Travel and whisky would appear to be a pairing that underpins much that is thought and written about the spirit; for example, this very blog would not exist without whisky’s power of suggestion when it comes to converting an emotional response to a dram, experienced in stillness, into a coercive scheme of bodily movement and exertion.
When Tommy Dewar and the Walkers dispersed their whiskies throughout the world in the late 19th century, they provided a taste of home to those serving the Empire on foreign soil. Today, travel retail positions whisky as a purchase for the adventurer or pioneering businessperson, and it stands as an embodiment of Old World industry and craft which – to the emerging markets of Brazil, Russia, India and China – must carry its own air of exoticism, too.
One whisky brand firmly on the side of adventure is Scotch blend, Cutty Sark. For them, travel is as much about continued motion as it is seeking out new territories over the seven seas. From their international film competition, searching for new creative talent to tell the story of the brand and capture its personality, to paraphrase the website, to sponsoring the Travel Photographer of the Year initiative (see here), a certain restlessness ripples the sails of the famous clipper on its iconic yellow label. In stark deviation from the norm as far as my whisky post goes, they sent me the latest compilation of entries to the competition. This handsome coffee table book is entitled ‘Journey Four’, and manages to combine both processes I mentioned above: captured emotion as studies of stillness, and a global trek.
What I ask myself when I browse ‘Journey Four’ is: who is doing the travelling? Is it the photographer, who has proof in pixels of their own intrepidness, or is it me? By looking at these photographs, surely I’m seeing what the person who took them saw – I absorb a little of their panorama, their outlook, their biases. It is a kind of empathy of the eye. In these silent stills, travel becomes a gaze, or form of consumption. Travel photography induces a kind of awe and perhaps a series of urges. Protracted exposure to it breeds the same consequence as too much Cutty Sark: a sense of intoxication. Heady limitlessness is something I have been fortunate enough to experience through travel, and now and again with the help of a whisky or two, as well.
But if travel can be blockbuster in scope and sentiment (to quote a recent film release: an ‘unexpected journey’), it can also be particular, personal and even – perhaps – pedestrian. Still, however, the unexpected element renders it supremely precious. I have a part-time job not a mile away, serving all manner of single malts as well as cocktails. This has done more to expand my horizons concerning whisky than anything since the Scotch Odyssey and I haven’t had to get nearly so sweaty. It is providing me with new perspective on old favourites, and adding a sense of theatre and experimentation to a beverage. Drinks like the Manhattan and Martini have as much history as some distilleries, and so many fascinating contexts and occasions. Cutty Sark has a section of its website devoted to a selection of cocktails: ‘Launched at the height of cocktail culture, Cutty Sark became an instant hit in mixed drinks, whether as a whisky and soda in the Gentlemen’s Clubs of London’s West End or in the fashionable concoctions being created in glamorous bars – and homes – the world over’. Cocktails bring a world of creativity into your glass.
As far as my own creations are concerned, I more often than not get it wrong (who would have thought that Kilchoman, Cointreau, reduced yerba mate tea, lemon juice and soda wouldn’t have worked?) but this is hardly more serious than taking the wrong Highland road, and can be equally as instructive.
Realising what is at your fingertips - on your doorstep, even - and viewing it in new ways would fall under my definition of travel. A spirit (or spirits) of adventure ties together diverse communities and projects while keeping life interesting. Explore the boundaries of your whisky cabinet, and be surprised by the personalities you discover.