A Whisky Carol
Ileach MacDaubh was a morose 67-year-old man, turned bitter by the tidings of his long life amongst the dregs of society. For almost fifty years he had dedicated his life to the water of life; usquebaugh, that most people will be familiar with as the brown liquid that’s called whisky. Ileach grew up not two miles from the Glen Grant distillery in Rothes – Speyside. Where people lived and breathed whisky, every single day of their lives. And like so many other young boys from Rothes, Ileach would dream of one day working in the industry that had made his hometown flourish.
Through hard work and dedication, that dream had come true for Ileach MacDaubh. As he became president of a cask investment company, overseeing more than a million gallons of top-notch whisky stored away in warehouses. Where he was currently overseeing a project that would give his investors interest rates that would make the stock market blush and bow its head in shame. Yes, it meant some amazing whiskies would be stored away for decades. Till the point where tannins from the barrel would make drinking it feel like chewing on a piece of wood. Or until the point where the angels share would leave nothing behind but a few measly drops. Barely enough to be enjoyed by the filthy rich, with nothing left for the common whisky lover.
But Ileach didn’t care, he didn’t even drink whisky for enjoyment anymore. Nowadays he would only fill up a glass as part of a sales pitch. Pretending some disgusting over-oaked slosh was the best thing he ever tasted, knowing the poor sobs who bought it would only drink it for the prestige anyway. Yes, it meant he contributed to making good whisky more and more unattainable for people who had actual love for the dram. But Ileach didn’t give one damn, as it was those same whisky lovers that never held any love for him in the first place. Where he grew up he had been bullied constantly, just because his father had deemed it funny to name a boy from Speyside Ileach, after the people from Islay.
But tonight, Ileach found himself in an even more sour mood than usual. It was the day of Christmas Eve, and as usual December had been a monthlong torment for him. With everybody dying to know what would make the perfect Christmas gift. Or which dram would be the perfect pairing to their luxurious over the top Christmas dinners. Bah, humbug… he didn’t care. For all he cared those same people served prison wine with their roasted pheasants. But he had to put on his mask… for the good of the company. It wouldn’t do to compare a finely aged 40-year-old scotch to something brewed in the human waste disposal system from a lifetime detainee.
But it wasn’t just the questions about whisky that bothered him all day long. It was the constant invites to Christmas parties. With worst of all the incessant nagging of his younger brother to show up to his “family-dinner” for once. How was it a family dinner, when none of them had been willing to take them in when they were orphaned at the age of 12 and 15. But every year, that sentimental brother of his would try and get some relatives together.
Well, not Ileach. Not the first time his brother came up with the idea, nor the second time… not ever. Ileach set out to do what he had been doing for a Christmas Eve tradition ever since he turned 18. He would walk the streets – until his hands were frozen – and find the most depressing looking bar that was still open. He’d order some strong liquor – without caring what it was – and start knocking them back until he was drunk enough to know that the following day would pass by in a haze, clouded over by a tremendous hangover.
As Ileach was making his way down George Street – in his current homeplace of Edinburgh – he spotted exactly what he looked for. A gloomy and deserted little pub, with a cracked sign over the door that read “The Hogshead”. There were only a handful of people in the bar, and it looked grimy enough to ensure not many more people would be likely to enter. The people there we’re probably a couple of regulars who would leave him well alone, so he could skulk away into a quiet dark corner.
He stepped inside and found the perfect spot to sit down for the night. As expected, the regulars paid him no mind as only the barman nodded in his direction to signal he would be with him shortly. As Ileach sat down he spotted rows and rows of whisky bottles on the shelves of the café, and he grumbled to himself. He should’ve known better… “The Hogshead” of course it was a whisky bar. He was about to get up, when the barman showed up at his table asking what it was going to be. What the heck – Ileach thought to himself – I will just have him pour me a dram from a random bottle and I’ll make my way through the damned thing. It’s better than going back outside.
Just give me a random glass of whisky and leave the bottle, he said to the barman. But to his surprise the barman replied that he only served flights in his establishment. Ileach rolled his eyes and grumbled under his breath about his luck. He looked at the window at the far side of the bar and saw torrents of snow raging outside. Fine, he exclaimed. Just bring me a flight then, but God help me don’t make me pick out the drams. “That serves me just as well” replied the barman. And it wasn’t long before he made his way back to Ileach’s dark corner of the café, with a barrel stave holding three glasses of whisky. “Just make sure to keep them coming!” Ileach called out as the barman walked away. To which the barman replied with a chuckle and a devilish look in his eye, that THAT… would not be a problem.
The Dram of Christmas Past
The barrel stave in front of Ileach had little inlaid nametags in front of the glasses of whisky. And the first dram read Glen Grant 18. Ofcourse – Ileach spoke softly to himself – a dram from the damned distillery that has haunted me my entire life. He picked up the glass, and without paying any attention to the nose whatsoever he knocked it back in one go. In the end it didn’t matter what distillery the whisky came from, as long as it would get him drunk.
