“… in the world”.
There’s such a reverence to that suffix, isn’t there? Brings to mind awed silences, triumphant exclamations, Jeremy Clarkson pauses. In the world. There is, by definition, nothing better. It’s the best, the pinnacle, the ne plus ultra.
And it’s endless fodder for argument.
Sports writers are all at it at the moment. I suppose they’ve nothing else left to scribble about. It must be a singularly weird existence. The big sports news these days tends to be the cancellation of a major event; the French Open, the Olympics, the European Cup. But it’s almost stick or twist for a writer – either you get a cancellation to write about now, or the event stays theoretically TBC and you get the trade-off of possibly writing about it in a few months whilst twiddling your thumbs for the time being. The upshot being an endless rerun of great sporting occurrences of the past, and no end of debate about who’s the greatest ever at running or jumping or hitting or kicking or whacking things with sticks or sitting on a horse.
And I admit, I’ve absolutely gobbled it up. I am a sucker for the “greatest ever” question. Or rather, I’m a sucker for reading other peoples’ “greatest ever” opinions and then disagreeing with them vociferously. If you ask me it’s more fun when it’s an open question, rather than an inert fact. Keeps it lively, keeps it interesting. It’s why, perverse as the notion of a “greatest whisky” might be, I was rather glad that Jim Murray annually posited its existence, back in the day. I liked the argument. I liked watching the phlegm fly on both sides like verbal gladiators happy-slapping. I liked it less when he started putting forward suggestions that were patently absurd; Crown Royal Northern Harvest is seldom the greatest whisky on any given supermarket shelf, but I rather enjoyed the premise. Pointless debates that can’t be resolved through Google are fun. They are part of what makes us human. They’re why people pine for old-school pub arguments and do degrees in English Literature.
But the ultimate “in the world”, the in-the-world-iest thing in the world, is Everest. The highest mountain in the world. So boomingly, throbbingly “in the world” that the very name “Everest” is used as slang for immensity. We’ve only known it was an “in the world” for less than a hundred and fifty years, but my goodness do we know it now. When it comes to perceived epicness it knocks the Nile, the Mariana Trench and Usain Bolt into an also-ran’s cocked hat. The irony is that it’s not even the most challenging climb (not saying I could do it, mind), the most impressive or the most beautiful mountain in the world. It’s certainly not the mountain that mountain wonks respect the most. But who cares, when it’s the biggest? There’s a reason you don’t see photographs of queues up Kangchendzonga in National Geographic; no ordinary observer gives a stuff about the bronze medallist. “Oh my God, Jim Murray thinks that is the third best whisky in the world”, raged no Twitterer ever. (And he’s nominated some stinkers, if you can be bothered to look back through his oeuvre.)
Everest is such a powerful “in the world” that people travel across the globe to not climb all the way up it. Base Camp is 17,600 feet up. And whilst I’m not recommending that to acrophobics, it’s eleven and a half thousand feet short of the top. Anywhere else, the whole notion of it would be hilarious and absurd. “Ah yes, I’m off to Ben Nevis Base Camp this year. Or the Morrison’s in Fort William, to use its other name”. But because it’s the base camp for the Highest Mountain In The World it’s extraordinary and remarkable and anecdote-worthy and filed in the “possible but unlikely” section of my personal bucket list.
My little sister, who is intrepid and adventurous and who loves hopping on planes more than I love snarking about terroir, has been to Base Camp. She went there last year as part of an all-rafting, all-climbing, all-nylon-trousering, real-life-postponing month-long turbo-jaunt, and she generously brought me back today’s whisky. Mount Everest Blended Whisky. “A blend of malt whisky from Scotland and Nepalese alcohol of the highest quality”. I’m not joking – that’s what it says on the label. Possibly the most disconcerting description of a drink … in the world. (Though, in deference to Ttsongsul, probably not.)
It was bottled at the Shree Distillery in Kathmandu, a place about which a swift google unearthed two facts: one, that they also rattle out something called Khukri Rum and two, that they were fined 870 million rupees for tax avoidance a few years back.
Armed with this knowledge, which I dare say some commentators would suggest is every bit as pertinent as fermentations, distillations and what have you, all whisky being, after all, just the same and equally wonderful, let us proceed.
Mount Everest Blended Whisky – review
Color: Pale Gold
On the nose: This lot could get into hand sanitizer without changing their production methods an iota. An antiseptic, “do-not-swallow-this-product” tang that an overindulgent soul might describe as “faintly lemony” precedes chewed spearmint gum and the sort of dilute, rancid, mewling vanilla that would come stone-dead bottom of the class at vanilla school. My palate trembles in fear. Nevertheless …
In the mouth: God’s mercy be upon us. Every foul facet of the nose, but dialled up a hideous notch in intensity; we’re doing Dante’s descent here, and no mistake. A brackish, fearful iodine and sticking plaster (don’t you dare think of classic Laphroaig, don’t you dare), paint stripper and peardrop. The texture is grainy, gritty, somehow-cloying grimness. The finish is sudden and bloody.
This is almost impressively loathsome. You would struggle, I feel, with time, care, effort and a good deal of consideration, to match its emetic foulness. It bears as much relation to honest, hard-working whisky as the Teletubbies’ house does to Everest itself. I would scale several mountains to escape another glass. Victoria: on the very faint off-chance that you are reading this, I want you to know that you have accomplished quite some feat. You have unearthed quite probably the worst whisky that I have ever tasted. In the world.