It seems such a long time since I last posted, but the summer has just flown past. Can’t say why I’ve been so busy, nothing in particular apart from publishing a book for a friend (more of which in another post) and generally getting on with things and contributing to organisations I’m involved with. But having returned from holiday ten days ago, time to end the drought. As you can see from the title I’ve been in Greece, or Crete to be precise. Rather than telling you about where we went and what we saw, I’m whetting you appetites with this rather quirky piece.
We buy our wines and spirits from a wine shop or a supermarket. We don’t grow grapes in sufficient quantities in Scotland to make wine, though we do make whisky, our largest export, sending it around the world. Scotch. It takes the name of it’s homeland though some of the large makers and supermarkets are trying their best to diminish the Scottish brand by labelling it as British and draping it in the Union flag. That hasn’t gone down well. If there is to be a flag on it, then it should be the Satire, blue and white like the Greek flag. We even share a patron saint with Greece – St Andrew.
Gin and tonic. Gin seems a very English drink yet Scotland is now the UK’s largest manufacturer of gin, producing 70% of it. That’s sort of crept up on us in the last few years, and I couldn’t actually tell where gin is made. Whisky is different. In the not so distant past tales abounded of illicit stills hidden in remote highland glens by a peaty burn, or secreted in dilapidated outbuildings, cobbled together from an assortment of z-bend pipes and battered metal containers, gurgling away. But nowadays whisky is big business.
The cost of whisky production is low, but the government through its duties and taxes makes a vast amount of money from it. So the amber gold is matured in barrels, often oak, in dark bonded warehouses, under lock and key, carefully regulated by the Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise. I seem to remember when young that there was a reverence in voices as you passed such places on a bus, a hushed almost awesome mutter of “That’s a whisky bond.”
So quite refreshing to holiday in a country where owning a patch of vines and grove of olives trees is the norm, and harvest time means closing up the summer holiday accommodation business or shop in a tourist area, and going off to pick your olives and your own grapes, turning them into wine, perhaps a little rough but satisfying when drunk along with home-produced and home-grown food. Goat perhaps or sheeps milk cheese, with tomatoes and aubergines from your own dusty plot.
And just as you have to make the most of food so that it lasts through the winter months, turning meat into sausages and salamis, you ensure the grape skins left after pressing out the juice for wine are turned into another drink – raki. A firewater that differs in flavour according to the maker. This spirit never sees bonded warehouses or customs officials, not that I’m aware of, and is widely available, offered as a welcoming drink, a thank you for your custom, an invitation to join the party, or even as a product available in the local supermarket dispensed into a Greek-blue-capped plastic bottle. Home made raki is as much part of the Greek islands as sun and sand.