Whisky Tales

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Whisky is a very interesting product with a great history. Beyond the fascinating science, and production process it’s history also has a number of bizarre and amusing anecdotes to share over a dram.

The war for Hans Island & Canadian whisky

Where the news is flooded with stories about wars and conflicts resulting in many civilian casualties, Canada and Denmark proved that things can be done differently. While many countries fight fiercely over territorial claims, often to the point of bloodshed, the two northern countries engaged in a bloodless conflict which is only now being settled in 2022.

The two democratic and peaceful countries have been arguing for a century over the ownership of a small island called Hans Island. The island is a mere 1,290 meters long and 1,199 meters wide, and it is located near Greenland. There are also absolutely no interesting natural resources to be extracted on the island. While there are a few more islets nearby, however the theoretical property boundary, separating Canadian and Danish authority, runs right through the centre of Hans Island.

For all of the frivolity around this tale it was a serious dispute, though. The quarrel is having an effect on international relations between the two countries. However, the quarrel happily remained limited to with words and a somewhat jovial rivalry. There is, however, a playful feat of arms that distinguishes this quarrel from other similar conflicts.

The discussion flared up again in 1984 when the Danish minister for Greenland visited the island and planted a Danish flag, accompanied by a message saying ‘Welcome to the Danish island of Hans Island’ and leaving behind a bottle of akvavit. The Canadians then removed the flag & bottle, replacing with a Canadian flag and bottle of Canadian Club. This was the beginning of the so-called playful whisky war. Every time the Danish army visits the island, the soldiers defiantly leave behind a bottle of akvavit. When Canadian soldiers visit the island, they leave behind a bottle of Canadian Club accompanied by a similar message ‘Welcome to Canada’.

It is not yet known who is allowed to drink all this whisky, but the military will probably be enthusiastically involved in ‘removing’ the Danish or Canadian symbol of resistance. Apparently this exchange of alcohol has helped as The Globe and Mail reported on June 10, 2022 that the Canadian and Danish governments had settled on a border across the island. Hans Island being divided between the Canadian territory of Nunavut and the Danish constituent country of Greenland, to be formally unveiled on June 14, 2022.

Flames at Wild Turkey Whisky Distillery

On May 9, 2000, a major fire at the Wild Turkey distillery warehouse in Anderson County, Kentucky caused havoc. This would lead to the biggest disaster in the history of the brand, founded in 1869. The smoke from the fire in the seven-storey warehouse complex could be seen from miles around. More than 17,000 barrels of Wild Turkey whisky were ablaze.

The famed sour mash whisky, some of which was beautiful 15-year-old bourbon, went up in flames. To make matters worse, flaming whisky poured from the distillery with a trail of destruction in its wake. The adjacent forests caught fire and nearby limestone deposits exploded. The local fire department just managed to save the local water treatment plant in Lawrenceburg.

However, it is estimated that 20% of the whisky flowed into the Kentucky River. This initially led to great hilarity. The locals, of course, joked about drunken fish and endless free whisky at the beginning, but it soon turned out to be a real disaster. The Kentucky River is a tributary of the Ohio River and provides drinking water to hundreds of thousands of Kentucky residents. The pollution of the water made it necessary to stop the drinking water supply. Government agencies announced emergency measures and water use was limited. Some businesses and schools were closed due to the water shortage.

The alcohol in the water also reduced oxygen in the water. Many of the fish in the 60 miles (100 km) length of the river were victims of the whisky disaster. This resulted in the death of some 228,000 fish in their natural habitat. A specially set up emergency team was deployed in conjunction with the Coast Guard to rescue the affected section of the river. Wild Turkey reportedly paid $256,000 to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife in an effort to get the fish population back to normal levels.

With disasters like this it’s no surprise that whisky distilleries, and whisky warehousing has generally moved away from city centres and popuulated areas.

One final deathbed whisky

The founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, the roadmap through which alcoholics can regain control of their lives, died in 1971. William ‘Bill’ Wilson founded the organization together with Dr. Bob Smith with the goal of helping as many alcoholics as possible overcome their addiction.

A striking fact is that a few days before his death, Bill asked for a good glass of whisky. Bill battled pneumonia and chronic emphysema and knew he didn’t have long to live. On his deathbed he wished for a good glass of whisky, but this was refused by his nurse. Apparently it was more important to protect Wilson’s thoughts than to respect any of his last wishes.

We don’t know if Bill asked for a Jack Daniel’s or, say, a Scottish Ardbeg, but the man was craving a good whisky. In any case, we would not be pleased if we were refused a whisky, nevermind on our deathbed.

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