Stag’s Breath. Wow! What a Fabulous Name for our Whisky Liqueur…
… was roughly what we said to each other in 1987. ‘We’ was me, Yvonne Richmond, my partner, Les Gibson, and my parents, Jack and Hetty Richmond.
In 1989 we became Meikles of Scotland Limited, producers of Newtonmore’s own whisky liqueur. And, as some of you may already know, we took the name Stag’s Breath from Compton Mackenzie’s 1941 novel ‘Whisky Galore’. And now it is our trademark.
Stag’s Breath – a brand particularly favoured … in the good old days of plenty
Mackenzie wrote Whisky Galore as a fictionalised version of one of the most well known events in the history of the Western Isles – the wreck of the SS Politician on the 5th February 1941 on rocks near the Island of Eriskay.
The islanders were delighted to learn that the cargo on the ship was 260,000 bottles of whisky bound for Jamaica and New Orleans!
The most recent film version of Whisky Galore – with Eddie Izzard
The locals instigated a series of illegal salvage operations before the customs and excise officials arrived. The islands supplies of whisky had dried up due to war-time rationing, so the islanders periodically helped themselves to some of the 260,000 bottles of whisky before winter weather broke up the ship. Boats came from as far away as Lewis as news of the whisky travelled across the Outer Hebrides. No islander regarded it as stealing, as for them the rules of salvage meant that once the bounty was in the sea, it was theirs to rescue.
The Sound of Eriskay – where the SS Politician (SS Cabinet Minister in the book) ran aground
This of course was not the view of the local customs officer, Charles McColl, He was incensed at what he saw as blatant thievery. Not a penny had been paid in duty for this whisky so Mr McColl whipped up a furore and made an official complaint to the police. Villages were raided and crofts were turned upside down. Bottles were hidden, secreted, or sometimes drunk in order to hide the evidence.
On 26 April at Lochmaddy Sheriff Court a group of men from Barra pleaded guilty to theft and were charged between three and five pounds. Mr McColl was furious at the leniency of the men’s sentences. The police, being mainly locals themselves, were tired of the bothering the locals who had not, in their minds, done such a bad thing. Mr McColl continued his crusade against these illegal salvagers and some of the men were sentenced to up to six weeks in prison in Inverness and Peterhead.
Back at sea, the official salvage attempts were not going too well. It was eventually decided to let the Politician remain where she was. Mr McColl, who had already estimated that the islanders had stolen 24,000 bottles of whisky, ensured that there would be no more temptation. He applied for permission to explode her hull and as one islander, Angus John Campbell, commented: “Dynamiting whisky. You wouldn’t think there’d be men in the world so crazy as that!”
The story of the SS Politician in verse. Sat through at many a ceilidh. And set here to the background of the first b& w film version of Whisky Galore.