Whisky is my drink. Champagne, beer, red wine are all delicious tipples, and I’d be the last person on the planet to turn down a cool glass of Pouilly Fumé on a warm summer evening, but when I’m next shipwrecked, and stranded on a desert island, I’ll choose a case of whisky to get me through the cast away years.
So you might think I’m at a loss for whisky in Germany, relying on duty-free imports of Highland Park and ten-year-old Talisker. Not a bit of it. Germany is home to 23 whisky distilleries. Among the best are Hammerschmiede or Blacksmith, a Harz mountain manufacturer which matures its malts in a 13th century warehouse, and stylish and delicious Slyrs, the only Bavarian single malt produced in significant quantities (40,000 bottles in 2009).
To my mind the most entertaining German whisky is Blaue Maus – Blue Mouse, produced by Robert Fleischmann, one of the oldest of the country’s makers (founded way back in 1983). The distillery is based at a nautically-themed inn in Eggleshein-Neuses and – as well as Blaue Maus – produces six other brands including Schwarzer Pirat – Black Pirate – and Grüner Hund – Green Dog. In the early days Blaue Maus was too bourbon-like for my taste but, over the last decade, it has matured into a satisfying woody drink (although peat is never used in its production).
A writer’s income – as well as the need for occasional sobriety – limits the consumption of single malt (a 70 cl. bottle of Blaue Maus will set you back €34.50). So during impecunious yet thirsty times, I’ve turned to blended whisky stocked by my local Lidl. After a few disastrous trials (one of which my wife Mrs. Cat considered better suited to flushing out blocked drains than mixing with soda), I fell under the charm of Mic Mac, a whisky ‘carefully distilled and matured under continuous supervision’ according to its importers Pabst and Richarz of Elsfleth. To be honest Mic Mac was nothing special but the name entranced me with its witty pseudo-Scottish word play and unconscious reference to the indigenous native Canadian people (now properly spelt Mi’kmaq).
But despite my regular custom, sales of Mic Mac must have been disappointing for -- about six months ago -- the marketing gurus at Pabst and Richarz decided that the time had come to rebrand their whisky. In my imagination, focus groups across Lower Saxony burnt the midnight oil to come up with a new name for their product. ‘What we need is a name that conveys a sense of dignity and masculinity,’ demanded the wise men and women (in my mind). ‘Something that evokes respect for great tradition.’ And what name did the gurus of the Weser River hit upon? Old Man.
To a modern English ear, Old Man brings to mind a doddery geriatric prematurely aged by too much rough booze. It’s the alcoholic-equivalent of naming a new brand of cigarette Early Death or Smoker’s Hack. The name made me laugh out loud. I was so amused that I bought half-a-dozen bottles.
But then I realized that the Old Man hadn’t been renamed for an English-speaking market. It was aimed at Germans, of course, for whom the name does have a ring of aristocratic masculinity. You don’t believe me? Try putting the glass in the other hand (or shoe on the other foot). Imagine that a German brewer – say Augustiner of Munich – wants to conquer the English market with a extra strong, mature beer. ‘What we need is a name that conjures up the traditional spirit of Bavaria,’ London’s ad men might say. ‘Something that’s at once foreign and familiar, proud and manly.’ The sages of our consumer society would ponder this great question over their flat whites, gaze across the gleaming towers of the City, until the moment when one particularly inspired Creative would shout, ‘Eureka! I’ve got it. Let’s call it Altermann.’
Bottoms up! Sláinte! Prost!