A boy of twelve, fair-haired and freckled, essentially innocent but with suspicions, went to the Highlands of Scotland. He lamely fished for salmon in river and loch, and later saw them spawning in their thousands. Fat-bellied monsters threw themselves against rocky waterfalls, and he was impressed by their determination. He gathered mushrooms in the woods, and learnt which ones not to pick. He went all the way to the Northern coastline, to eat a fish supper with the gulls, and over to Skye to see that there really was nothing there. Winding through glens on narrow roads, craning over dizzying precipices, noting eagles and ospreys, he discovered a hallowed trail. It has stayed with him since, although he does not appreciate it. The amber reward at the end of this trail that thrust him into adulthood is with him yet.
It was the distillery trail: a marked route that networked the producers of the stuff of libations since time immemorial; the noble spirit that Scotland may consider its most worthy contribution to the world. Nestled in heady country, higher than any other, was the Tomatin distillery. The boy looked around at row upon row of barrels of oak, some of which once contained Spanish sherry. A dram was passed around, of their standard twelve-year-old single malt, and he was not overlooked. Two things the same age, one mature, the other fresh, met. The moment of imbibing brought blood to the lips and the cheeks, a momentary numbness, a rush of aroma – malt, apples, pears, bonfires – and then sheer joy, followed by a molten feeling of the generation of internal heat, as if he had swallowed an exothermic elixir. The moment passed; the world began again; the boy had taken a step towards manhood.
It is many years later. The boy is a man. He has not thought of these things for a long time. He is in a foreign land, surrounded by unfamiliar things, and he is walking. It is winter; a harsh winter. He passes a liquor store that seems to have an air about it. He stops in his tracks, agog, and presses his nose against the plate. When the fog of his breath clears he sees what his mind had told him must surely have been an apparition: a row of bottles labelled Tomatin. There are twelve-year-old and fifteen-year-old varieties. He is transported; connections are made; synapses in the brain tripped. He is twelve again, taking steps into an incipient manhood. How came he here? By what route? The man enters the establishment and purchases a bottle. It feels like buying a memory, but somehow more substantial than that.
The man writes to all his friends. ‘If you can find it, I strongly urge it upon you. It makes men of boys’.