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The latest episode of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Scottish Literature available now

Podcast Logo1Kristian and I are carrying on our travels along the highways and byways of Scottish literature with the fifth episode of our podcast, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Scottish Literature, our digital escapade that’s part of Birlinn’s twenty-fifth anniversary celebrations. This episode is dedicated to one of Scotland’s most prolific and celebrated authors, Iain Crichton Smith, and in particular, his classic novel, Consider the Lilies.

A lot of us are probably more familiar with his poems and short stories – mainstays of the Scottish curriculum – and yet Crichton Smith is also a very fine novelist indeed. Consider the Lilies is regarded as one of his best, and it is a beautiful and finely drawn portrait of a Highland widow having to deal with the consequences of the Clearances, still an emotive and controversial subject today.

Set Adrift Upon the WorldWe stay with the Highland Clearances with an interview with one of Scotland’s premier historians, James Hunter. His many books have shone a much-needed light on Highland life through the ages, and his most recent, and award-winning, book Set Adrift Upon the World is a fantastic exploration of the Sutherland Clearances. It’s shocking, thorough, and necessary reading. We round things off with the marvellous Kevin MacNeil performing some of Iain Crichton Smith’s poetry.

So, if you want to introduce yourself to two fantastic writers and a hugely important subject, have a listen. We hope you enjoy it!

Vikki Reilly
June 2017

You can listen to episode 5 below on SoundCloud, and on iTunes:

Get your eBook of Consider the Lilies here. Get your copy of Set Adrift Upon the Word here and find out about all of James Hunters books here.

World Whisky Day: Find your favourite flavour with Blair Bowman and Nikki Welch

In the run up to World Whisky Day (20.05.17), and ahead of the publication of The Pocket Guide to Whisky: Featuring the WhiskyTubeMap by Blair Bowman (founder of World Whisky Day) with Nikki Welch, we have a guest blog by Blair and Nikki to help you navigate your way through the plethora of flavours and types of whiskies to help you find your favourite dram.

The Pocket Guide to Whisky - flexi-cover artwork

‘Whisky can seem pretty daunting, how do you go from your tried and tested favourite dram on to new things without spending a fortune or getting some duds, that don’t suit your tastes, in the process? Whilst reading whisky books and blogs (like this one) help with the background the only way you’ll really know is to get your tastebuds involved in the process. Tasting with a group of friends can be a really good way of doing this. Formal whisky tastings are good for education but can be a bit serious (and expensive) and big whisky festivals have a huge selection which can mean it’s often overwhelming. So grab some whisky loving mates and create your own tasting, in the comfort of your living room or in a local whisky bar.

Whilst most whisky tastings either focus on trying the different regions (highlands, lowlands, islands) or different whiskies from the same distillery the WhiskyTubeMap means you can explore whiskies by flavour, meaning you can go on a flavour journey whatever your preference. You just need to select a starting point on the map and then pick out the closest whiskies, or pick a whisky from each line to see the difference.

Blair Bowman

Blair Bowman, author and founder of World Whisky Day

The WhiskyTubeMap guide to tasting
Try this at home or go to a bar with a decent selection of whiskies and engage the bar staff in your exploration.

The basics . . .
● Pick 4 whiskies* that take you on a journey around the map (stay tuned for part 2 of this blog for some proposed itineraries).
● Make sure you’ve got clean glasses, ideally whisky tasting glasses (their shape means the flavour is more concentrated), but a small wine glass or tumbler will do.
● A jug of fresh cold water – if you live in a hard water area you may want to use bottled. Make sure you’ve got water to drink too.
● Some nuts, crackers or oatcakes to cleanse your palate.
● A copy of the Pocket Guide to Whisky so you’ve got the WhiskyTubeMap in front of you.

The format
● Pour a dram of each whisky, if you’re limited you can just pour one of each and share (we do sometimes).
● Organise them in order of the WhiskyTubeMap lines, lightest to heaviest.
● ‘Nose’** each in turn – start by putting your nose in the glass and taking a short inhale through your nose to get you used to the whisky, then breathe a bit more deliberately. Don’t sniff hard, you’ll just smell alcohol and get a sore prickle sensation. What differences can you smell, what do you like about each one, can you smell anything in particular (it’s ok if you can just smell whisky!).
● Take a small sip of each one – think about how it feels as well as how it tastes, does what you smelled smell carry through to the flavour?
● Add some water (just a wee splash) and try them again. This helps open up some of the flavours in the whisky.
● If you go between the whiskies rather than drinking one and then moving on to the next, you’re more likely to spot the differences
● Which is your favourite? Why?
● Read the pages of the relevant stations to identify what caused the flavours you did/didn’t like
** technical term for smelling

What next
● Struggling with the strength? Add a bit more water, just remember you can’t take it out again so do it with a teaspoon so it’s controlled.
● Find one you liked? Note it down so you can explore the closest stations on the WhiskyTubeMap.
● All beginning to blur into one – give your palate a rest, drink some water, have some nuts, a cracker or oatcake. It’s normal that your palate gets tired so don’t try too many at once.
● All done? Refresh your palate with a cheeky beer!

*Where to get your whisky from
Miniatures are good for this kind of tasting, most good wine or whisky shops will have some, but if you’re looking for a bigger range Drinks by the Dram bottle A LOT of whisky into miniature size so you can try a much wider range. Buy them here. Or find a local bar where they have a good selection. That way you only fork out for full bottles you actually like.’

Blair Bowman with Nikki Welch
May 2017

WWD_Master_LogoYou can find out more about World Whisky Day, which is on 20 May 2017, here. Events are popping up all over the globe. If you want to get involved and raise a dram with the world, head over to the website where you can register your own event. It’s completely free, and anything goes – whether that’s a dram with friends at home, a tasting flight put on at a local bar, or a full-blown street party.

 

The latest episode of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Scottish Literature is available now

Podcast Logo1Kristian and I are very much enjoying creating our podcast, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Scottish Literature, as part of Birlinn’s twenty-fifth anniversary year, and we’re delighted to bring you the latest episode, celebrating the life and work of the first woman to be published in Scotland, Elizabeth Melville, and in particular, her dream vision poem, Ane Godlie Dream.

We are excited to shine a light on a name that is probably not so well known in the twenty-first century, but back in Reformation Scotland, Ane Godlie Dream was hugely popular, running to thirteen editions in Elizabeth Melville’s lifetime. And the poem is not only noteworthy because Melville was the first women published, her work stands on its own merits. Her poems are passionate, powerful, and highlight the strength of feeling in religious worship as the power struggles between church, court, and state increased.

Shirley McKayWe stay in the murky Scotland of the sixteenth century with an enlightening interview with Polygon’s own Shirley McKay. Over the last few years she has given us the hugely enjoyable historical crime series starring her hero, Hew Cullen, a lawyer and academic, who, returns to his home town of St Andrews after educating himself in Europe. Throughout the books he finds himself solving local crimes – including murder and blackmail – as well as falling deeper and deeper into the court intrigues of the newly crowned James VI. If you like a little mystery with your history, they are the perfect read!

So, please sit back, get comfy, and join us as we head back in time to a very different era. We hope you enjoy listening.

Vikki Reilly
April, 2017

You can listen to the latest podcast below, and you can catch up on all previous episodes on iTunes, or on SoundCloud.