SCOTTISH STAND-UP Alan Anderson seems sure to be one of the most popular acts at this year’s Bulmer’s Galway Comedy Festival with his show, Whiskey Fir Dafties, which includes free samples of fine single malts for lucky audience members.
Already a big hit at the Edinburgh Fringe and Adelaide Festivals, Whiskey Fir Dafties is, to quote The Scotsman, an “inventive, fun and light-hearted way to learn about whiskey”.
Ahead of his whiskey-laden trip to Galway, Anderson took some time to talk about his abiding passion for a dram, starting with an account of the day it all began - at (what was then ) a Five Nations rugby match.
“It was St Patrick’s Day 1990, Scotland were playing England for the Grand Slam at Murrayfield. My uncles took me and in the bar beforehand they ordered three Lagavullins which are these really strong Islay malts. That’s when my whiskey drinking started. Apparently Tony Strainger scored a brilliant try that day and we won the Grand Slam but I have no recollection of the game!”
It was when Anderson hit 30 that his interest in whiskey became more serious, partly due to a Glenfiddich-themed faux pas.
“One of my friends gave me a present of a Glenfiddich and I remember being a bit disappointed thinking she could have given me something more special,” he says. “I was just using it to pour out for guests at my house.
“Another friend had bought me Iain Banks’ Raw Spirit which is a travelogue of Scottish distilleries. Then when I got to the end of Banks’ book he said the best expression whiskey is the 21-year-old Havana Reserve Glenfiddich and I thought ‘Shit, that’s what I’ve got in my cupboard and been pouring away to everybody’, it was about £120 a bottle! That was the day I realised I needed to properly learn about all the different kinds of whiskey.”
Some years later, a family trip to Australia prompted Anderson to distil his accumulated whiskey wisdom into a stand-up show.
“My wife is Australian and we had our first child two and a half years ago,” he explains. “During her maternity leave we went to Australia for three months so she could see her family. I said the only way we can do that is if I’m earning money, so I was looking for an idea for a show with a Scottish hook. I figured people would come to a show about whiskey, especially if we gave them samples too. There is a lot of whiskey sampling during the show! I think it’s fair to say at the recent Edinburgh Fringe the audiences coming out of my show were happier than those coming out of any other.”
Anderson initially performed the show under the title of Whiskey Fir Dummies but then ran foul of the famous guide-book publishers.
“We started getting lawyers’ letters from the Dummies books people,” he tells me. “We negotiated with them for four months and argued that their trademarks do not cover either whiskey-tasting or stand-up comedy. In the end it was just going to cost too much money to battle this legal action and so we had to cave in. However, it has turned out quite well because it means I can now do a series of guides called ‘Fir Dafties’ and beat them at their own game hopefully.”
Anderson’s onstage survey of fine whiskey extends far beyond the shores of his native Scotland.
“There are now people around the world who are doing for whiskey as what the craft brewing industry has done for beer,” he enthuses. “The one I enjoy the most comes from Australia; it’s called Southern Coast from Adelaide, the guy who makes it only makes it in small batches on a Friday afternoon.
“He owns a company that makes flagpoles and on the mezzanine level of his factory he has a small distillery. One of his friends has a vineyard in the Adelaide hills and he brings it up there to be aged. He makes this whiskey with love and passion and it’s really excellent.”
And fear not, patriotic tipplers, Irish whiskey also features in Anderson’s show.
“One of the whiskeys we’ll be showcasing is The Connemara,” he reveals. “It comes from the Cooley Distillery and it’s the only peated single malt whiskey from Ireland. It’s very much like an Islay Malt whiskey, and I would thoroughly recommend people go out and try it!”
Whiskey Fir Dafties is upstairs at the Róisín Dubh from Thursday October 25 to Saturday 27 at 9pm nightly. Tickets are €12 and available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie