Kingsley Amis on whiskey, marvel of the Wild West

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Further thoughts on everyday drinking, from Sir Kingsley Amis, who settles the question of regional whiskey spellings and marvels at the fortitude of the gunslingers of yore:

Whiskey in the USA has a long, colourful history. (Note that it is indeed spelt with an “e,” along with Irish whiskey — the Scotch and Canadian varieties are both plain whisky.)

One of the most illustrious early American distillers was George Washington, who manufactured the stuff commercially at his place near Mount Vernon in Virginia [Ed. note: reconstructed distillery above], and was very proud of the high reputation of his merchandise. I’m sure it was great for its time, but then and for long afterwards the general run of whiskey must have been pretty rough. I’ve often thought that the really amazing achievement of the Western hero wasn’t his ability to shoot a pip out of a playing card at fifty paces, nor even his knack of dropping crotch first into his saddle from an upstairs window, but the way he could stride into the saloon, call for whiskey, knock it back neat and warm in one and not so much as blink, let alone burst into paroxysms of uncontrollable coughing.

All that, of course, is changed now. American whiskeys are second to none in smoothness, blandness, everything that goes to make a fine spirit…

George Washington’s distillery has been resurrected, and I’ve been meaning to try the stuff.

Further reading: The spirits of 1776; archaeologists’ notes on the excavation of the Mount Vernon distillery; Hangover reading with Kingsley Amis; Charles Dickens’ eggnog (according to Eudora Welty); The Newtons, blood, and bank-robbing cousins. Cheers!


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