The word ‘whisky’ is a borrowing from the Scottish Gaelic language, combining uisge, meaning ‘water’ and beatha, meaning ‘life’.
It is worth looking deeper into why this is the name for it. Yes, it is a distillation. It is made using wood, earth, fire and water. It has purity. But the reason it is called the ‘water of life’ is because it accompanies us on the journey.
It is used at the most important events in our life. When we celebrate the birth of a baby (wetting the baby’s head, as it’s called). During a wedding, everyone in the room raises a glass of whisky to the new couple. And it is always there at the remembering of absent friends.
There’s something about the taste that makes you stop. Just for a moment. The long finish and the savouring. It’s made for reflection.
In the Highlands and Islands, it’s normal to go round the houses on New Year, taking a bottle of whisky with you. To spend a moment drinking a dram with old friends, or to make new ones. It is the most convivial of drinks.
But it is also a companion at the quieter times, when one is looking for a moment of introspection. When one is looking back at their year, the good and the bad. The ritual reminds you that you have seen other years beginning and the main feeling that whisky brings to the fore is hope.
A bottle can be bought with the excitement of sharing it with friends in mind. Or it can be bought as a gentle companion with which to sit beside a fire with just your thoughts. Over a life, whisky brings much joy. And as you get older, it reminds you of this joy.
There are a lot of different toasts in Gaelic. But the beginning of a New Year brings out the best in whisky. The water of life.
Bliadhna mhath ùr nuair a thig i. Happy New Year when she comes.