The Influence of Scotch Whisky in Literature

Take a look at literature from any era, and you are sure to encounter an author or two who believed in the potential of liquor to inspire them to write. If not inspire, at least propel them into finishing what they had started. And because they shared such a colourful relationship with alcohol, it often showed in their work. It could be in the form of a pro-liquor argument or making one or more of their characters drink what they drink. There have also been a considerable number of books written based entirely on the practice of drinking. But the list would be long if we talked about all works of fiction and nonfiction that have anything to do with alcohol. So, let’s cut down a bit and think about literature that shares connection to only whisky. In fact, let’s shortlist it further and eliminate authors and works that are related to bourbon. This bit is hard-- we all love bourbon, but we will nevertheless keep them off this article because here’s trying to place scotch whisky in the domain of literature and gauze its influence on the same.

Let’s begin by looking at William Faulkner. One of America’s greatest novelists had issues pertaining to his family, which were compounded by his alcoholism. Then came a time when it was hard to tell which worsened which, but Faulkner maintained that he liked whisky and that no whisky was bad. In fact, in his 1927 New Orleans-based novel, Mosquitoes, Faulkner writes, “What is it that makes a man drink whisky on a night like this, anyway?” While he was also extremely fond of Mint Juleps, he restricted its consumptions to hot summer afternoons. That aside, his general thought went in line with what he wrote in his very first novel, Soldier’s Pay, “What can equal a mother’s love? Except a good drink of whiskey.”

That Mark Twain loved whisky is well known. However, what most people do not know is how his affair with whisky began, before he depended wholly on it. Legend has it that in 1873 while we was on board the SS City of Chester, crossing the Atlantic, he would join the ship’s surgeon every evening for conversations. These conversations would always take place over what is presumably the earliest prototype of the Old-Fashioned. The whisky in the cocktail was inevitably scotch and while Twain profoundly drank bourbon, he also made his love for scotch evident by means of his characters. For instance, in the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck’s father Pap was a heavy whisky drinker.

Raymond Chandler is another postmodern novelist who couldn’t keep off the golden tipple. One of Chandler’s letters from 1955 reflected on his routine of beginning with a drink of white wine, then ending up finishing two bottles of scotch a day. But surprisingly, his famous literary character Philip Marlowe loved Gimlets, something which he couldn’t bring himself to like. Raymond Chandler, often credited as the founder of the hard-boiled postmodern detective fiction, drank to think of new plots and new intricacies in his existing ones. And there’s no denying that good scotch makes for a good accompaniment with a good detective fiction—doesn't matter if you are writing one or reading one.

There are several other authors who acknowledged the influence of scotch whisky on their works. Graham Greene, John Steinbeck, Ian Flemming—James Bond had plenty of whisky unlike what you have seen in the film adaptations where he refuses to go beyond his Martinis. Ernest Hemmingway, Hunter S. Thompson, Dylan Thomas and Bill Fitzhugh to name just a scant few. Whisky and literature go back a long way, as is the case with many other forms of art. At the tired end of a day, if you choose to read a book in bed,consider pouring yourself a dram of scotch too and see how satisfying it is. On that note, this International Scotch Day, let’s also pledge to read more books irrespective of them having anything to do with whisky!