Can you remember the times when you were in class as a kid, and everyone hated the teacher? Remember how you’d all do things that you knew were against the rules, but you did it in secret with one another—and in delicious allegiance behind the teacher’s back?
Now, do you remember that one kid who was all for participating in the illicit activity, right there with you as everyone took turns writing on the forbidden chalkboard, snagging something from the teacher’s desk, or coming up with the next scheme to wreak havoc in the classroom—just until he figured out he liked the perks from the other side better? Working for the enemy?
Remember how you all turned on him? Maybe tied him to a tree outside and pantsed him during recess?
Or was I the only person who did this?
Well, after reading about George Smith, raffish whisky smuggler of the early 1800’s, I was immediately reminded of those early school day shenanigans.
George started off on the same side as everyone else—skirting authority—just like the rest of the Highland farmers living beside him who also distilled illegally. They were brothers from another mother, right? They all hated the English. They all had Freedom & Whisky Gang the Gither tattooed on their upper arms, right?
Except George got cozy with his landowner, the Duke of Gordon, laird of Abelour. Maybe it was because the Duke praised George’s fine Latin handwriting, or liked the way he spun a good yarn while sharing an hour at the local watering hole, but whatever the reason, George moved over to the dark side and went straight.
The laird helped sway the government to make whisky distilling a legal venture, convincing them that the fellahs in his neck of the woods—tenants especially—were going to make whisky come hell or high water, or maybe hell or high taxes. Distilling was in their blood just as much as the high content of alcohol. And if the government passed the new bill with ‘reasonable’ duties, the Duke and his cronies would all help stamp out bad boy behavior. Once the 1824 Act was passed, it was time to get a few folks to sign up and show the rest of the valley just how much fun behaving like gentlemen would be.
Shortly after putting up his shiny new shingle as the rule-following teacher’s pet, George had to shower, shave and shant be long all with one hand because the other one held a gun. For several years after his decision to follow Darth Gordon, George was in constant threat of being shown the inside of his own kiln. The animosity was a blatant message revealing just what his neighbors thought of the new law. Chances are George was even pantsed a few times in the village square, but that’s just my supposition.
Nevertheless, George was not one to give up. Pants around his ankles or not, he was going to continue making whisky. And making money from making whisky. He simply wasn’t going to be invited to any potlucks as long as his plus one was the duke. Yet he persevered in the face of danger and continued to make a spirit that grew from good to great to hugely enviable.
It’s tough to be the guy who changes the game. But sometimes by taking a chance and sticking it out, you’ll also change history and become a notable part of it.
This week, I’ve been lucky enough to come into the possession of a bottle of Glenlivet, bottled in March of 1979 and ready to drink at 33 years of age. It’s a beautiful dram that reminds me of the freshly mown hay from the fields, crumbly shortbread in my hands and sticky golden raisins in my lunchbox. I’m guessing these are exactly the scents I was smelling and the food I was eating in my very own schoolyard 33 years ago.
Right before I joined a bunch of other kids to go pants the new teacher squealer.