The primary reason I picked whisky as a book topic over a plethora of other food topics is that I believe whisky demonstrates how far reaching certain foods can insinuate themselves into a society. This insinuation can take form in any way, from government policy, to tradition, to a simple story told to another person. Whisky has stories in spades.
For example, I’m doing a bit of reading about the Canadian development of their national railway system, their answer to America’s transcontinental railroad.
This occured about 1880, and the development of the Canada’s railway was a long, arduous process. Much of the land in which the railway would go through was unpopulated, leaving the workers with little to do. Enter whisky, which was cheap and provided many the ability to get drunk -their only form of entertainment. However, a drunk workforce makes for an unproductive one, and companies responsible banned the drink. And once an institution bans an in-demand item, it immediately becomes a highly profitable black market item.
It wasn’t just the companies that banned the drink. Towns that the railway did go through banned the drink as well, for the drunk workers would often end up breaking one law or another, from the more minor ones such as breaking the peace, or a simple assault charge, to more serious ones such as destruction of property to even murder.
Since there was often very little in the way of major police forces, the constables assigned to the companies were often given the right to enforce the laws even outside of the company camps. One company constable by the name of O’Keefe seized four barrels of whisky. Instead of dumping it, as was policy, he took it back to his office and treated his friends to a bit of a party. A local magistrate found out and proceeded to fine O’Keefe and confiscated the liquor.
O’Keefe immediately paid his fine, and then proceeded to arrest the magistrate for possession. Presumably, O’Keefe took back the liquor and saw to it that it was disposed in a more discreet manner.
I love stories like this, because they are both a bit tragic and yet an equal amount comic. The history of whisky is full of stories like this.