The Bottling of Scottish Culture

I held my umbrella with shivering hands as a gush of wind spread across my skin and gnawed at my stiff muscles. It was June 29th. We were in Edinburgh on a summer day, though you might not easily guess the season. I looked up to see a dusky sky; it seemed as if evil had overthrown even the smallest hints of purity. Trees swayed back and forth, as if they were drunk from all the whisky and wine flowing through Scottish soil, and the many passers-by were bundled with thick sweatshirts and pants.

I stepped into a random shop and marveled at its view. It was an antique yet classy-looking whiskey and wine shop. A medley of bottles cascaded from the ceiling and an array of crystal glasses sparkled across the tables. I sat on a red and white striped couch, feeling the warmth finally seep into my body and cooking me like a marshmallow. It felt like Christmas. I could hear the rain and wind rumble the windows, yet this shop was the one that blew me away.  Though I’m not old enough to sample the virtues (or vice) of Scotlands most famous export, this trip was truly an educational experience into the fascinating culture of Scotch Whisky.

Whisky is a unique component of Scotland’s culture. Its production, a process involving malting, mashing, fermentation, distillation, and maturation, dates back to hundreds of years of history. Although modern historians are unsure of the true origin, one popular legend narrates that it was Saint Patrick who brought the craft of distillation to Scotland and Ireland during his ministry to the Celts. Others, however, believe that it came from the Arab world in the Middle Ages. Nevertheless, it is astonishing that the legendary drink has survived for generations, perhaps becoming the country’s most potent symbol.

“We’re a wee country, and this [whisky] is something that’s ours and it’s enjoyed around the world. We’re proud of it,” said Alistair Mcdonald, manager of the Auchentoshan distillery located south of Glasgow (Zachary Davies Boren, The Telegraph). 

Popularity of Scottish whisky (colloquially called “Scotch”) continues to grow each year. Its appreciation can be noticed in the recent movie, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, which featured a strong pride in whiskey throughoutGlenDronach, a Scottish whiskey distillery, released the new Kingsman Edition 1991 Vintage in honor of the film in August 2017. According to ScotchWhisky.com, it sells roughly £550 (1,200 SGD) each, with only 2,000 bottles available across the US, United Kingdom, and parts of Asia.

“I selected the 1991 vintage as it marks the birth year of ‘Eggsy,’ says Vaughn. ‘It’s really special to get a limited edition vintage like this…” (Paste)

With whisky prices continuously increasing with rare expressions, long-term investment is said to be comparable to buying gold (Rupert Patrick, CNBC).

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The Macallan Sherry Oak 30 years in ‘Whisky & Wine’

In 1494, the production and consumption of whisky in Scotland had already skyrocketed; fast forward to 2009, Scottish brewers exported a record breaking 1.1 billion bottles of whisky to customers all over the world. The Macallan distillery is a single malt Scotch whisky distillery in Craigellachie, Moray that has paved its way to the top for quality malt whisky for the past four decades. At the Edinburgh shop I visisted, I saw expensive bottles of The Macallan locked up in glass cabinets. Watching a family buy the rare Macallan Sherry Oak 30 years (priced around 6,000 SGD), I found it a little excessive to purchase such a commodity. However, with whisky prices continuously increasing with rare expressions, long-term investment is said to be comparable to buying gold (Rupert Patrick, CNBC).

Just like wine, single malt whiskies are now seen as an investment. The highest price ever secured for a bottle of whisky at auction was £11.18 million (above 20 million SGD) in 2017, a rise of 94 percent from 2016 (CNBC). Rupert Patrick, CEO of whisky trading website WhiskyInvestDirect states that the value of commodity gets better the longer it is stored, ultimately saying that investment can achieve high returns.

On the other hand, Ian Buxton, a consultant commentator and author of the 1010 Whiskies Series, disagrees with the investment of whisky. “The farmer who grew the barley wanted you to drink it. The yeast that died making the whisky wanted you to drink it. Above all, the people who crafted it, whether three years ago or 35 years ago, made it for you to enjoy, ” claims Buxton (ScotchWhisky.com), believing that whisky ultimately has no significance and value until you drink it.

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Fettes College at Edinburgh. Photo edited and taken by Mi Le.

Distillation of Scotch whisky has been performed for centuries, remaining as one of Scotland’s most potent cultural symbol. One might disagree — or even find it offensive that a country is most noteworthy by its drinking habits.  Whether you agree or disagree, the financial returns of investment might tempt you (when of legal age, of course) to acquire a rare bottle of your own. 

Author: Mi Le Jang

Mi Le Jang is a second-year reporter of The Eye. She is a Junior at SAS, and it is her 13th year at SAS. In her free time, Mi Le enjoys shooting and editing videos, making art, and being with her friends and family. You can probably find her hanging in the media lab alone, but she can also be contacted at jang30003@sas.edu.sg

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