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The Story of the Storyteller
The Woodsman is a blended Scotch whisky from Whyte & Mackay. It’s described as “A contemporary Scotch that’s ideal for mixing. A stylish modern whisky that fits uptempo occasions.” I’m not really sure what that means exactly but I’m willing to give anything a go where whisky is concerned. I’m certainly not a purist and I like that the brand’s website highlights its suitability as a cocktail ingredient. We need to stop being so precious about our dram. Yes it’s great neat but it’s brilliant mixed as well.
As long term readers of this blog will be aware, I like to delve into the history of brands. This website is almost as much about story telling as it is about reviewing whisky. There’s nothing I love more than uncovering some delightful wee story from many years ago that ties in with the dram I’m tasting. The Woodsman provided me with a bit of a problem though. It was only launched in 2018 and therefore doesn’t have much of a back story to write about.
Not to worry. As a lover of Folk Tales and Celtic Mythology, I figured that their simply had to be something in the Gaelic traditions that related to a Woodsman of some sort. What I found instead was the story of a storyteller. A storyteller who was also a Woodsman.
John Dewar was born in 1802 in the Gortan Estate on Loch Long, Argyll. Little is known of his upbringing or education but the Gaelic language was in common use in the area and John was a fluent speaker in both English and Gaelic. He grew up in a world where the oral tradition of storytelling was still strong. Indeed, it was one of the main forms of entertainment. The young Dewar was fascinated with such tales and thanks to an impressive memory, became a fine storyteller in his own right.
As an adult, John Dewar found employment as a Woodsman and a Sawyer. At one stage he was on the payroll of the Duke of Argyll’s Rosneath Estate, making, among other things, fence posts. His life changed drastically in 1859, when word reached him that J.F. Campbell of Islay was willing to pay money for good folk tales.
John Francis Campbell was the Son of Walter Frederick Campbell, the Laird who built the villages of Port Charlotte, Port Ellen and Port Wemyss on Islay. He was a man of many interests but key among them was Gaelic folk tales. Having paid Dewar for his stories in 1859, he met with him the following year and tried to encourage the Woodsman to travel the West Highlands in search of more stories.
John scoffed at the idea but by 1862, his health had begun to fail him. Palpitations of the heart brought his ability for manual labour to a crushing halt. In his forced retirement, he decided to heed Campbell’s advice and travelled for more than a decade, meeting people and recording as many different stories as he could.
Dewar was meticulous. He spoke with many storytellers, often recording several different versions of the same story before combining them to make the most complete, definitive version. Then he would carefully write it all out in Gaelic. Through his years of travelling, he amassed an incredible wealth of material; around a million and a quarter words spread throughout ten volumes.
Dewar passed away from heart failure in 1872 but his work survives. Seven volumes are kept with the Argyll archives in Inveraray whilst the remaining three are at the National Library in Edinburgh. His work amounts to the first oral history project ever conducted in Scotland. It is also, without any doubt, the largest and most significant collection of Gaelic tales ever compiled in the country.
*Full disclosure: this sample was included in an advent calendar that was sent to me free of charge. As always I will strive to give an honest opinion on the quality of the dram and the value for money it represents.
The Woodsman is a blended Scotch whisky from Whyte & Mackay. It’s bottled at 40% and will cost you between £25 and £30.
Smell: Smells a bit like standing between a bakery and a carpenter’s workshop. Lots of wood and baking spices. Bread baking in the oven. Scones with cream and butter. Cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. Sawdust and pencil shavings. There’s also caramel and runny honey. Dried banana, coconut and hazelnut. A touch of apple and white grapes.
Taste: A gentle, polite arrival with some subtle fruits. Apple, especially. Pear too. Subtle citrus. Then comes toffee before things turn oaky mid-palate. Fresh oak with gentle spice. Dried apples and cinnamon. Bran flakes with Hazelnut. Citrus oak finish.
Thoughts: At least to begin with, the nose promises more than the palate can deliver. However, given time and a little splash of water, the dram opened up and improved. Some tinned pineapple started to come through and the mouthfeel seemed to loosen up. Where the whisky previously felt tense and restrained it now felt relaxed and flowed over the tongue. Water took it from disappointing to gently satisfying. A decent, if unspectacular, dram.
Value for money: It’s certainly not the cheapest no-age-statement blend on the market but it probably carries a little more character than most. It’s comparable to the likes of Monkey Shoulder or even Glasgow Distillery’s Malt Riot, although those are both Blended Malts. Nevertheless, they come in at a similar price and the flavour profiles aren’t miles apart. There’s a lot of competition at £30 and I don’t know that the Woodsman would be my first choice but at the same time I’d have no problem finding a place for it in my cabinet.
You can buy The Woodsman from Master of Malt (although you can get it cheaper elsewhere!)
*Please be aware this is an affiliate link and as such I can be paid a small commission on any purchases you make.
**Other retailers are available.
For more on The Woodsman visit https://www.woodsmanwhisky.com/