Next to Irn Bru, whisky is the sacred lifeblood of Scots up and down the country.
As Billy Connolly once said: ‘I don’t know if you remember the first time you ever tasted whisky and the tremendous shock to the nervous system it is. In Scotland this usually happens around the age of four.’
For some, the soothing burn of a top-tier malt is a near-spiritual experience. If anyone can testify to that power, it’s Pope Francis, who declared whisky to be ‘the real holy water’.
The amazing tale comes from Tony Kearney, the director of one-hour BBC documentary Priest School. During the 18-month filming, they’d filmed the Pope as he met Scottish student priests from the Pontifical Scots College in Rome at the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.
As the Pope arrived at the reception, he was gifted a bottle of Oban malt. On a normal basis, such gifts are graciously handed off to an assistant, but this time was different.
“When they handed him the bottle, instead of just handing it to his assistant as he normally would with a gift, he held it up and said ‘questa e la vera acqua santa’ which means this is the real holy water,” Kearney said
“He guffawed with laughter and it was a real ice-breaker with the students and put everyone at ease.” Kearney added.
When the Pope and the Queen first met back in 2014, she marked the occasion with a lovely bottle of whisky. When Father Jim Wallis met the Pope in 2018 after becoming spiritual director at the Pontifical Scots College, the priest had a similar encounter.
“It was a great honour to go into the Vatican and go to the chamber to meet the Pope and he came out and shook all of our hands. Then we presented him with a bottle of whisky and he looked at it and said: ‘Ha ha, that’s holy water!’ He’s obviously been gifted some whisky before.” Father Wallis said.
However, don’t expect to actually see the Pope’s hilarious endorsement anytime soon.
“We’d agreed that the Vatican’s media office would be allowed to approve all of our footage before we broadcast it. So we sent them the files and when they sent it back that bit of him saying that was cut out,” Kearney explained.
The clip may be censored, but the Pope’s whisky-craving legacy is impenetrable. Slàinte mhath!