Bill Mills' room

Bill Mills

Your Malt To Order

by  Bill Mills

          There was one special puffer-type wee coaster that had a lucrative contract picking up the big barrels of malt whiskey from various distilleries around the west coast of Scotland including the proud names from Islay. Some of the contents were later bottled and labelled as Single Malt Whisky, their prestigious names and historical background displayed on the labels.  Other barrels were destined for inclusion in a wide range of blended grain whiskys giving their own distinctive input to the specified blended name –very often a well known household name in its own right.

          On my first occasion to visit this vessel it was to carry out a radio inspection prior to the Post Office Radio Surveyor checking the condition and validity of the ship’s Radio Licence. It so happened that not only was the Radio Licence due for renewal but their decks, hull and engine were also due for renewal. As such there was myself, the Radio Surveyor, Lloyds men for Engine, Hull and Decks.

          The Skipper very ‘kindly’ invited all of us to his cabin for ‘a wee dram’ before we started on our various inspections. As we sat around the cabin- in fairly close proximity I might say in the small cabin, the Mate arrived to enquire what particular Malt was our individual preference. The Skipper asked- “ Murdoch- what can we offer these gentlemen this time?”  Murdoch proceeded to reel off such names as Ardbeg, Lagavullan, La Froagh, Jura,several

Glens-  and others just as special. Having told Murdoch our requests – he disappeared for a while to return with a large tray and glasses that were to the top side of being half-full.

           As far as I know, all of our inspections were completed successfully- and ‘pass’ certificates were duly issued.

          I found out later that the variety and generosity of the puffer’s Skipper was due to the expedient of going down into the hold of the puffer and approaching one of the large barrels of each  selected single malt with a hand drill and a very small drill-bit.

Having drilled a minute orifice, a very fine flow of distinguished golden ‘ water of life’ would be directed into a small container. When the container was full- a sliver of wood or straw would be inserted into the wee hole, neatly stopping ‘God’s Gift to Scotland.’

          Then one after the other the necessary barrels would be treated to the same operation until the visitor’s orders had been complied with- and then after glasses had been substituted for the wee containers- Murdoch would appear smiling before the visitors and the Skipper would say –“Ah!  there you are Murdoch that’s very good of you.!!”

          Before reaching the port of delivery-a razor blade would deftly shave the straw or wood sliver level with the wood of the barrel. At the port of delivery, it was noted –and expected- that when discharging the barrels of ‘you know what’- the crane driver would accidentally bump a barrel onto the ground –just enough to start a leak or two. Before it was repaired- like magic- the dockers would appear with cups or mugs while the going was good!.

Bill Mills