He stared idly out of the window, while letting the slight burn in his throat wear off a little. But when he wanted to reach for the second glass of his flight, he saw that the glass of Glen Grant 18 was full again. Slightly perplexed he concluded de barman must have refilled it while his mind drifted. He was just about to yell at the barman that this was not what he meant when he had said to keep them coming, when he saw that the bar had become completely deserted. Even the barman himself was out of sight.
Not thinking more of it than a slight coincidence, Ileach decided to just down another glass of the Glen Grant. At least it meant he had one more glass to go before having to call out to the pesky barman again, which was a positive all things considered. But this time – as Ileach brought the glass to his lips – he could smell pears, vanilla, and honey coming off the glass. And as the liquid hit his tongue, he started tasting caramel, apples and lemon zest… Suddenly the room went black, and everything in his mind started tumbling about.
When he came to, he wasn’t in The Hogshead anymore. Yet he immediately knew where he was. He was back in Rothes, in the tiny cottage where his family used to live. And right there in front of him he saw his younger self, whittling away at the tiny toy soldier he was creating for Ben – his younger brother. Ben was looking eagerly over his shoulder – as the piece of wood was coming more and more into shape – while their mother hummed a cheerful tune. It all seemed so peaceful, but Ileach’s heart started to sink as he knew what would come next.
Even before the door swung open, they could hear their father (Regibald) was in a particular bad mood today. It was Christmas Eve, and – as Ileach knew now – his father had just been laid off at the Glen Grant distillery, for being caught one too many times with a dipping dog tucked away in his boot. The brothers knew their father’s temper and thus young Ileach told his brother Ben to quickly hide. As Ben was scurrying away, the fumes of alcohol coming from their father’s breath entered the room long before he himself did.
In a long and angry slur, Regibald started shouting at his wife to “gheddup gheddressed andgheready togohout”. The drunk man wanted to bury his sorrow, by painting the town. Young Ileach seemed to already know that his mother would not leave her children alone for Christmas eve, but he also knew what would happen if she refused the man. So, the 15-year-old boy spoke up and started telling his mother that it would be a fun idea and that he and Ben would be just fine. Which bought him a slap across the cheek from his father, with a firm reprimand that he shouldn’t meddle in his parents’ affairs. As the boy had feared though, his mother did refuse to go out. Which led to her receiving the back of Regibald’s hand as well.
Eventually his mother was forced to go out, and Ileach found himself shouting and begging at his mother to please don’t leave with that dreaded man. He knew what would happen, but they couldn’t hear him. He shouted at his younger self, to get in front of his parents. To block their path whatever way possible. But once again, they boy couldn’t hear a word he said. He just stood there, as Ben emerged snivelling from the pantry, and they watched their parents drive away.
That night they spend Christmas Eve together, cramped around the tiny lump of peat that was left in the fireplace. Waiting for their parents to come home, with their father hopefully in a better mood. But that moment never came. A few minutes before the clock would strike twelve, it was a police car that showed up at their cottage instead. The boys listened in quiet shock to the police officer who explained to them they would never see their parents again. Their drunk father had lost control of the steering wheel and driven his car into the river Spey. Him, nor their Mother, had made it out alive.
The Dram of Christmas Present
Ileach woke up back in the Hogshead and found out that his glass had stayed empty this time around. Still a bit shaken up by the strength of the memory he just experienced he looked hesitantly at the second glass on the barrel stave in front of him. Part of him afraid to take a sip from it, as he recognised what was on the label as a dram from which he knew it held a strong memory for him. The Glenrothes Whisky Maker’s Cut.
He decided to exchange it for another dram, but as he looked up, he saw that the bar was still deserted. Not wanting to give into his fears completely, he decided on knocking it back as fast as he could. In hopes it wouldn’t trigger the memory. And to his great relief, nothing happened. Nothing, except that he felt it was high time to pay a visit to the loo. When he came back to his table though, he saw that the glass of Glenrothes was full once again. But still the barman was nowhere in sight.
Unconcerned this time around, Ileach brought the glass to his lips. But as he did, he started to smell dried strawberries and figs. And as the fluid touched his tongue, he tasted more dried dark fruits and even some liquorice. A tear pierced the corner of his eye, as the room went black. And his mind started tumbling about again.
This time around Ileach thought he knew where he would end up, but it turned out he was wrong. He was once again in Rothes, but he found himself in the living room of an older lady he didn’t recognise at first. Until he saw what she was clutching in her fingers. A picture of a beautiful young woman, with flowing red hair. Caught in a tight embrace with none other than 27-year-old Ileach. And then Ileach recognised her. It was Mary the love of his life.
Mary had always been a lively spirit, that had set her heart on traveling the world. But at the time Ileach still had the lifelong dream of working at a distillery back in his hometown of Rothes. And with the utmost grace, Mary had adjusted her expectations of life to suit his. They moved back to Rothes, where Ileach had taken a job as floor manager at the Glenrothes distillery.
