er dear;
Remember Tam o' Shanter's mare.

Cheers Rabbie, thanks a lot!  Regardless, I know what whisky I will be sharing with friends in the pub tonight on this anniversary, and I shall try to avoid any auld kirks on the way home.  SlĂ inte!