Of Peats and Putts

You can obtain the book from Amazon or at a special discount price of £17.50 incl P&P, by emailing Andrew at whiskyandgolf@gmail.com and asking for the FineGolf discount.

 

 

Andrew Brown, a Scot with a marketing background, has written a fascinating 150-page handbook simultaneously reviewing golf courses and malt whisky called “Of peats and putts”.

His attitude to where enjoyment lies in golf is similar to that of FineGolf and the nine courses he reviews are all ‘running-golf’ courses, some with more perennial fine grasses than others. Brora (90%), Tain (80%), Boat of Garten (80%), Moray (10% in 2011), Blairgowrie Rosemount (50%), St Andrews Eden (60%), Kilspindie (?), Machrihanish (5% in 2013) and The Machrie (60% in 2013).

The book is a discovery of the characteristics that make these courses distinctive, linked to what makes the malt whisky from the local distillery different from other malts.

He chooses nine distilleries from the smallest to the largest, from private family-owned, to mega corporate-owned and uses his sceptical enquiring mind to give us an enjoyable canter through the whisky industry from manufacture through to marketing and distribution.

Back-room whisky stills were around in ancient times and when, in the 19th century, businessmen eventually got Parliament to reduce and equalise the tax, the industry took off, producing a ‘blended’ product.

The first pure malt was produced in 1961 and pure malts now account for 10% of total Scottish consumption.

A proper sized whisky goblet!

I remember my uncle Ian Smith (a famous rugby player who still holds the record number of international tries scored for Scotland – 24 from 32 games during 1924 to 1933, also the present world record 75% strike rate per match for a winger) suffered from thrombosis later in life and actually had to have one leg amputated in the 1960s because his thigh arteries were damaged from so many rugby tackles. Anyway, to keep his blood thin, rather than taking rat poison, his doctor put him on a bottle of Glen Grant a day! This was a full strength pure malt with a weak colour and when his friends visited him at Walton Hall in Kelso, they would all drink whisky out of enormous Boodle’s goblets that in 1962 were struck to commemorate the 200th anniversary of his London club, with the liquid being all of the same colour. Ian’s tipple being almost neat malt, while his friends’ were of cheaper blended whisky, darker in colour but when mixed with water lightened-up! Everybody was happy and he trusted me to keep his shenanigans secret.

“Of peats and putts” as a potted history of golf and of whisky, Andrew covers a wide area in enjoyable prose and having a friend who is a water-colourist of some ability, the book is peppered with his simple and accurate landscapes.

He gives us some interesting facts including:

  • France being the biggest whisky drinking market per capita in the world.
  • Glenmorangie, the largest brand after Glenfiddich, is now owned by the French LVMH company(Louis Vuitton, Moet, Hennessy) and continues the theme of ‘The men of Tain in the Glen of tranquility’, though the bottle now looks a bit French.
  • Diageo released a small amount of their stocks of 40-year old Brora in 2014 at the amazing retail price of £7,000 a bottle.
  • The making of good gin spirit essentially requires the same skills as making good whisky spirit. The difference is that gin doesn’t mature so can be sold immediately, hence its cash flow advantages.

Andrew believes there is a clear correlation between the growth of a middle class and whisky consumption around the world. So the export future of the Scottish industry lies in premium malts, because competing with the locally produced standard product is difficult.

He continually returns to rub his itch of what it is exactly that makes this product of only three ingredients different one from another?

He examines how each distillery points to slight differences in its manufacturing process which create the specific characteristics of each whisky; the water, the temperature of the water, the malting of the barley, the use or not of peat in the kiln, the type of yeast, the time left in the ‘wash-back’, the size and shape of the stills etc. He understands there is considerable mystique attached to all these elements though suggests that most will acknowledge that the single biggest factor is the nature of the maturation; in what type of barrels and for how long the whisky is matured, by law a minimum of three years and normaly ten or twelve.

As the tour evolves he becomes convinced that the taste of the whisky is heavily influenced by the context of where and when you drink it. Is it all in the mind?

He says there is a similar mystique around the marketing of golf-balls. There are many different brands and each brand, understandably, wants to tell you that its ball is better. Now for a golf ball there are essentially two features which players want; first the ball to go further and, secondly, for it to display good control around the greens. There tends to be a trade-off between these two objectives; harder balls go further while softer balls take more spin and therefore give more control. Most golf-balls today claim to do both! One brand markets four balls which presumably have slightly different characteristics – some are softer than others – but the descriptions supplied with these four balls on their distance capabilities are as follows; ‘exceptional distance’, ‘outstanding distance’, explosive distance’, and ‘impressive distance’. These balls also claim to have, respectively, ‘more short game spin and control’, ‘excellent stopping control’, ‘playable feel’ and ‘good short game playability’.

Aside from the rather clumsy, technical golfing language, Andrew says it is essentially the same with whisky; most will want to claim to be ‘smooth’, ‘mellow’ and ‘delicate’. He does find this amusing as a marketing man and therefore while he enjoys the carefully written stories about each brand he remains a little sceptical.

We must agree with Andrew that there is a spiritual side to golf and malt whisky.

It seems to him that both allow space in our lives to pause and to reflect. Both should encourage thought, concentration, and calmness. He asks what mysterious element is added to both that gives each its unique place? He answers that he can’t help feel it might be Scotland herself. This is not to say he can’t enjoy golf anywhere else, or extol the virtues of a Japanese malt, but these two great things reflect the Scotland he knows and values, when it respects its landscape, history and tradition.

This book is well worth reading even though the author has not yet quite discovered the link that it is the fine perennial grasses that in the end are the fundamental requirement that gives running-golf and thereby the most enjoyment. In a similar way the prime differences in malt whisky taste can be distilled down to the simple equation of how much peat has been used, perhaps?

 

FineGolf is in awe of the whisky marketing boys in creating such a successful, booming, high margin market and it is enormous fun discovering the enjoyment of golf and malt whisky with Andrew.

Obtain the book from Amazon or at a special discount price of £17.50 incl P&P, by emailing Andrew at whiskyandgolf@gmail.com and asking for the FineGolf discount.