But then came one afternoon – on the day before Christmas – where he had agreed to meet Mary for a walk down Rothes way. On that same day, his boss had dropped by his office to tell him they would be releasing a new whisky next year. And that Ileach had to keep the stills running through Christmas to make it possible. Seeing this as a great opportunity to step into the spotlight, Ileach had eagerly agreed. And he had set out towards Rothes way not for a romantic walk. But to tell Mary she would have to spend Christmas without him.
When Ileach told her, he had seen anger mixed with a deep sadness written on Mary’s face. And this was the point where Mary had broken things off with him. For which 27-year-old Ileach had cursed her, thinking of her as unsupportive. Too thick headed to see she had given up her dreams for him. He had never tried to make things right with her either, seeing as Mary was strongheaded as ever and he had always been convinced she’d never take him back.
But looking at her now, clutching that picture. He saw that by doing so, he may have made a grave mistake. Walking around her room, he didn’t see any pictures of children or grandchildren. In fact, there were barely any pictures in the room at all. Except that one picture she was clutching. And as he walked around her, to look in her face. He saw the tears glistening in her eyes, and there was no holding back the waterflow for himself.
The Dram of Christmas Future
When Ileach woke up in the Hogshead, the tears where still rolling down his face. And instead of being alarmed, he felt relieved the bar was still empty. No one had witnessed him crying. Thankfully the glass of Glenrothes remained empty this time and as he picked up the third glass – to drown his sorrows – he felt relieved for the first time ever while smelling Islay peat coming off the glass.
Relieved, because it meant he would have no memories from this dram. He had always steered clear from those dreadful peated drams. As he was bullied enough as a child in Rothes – because of his name – to cure him from ever wanting to try a glass. And on top of that, it was just peat that came from the glass anyway. Not really what you’d call complex enough to give you a flashback of memories. So, he put the dram to his lips, and slammed it back.
After finishing the glass in one big gulp he suddenly gets alarmed as he feels a hand on his shoulder. He jumps out of his chair, only to find it’s the bartender with a bottle from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, with the nickname Of the Clan MacRancio. The dram he just knocked back in one go. The bartender immediately apologised and explained he only wanted to ask if Ileach wanted a second glass. Still in a frightened state Ileach got angry at the bartender, asking the man angrily where he had been all night. The bartender simply replied that he had been around and asked if Ileach perhaps preferred it he left the bottle of this whisky at the table.
Ileach looked at the bottle and remembered everything that had happened tonight thus far. And decided he did need another drink, but one would more than suffice. After getting the requested pour he brought the glass to his mouth, but this time around he smelled more than just peat. He smelled leather, dried plums and even some roses. When the liquid touched his tongue, he tasted chocolate, mint and caramel. And just when he felt a smile tug at the corners of his mouth – realising how good this Islay actually tasted – the room started to grow dark. And everything in his mind started tumbling about.
When he woke up, Ileach was no longer at the Hogshead. Instead, he found himself at a graveyard. At a deserted plot with a single preposterously large tombstone. Probably some rich person, Ileach thought to himself – even in death looking to show of his wealth. The grave garden in front of it didn’t hold a single flower though, nor was there a single candle lit. But there were two people at the tombstone that stood there softly weeping. And to his shock, Ileach saw that it was Ben and Mary. Then he looked at the tombstone and saw that it was enscribed with his name. And he realised this was exactly how he would end up. Unloved, forgotten and alone. By all except the two people who loved him throughout the years, without him giving them anything to show for it.
This time when Ileach woke up in the Hogshead he didn’t wake up with a darkened or saddened mood. He woke up with the greatest joy he had felt in years. Because he was still alive. And there was still time to make things right, with the people he loved the most. But not just that, he felt determined to make things right with the world. No longer would he be a bitter old man.
He stormed out of the Hogshead and as he turned around – to give it one last look – he saw it had disappeared. But he paid it no mind, as he knew what he had to do. He raced over to Mary’s house. And he knocked on her door. She recognised him instantly and with his old bones he kneeled in front of her. He kissed her hand, and then stood up to kiss the tears from her cheeks. They placed the picture on the mantle and danced like in the olden days. Until they fell asleep, in each other’s arms. All without saying a word. Because for what they felt in their hearts – and saw in each other’s eyes – no words were necessary.
And the next morning he took her back to Rothes. Where his little brother still lived. And he showed up with the finest whiskies from his stock, to share among all the relatives that had showed up. And there were more relatives than he ever could have imagined. But the greatest gift of all that day, was the smile on his brothers face when he opened the door. Revealing not just his brother but getting the warm loving hug he had longed for, for so many years.
Finally, he turned his eye on the world of whisky. That had brought him so much pain, but everything he had at the same time. And he decided it was high time, to stop catering to investors. So, he bought all the investors out. And then released the finest casks of all his whiskies, for whisky lovers all around the globe. With a special message in the box for everyone, that read merry Christmas and happy holidays to everyone!
I hope you liked my wee whisky Christmas story.
To everyone the best of times during the coming holidays.