Single Malt

June 1, 2007

What happened, you might ask yourself? Single malt, that’s not wine! Has Rainer finally left the so much loved and appreciated result of grape fermentation behind and turned to harder drinks? Well, on a recent trip to Bangkok, my old friend Rainer Heufers, who has earlier introduced me to the amazingly complex and enjoyable world of whiskies, gave me a copy of one of the bibles for whisky connoisseurs, “Michael Jackson’s Malt Whisky Companion”, 4th edition.

What a marvellous book this is. Michael Jackson must be to the whisky world what James Halliday and Hugh Johnson are to the wine drinkers. Wine and whisky do have commonalities. For both wood is important. Vintages are clearly identified. The rating system consists of a 100 points scheme. And finally, the verbal description of the liquid as provided by the tasters show similarities with wine too. I give you some examples:

Colour: very full gold with orange tinge
Nose: fresh, soft, very aromatic, with rich malt dryness
Body: light to medium, creamy
Palate: clean, grassy, fruity, becoming cookie-like and nutty
Finish: long, firm dry, malty, restrained, dessert apple


The book cover: Michael Jackson’s Malt Whisky Companion

Hundreds of different whisky brands are listed and described in this beautiful book. Of some of the distilleries, photos are added. Short histories provide the readers with another kind of “bait” to explore the world of whisky on their own. Maps and detailed descriptions of the various locations, products, vintages and the distillery process invite the reader to engage and appreciate the world of single malts. Because water is so important for whisky production, many distilleries are located in glens, valleys with streams. My home in Australia is located in Glenburn, family and friends live in Yarra Glen, both places have their water and clear mountain streams.

But the whisky world is full of “Glens”. Names such as Glen Albyn, Glenallachie, Glenburgie, Glendronach, Glendullan, Glenfarclas, Glenfiddich, Glenmorangie, and Glenugie sound exotic to my ear. I decided on the spot that our next trip to Europe would include a visit to Scotland and some distilleries there, probably in the highlands or on the Spyside.

Being of Celtic extraction myself (remember the Treverer! Of the Mosel river valley), I have a soft spot for everything Celtic, as you probably know. I could combine the whisky exploration with some sightseeing. I always wanted to see Edinburgh. Among others I could fulfil one of my dreams: buy a Scottish kilt, probably a young designer item by Howie Nicholsby. They are really cool. Ever since I saw some examples of his art in an airline magazine, I hedged this idea of acquiring a kilt for myself. Tonight there is another Scottish highlight waiting for me. On the eve of the Jakarta Highland Gathering, the Java St. Andrew Society ( is organising Scotland in Concert, a splendid presentation of Scottish music. They will certainly also offer whisky, maybe even a single malt. See you there.

The Treverer

February 4, 2007

The first time the river Mosel is mentioned in a written document is the account of Gajus Julius Caesar in his De Bello Gallico, IV in 55 B.C. where he describes his battle and the subsequent victory over two German tribes, the Usipeter and Tencterer. Around the same time we also learn about the original settlers in the Mosel river valley and around Trier, the Celtic Treverer.

“The Treverer are cleverer” sounds a line in a popular song of a local rock music group called “Leiendecker Bloas”. But not only that. The Treverer were feared by the Roman invaders as well.

Treviros vites censeo. Audio, “capitales” esse; mallem, auro, argento aeri essent.

This is what Marcus Tullius Cicero wrote to a friend during Caesar’s war against the Treverer in about 55 B.C. In a free translation that reads as “better avoid the Treverer; they go for your throat. I wish those guys would rather work as silver and gold smiths”. The Romans in fact had some troubles in controlling the Celtic population of the Mosel valley. In 69/70 A.D. the Treverer revolted against the imperialists from Rome but were defeated again. The Roman general Petilius Cerealis did not lose his composure in battle despite the fact that his cavalry was already wiped out, his camp fortification destroyed and the walls overrun by the fierce Celtic fighters from the Mosel.

But over the decades that followed the Celtic swineherds were transformed into vintners and the people thanked the god of wine – Sucellus – for this. The Treverer were known to be hungry for fame, quarrelsome and rowdy. They were also known to be big drinkers, more so than even the Germans. The many drinking competitions they held are ample proof of their favourite pastime. The ones who could not drink were despised as weaklings. That people could call themselves lucky if they got away alive from those fierce drinking competitions, was a common notion. That’s how it was: The good old days. These times have long gone and modern man does of course some drinking here and there but we are all more or less domesticated in some way or another. We go to work 5 days a week. We do sports in our free time, watch TV, send sms and e-mail, write blogs and so on.

Joseph Roth in “The Radetzky March” describes the changes at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century but his description can certainly also be applied to earlier times and ages.

Everything that grew took long to grow
and everything that ended took a long time to be forgotten.
Everything that existed left behind traces of itself
and people then lived by their memories,
just as we nowadays live by our capacity to forget,
quickly and comprehensively.


Terra Sigillata bowl found in Trier (Karl-Josef Gilles: Bacchus and Sucellus, Briedel 1999)

Vinum vires is what the Romans said, wine gives power! My suggestion for the day: open a bottle of your favourite wine and enjoy the Sunday.

Bene tibi sit “Wohl bekomms” or To your health, salute, cincin and so on

Reading tip: Edgar Christoffel: “Mosel und Wein – Stimmen aus zwei Jahrtausenden”, Trier 2003