From a dram to a Roman drama

ACKNOWLEDGED as the world's leading authority on Scotch whisky, Charles MacLean will provide a fascinating insight into Scotland's national drink when he appears at the Borders Book Festival on Thursday, June 18.

And although he will be in Melrose to promote Whiskypedia, his latest comprehensive guide to all our malt and grain distilleries, visitors to the Harmony Marquee will also be invited to enjoy a free dram and find out more about what he describes as “Scotland’s greatest invention”.

MacLean’s unerring enthusiasm makes him an engaging guest at a festival which has already chalked up record ticket sales and is nothing if not eclectic.

During a recent, highly entertaining interview on BBC1’s One Show, MacLean explained how he had spent the past 27 years researching, writing and lecturing about Scotsh whisky, and is, in fact, the author of nine books on the subject, including Scotch Whisky: A Liquid History, which won the Wine & Spirits Book of the Year and was best drink book in the World Food Media Awards.

A consultant to the whisky industry as well as auctioneers Bonhams, MacLean has produced in Whiskypedia a compendium and companion volume aimed at experts and learners alike.

It covers every malt whisky distilled in Scotland with reference to their characteristics, customs and manufacture.

Each entry provides a brief account of the distillery’s history and curiosities, gives details of how each whisky is made and how every one has its own flavour and character.

Meticulously researched, the book includes a historical overview, regional differences and an explanation of the contribution made at each stage of production and maturation.

Ironincally, Mr MacLean’s appearance at 9.30pm (8, 6) coincides with a long sold-out champagne reception hosted by Michael Palin elsewhere on the festival site.

Festival director Alistair Moffat told us: “Let others crack open fizzy French lemonade: this is a book about a real drink.”

If malt whisky had been around in Rome during the infamous reign of Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, it may well have become one the litany of excesses indulged by that notorious emperor, better known as Caligula.

Perhaps Douglas Jackson, the Jedburgh-born journalist whose fictionalised book about the tyrant became an instant best seller when it was published last year, and also earned the author a six-figure advance and a further two-book deal, will offer an opinion when he takes the stage of the Lochcarron Marquee on Sunday, June 21.

As readers of TheSouthern may recall, Jackson wrote his book during his daily commute by rail from his home in Bridge of Allan to Edinburgh, where he is assistant editor in charge of editorial production, at The Scotsman.

And he is relishing a return to the Borders to talk about the tremendous success of his debut novel in which he creates a Rome of animal trainers, gladiators and bakers: an earthy city where the bloodlust of the mob is never far from the surface.

“As a wee boy I always felt drawn towards Jedburgh Abbey and the annual Callant’s Festival which gave me what seemed a direct link to the Border reivers,” he told us.

“I later got a temporary job restoring the Roman camp at Towford in the Cheviots. At times you felt the Romans were actually there behind you and, looking back, that is where my fascination with Rome began.

“It’s a great honour to be asked to come to back to my native Borders for a book festival which is now one of the most prestigious in the country.

“Before I worked in Edinburgh, I lived in Jedburgh, Galashiels and Melrose and still have many friends there so, all in all, it will be an extra special experience.”

Admission for Douglas Jackson, who will appear at 3pm, is 8 (6 concessions).