Blaand: Scotland's National Drink Before Whisky
Single malt whisky has been produced in and associated with Scotland for more than five hundred years. It has long since been thought of as the country's national drink and its fibres are intricately woven through the fabric of - particularly - rural life. The word itself is even a derivation of "uisge beatha" - a Gaelic expression meaning, "The water of life."
Long before whisky was ever produced, however, the Vikings came to Scotland. History portrays these Norse invaders as a race of violent warriors, hell bent on rape, pillage and conquest wherever they chose to venture. That was of course a large part of what occurred more than a millennium ago but it is also believed that these were the people who first introduced the alcoholic beverage which came to be known as blaand to the British Isles.
Blaand is a drink which defies classification in any conventional sense. It is neither a beer, a wine nor a spirit, though it is closest to wine in its strength and the manner in which it is consumed. It is made by fermenting the whey that is an otherwise virtually useless by-product of cheese and butter manufacturing in oak casks and is therefore a truly excellent way of utilising something which would otherwise most likely go to waste.
For centuries following the introduction of blaand to Scotland, farmers and rural crofters made it for their own and their families' consumption. Fishermen even used to take barrels of it to sea with them for its perceived healthy and warming properties. It was not like whisky in that, for some unknown reason, no one ever expanded their production of it into a commercial enterprise. It was perhaps simply viewed as a family recipe, like a favourite cake, and not something from which to generate wealth or even income.
In the middle of the twentieth century, traditional farming methods were growing ever more scarce in the face of technological advances and increasing mass production. Cheese and butter were no longer hand made by individual farmers and thus the whey that was the essence of blaand was no longer available to them. It is sad therefore that blaand in Scotland was for a time largely confined to memory, folklore and some few older publications - until just a few short years ago.
Humphrey Errington is a Lanarkshire farmer who has for many years hand produced his own cheese brands, Lanark Blue and Dunsyre Blue. He now also produces his own version of blaand from his whey, branded "Fallachan," which, appropriately enough, in Gaelic means "hidden treasure." This is presently the only commercial production of blaand in Scotland - but who knows what the future holds?
Allan Cameron with a Bottle of Blaand
I had been keen to taste blaand for some time but had never actually managed to find any pub which sold it - until Sunday, 27th July, 2008. I had previously noticed a newspaper cutting referring to blaand in the window of The Tass, at 1 The High Street - on The Royal Mile - in Edinburgh. I happened to ask the owner, Allan Cameron (pictured right,) what he knew about it and he astounded me by telling me that he actually sold the drink in the pub!
Well, of course I had to try it and I was not disappointed. It is quite unlike anything I had ever tasted before. It looks just like white wine but has a totally unique flavour. I recall reading somewhere that blaand is an excellent accompaniment to strong cheese and although I unfortunately didn't have any cheese to hand at the time, I can definitely believe this would be the case. That is an experience which, for the moment, I continue to savour. If you happen to be in Edinburgh, either as a resident or a visitor, why not pop along to The Tass and try it for yourself?