Welcome to The Study, where I will take an aspect of the Just the Facts and delve in to it in a deep and meaningful way in order to bring further clarity to that aspect.
I would hope that you leave here having confusion and uncertainty wiped from your brain and carry instead a full understanding of what exactly is going on here.
This week, given that Just the Facts was all about the common cold, the in depth study this week can only be about whisky. Or whiskey.
Whisky of course was invented by a group of nuns living mostly alone on a Scottish island in the 6th Century, along with gin, rum, vodka and brandy. Various documents of the age refer to the the convent on the island there as ‘a complete and incoherent shambles‘ and the nuns as ‘of little use to anyone but jolly good fun‘.
It is thought that whisky got its name from the ‘whiskers’ of the islands boss, Mother Superior Jock MacStrap, who was described as having a ‘fine head of roaring red hair and a beard that should be feared‘. Debate rages about whether there were originally any commas in that sentence.
Rumours from any occasional returning visitors from the island about the nun’s fantastic new distilling processes became more widespread, as did some of the more friendly nuns, and soon there was a roaring trade in the new spirits, general drunken shenanigans and a population explosion to go with all the other explosions.
Gradually the secrets of distilling whisky got out from the island and became more widely known, however whisky mainly stayed in Scotland to begin with as the early methods of production originally needed a lot of Haggis bodies.
The Scots tried to keep whisky to themselves for a few centuries but there was a leak to America when some wavering Puritans smuggled a few cases on their first journeys across the Atlantic ocean as insurance – they reasoned that if their faith wasn’t strong enough to survive the voyage they could at least get an unconditional pickling.
With the absence of natural Haggis to use in the distilling process, the early Americans tried all sorts of animals as a replacement, starting with anything that looked broadly similar, like the hard to find Khaki-Splodged Bashful Muskrat.
Once they were all used up, and in the general way of Americans, they reasoned that bigger was better anyway and worked through all the mammals until eventually getting up to the Buffalo. They proceeded to use them till they were gone too – then they were motivated to find a way to do it without any animals at all. To this day, whisky is vegan.
Whisky got a big break in the early pioneering days of ‘the west’ of America when it was discovered that whisky was ideal for barmen to slide in glassfuls along the top of the bar. The quantities of both whisky and glasses made had to be increased to cope with the demand, not because people were drinking any more but because the later glasses on a typical evening out were only caught properly once in every eight.
It was at this time that the now famous introduction of an ‘e’ into the spelling became popular. Most think that now it is to do with the way it was pronounced in bars. Men previously unseen in town – carrying a big gun, wearing a black hat and sporting a mean look – approached the barman in the saloon deliberately and menacingly and simply said ‘Whisky’.
It is now thought that barmen, in their nervousness, may have mistaken this for ‘Whiskey’.
Whichever spelling you use, whisky is very popular nowadays although women generally avoid the really strong stuff as apparently it can put hair on your chest.
With varieties catering to many tastes, you’ll find at least one bottle per day will be a fine medicine for treating the common cold – or at least letting you forget you have one.