Sipping Whisky In Sunny Hawaii

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - September 03, 2008
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The winter before our son Max was born - and the last time I traveled as a free spirit unencumbered by baby buggies and bottles - I spent a week on the island of Islay in Scotland. It was an unusually cold December, with record low temperatures of minus 10 degrees and freezing fog.

I’m reminded of this trip, sitting here in sunny Hawaii, because somebody came up to me in a restaurant recently and asked, “Why would anybody drink whisky in Hawaii?”

Lots of reasons, I supposed, but the man protested: “You’d need a roaring fire and a wild wind outside before I’d drink that stuff.”

I’d never really thought too much about it before, but the more I pondered his remark, the more I began to wonder if there is a place for whisky in a tropical climate, where a winter’s morning of 62 degrees would qualify as a mild summer’s day in the chilly North. And I wondered if, on that morning six years ago, wrapped up in my woolen scarf and hat with thick socks tucked into my hiking boots, I would have enjoyed a dram of whisky less if the temperature increased.

The answer is no.

There’s a place for a peaty single malt or a vanilla and burnt chocolate blend on the warmest day, just as there’s nothing finer than the sherried warmth of a Macallan 18-year-old on the coldest night, no matter where in the world you are.

The reason I think people expect to drink whisky where and when its cold has as much to do with a quest for romance as it has with a need for a good dram.

But sit at Lewer’s Lounge at the Halekulani, for example, and enjoy a sip of rare Johnnie Walker Blue, and you’ll not find much missing from your environment, I’ll guess.

What I do admit is that drinking close to the source has its advantages. One morning on that last trip to Islay, I stood on the small beach outside the Bowmore distillery squeezing kelp (seaweed) and watching the waves crash against the distillery wall.

It’s not really that Bowmore tastes any different in Scotland, it’s just that it’s easier to get romantic about whisky when you’re standing on the land outside one of the world’s great distilleries.

The island of Islay, where much of Scotland’s whisky is produced, has a smell that’s all its own - a mixture of malted barley and the ocean mixed with the heady smell of yeast drifting down from the bakery at 4 a.m. Walking the narrow,

There’s a place for a peaty single malt on the warmest day, just as there’s nothing finer than the sherried warmth of a Macallan 18-year-old on the coldest night, no matter where in the world you are.

single-lane streets, there’s a muggy scent of hedgerows, peat and wild grass, and together they build the intoxicating aromas of a magical island.

On Islay, you get used to listening to people tell stories. People stop to talk at every opportunity, despite the often freezing temperatures. I sometimes think the entire island is woven together with words.

So of course there’s romance at the source.

But that’s true, too, of a freshly pressed Italian olive oil, a ripe Georgia peach or Kona coffee beans. Just because we can’t consume them at their source is no reason to write them off forever.

For me, there’s a joy in sipping whisky in front of both roaring fires and the setting sun.


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