INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. - Working in the schools is rewarding, working in the schools is gratifying, but introducing a new brand of whisky in London is what I have to call, satiating.
Backing up a little, Mark Twain was a longtime Anglophile. He stayed at our host hotel, the Langham, in 1873, lived in Chelsea in 1896-7, covered Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee for Hearst in 1897 ("It was to be a spectacle for the Kodak, not the pen.") and received an honorary degree at Oxford in 1907.
So the Scotch whisky distilling company, Glenmorangie, saw fit to fly the Ghost of Twain from Tahoe to London to consecrate the launching of Ealanta, aged 19 years in American white oak casks, sourced from the Mark Twain Forest of Missouri.
When my agent in Virginia, Alex Arnett, asked if I would be interested in talking to these folks I said, "Whisky is the work of the devil, Alex - I'm in with both feet."
Upon arriving in the Old World, a good friend and excellent author, Caroline Lawrence, grabbed me at Heathrow, and down the 150 year old tunnel we went to find that 1896 Chelsea residence of the Clemens family. We found that grand old domicile and it gave me chicken-skin to gaze upon it.
I took a jog through Regent Park to shake off the jet lag and found that park to be more enchanting than Central Park and Golden Gate Park combined ... then to work.
On arrival to the Palm Court, guests were offered whisky based cocktails in the style of 'The Mark Twain' (Scotch Whisky, fresh lemon juice, sugar syrup, aromatic bitters), while a live jazz band belted out, "Champagne Charlie." The atmosphere at the Langham was what one might call "inaugural." And the welcome they gave to the Ghost of Twain (surprise!) was heartwarming.
Along with some secrets of longevity (177 now) I was happy to toss in, "I've found that a tumbler full of Glenmorangie in the morning is a preventive against toothache. I've never had the toothache, and I don't intend to have one."
I offered no amusement, but did offer a reasonable amount of moral instruction. My remarks were abbreviated in that I was in a hurry to get to the tasting, the essential ingredient of the evening, and I was not disappointed in the observance.
We were instructed by Dr. Lumsden to be aware of a hint of butter scotch, but I couldn't find the butterscotch with a hunting dog. It tasted like whisky to me, and delicious whisky at that. I lapped it up like a St. Bernard and begged for more. It wasn't long before I was invited to sing the doxology. Well, maybe I wasn't invited, but I sang it all the same, and everybody joined in. Before leaving the hall at the end of a most memorable evening, I remarked to a lady wrapped in fur, "You look familiar, do I come here often?"
"Not since 1907 that I know of..."
I love London Town, the Langham and Glenmorangie. I think the most fun I've had in a white suit might be that singular night in the UK when I was upstairs in Downtown Abbey.
- Learn more about McAvoy Layne at www.ghostoftwain.org.