[Disclaimer: This is not a review, nor an interview with the Scottish Princeton professor Angus Deaton, the 2015 Nobel Prize winner for Economics. All but one of Deaton’s quotes are real, however—ahem—not in response to questions asked by us.]
AD: Och. Aye. And “AD” is short for “Angus Deaton,” not “Anno Domini.”
MIB: Noted. Well, congratulations on your victory. Since I only read headlines, and Nobel prize citations, I’m well aware that you write about consumption. We think of ourselves as expert consumers who, fortunately, don’t have consumption. Do you have strong feelings about tuberculosis?
AD: I grew up in Edinburgh. It was a cold, messy and miserable place to grow up, and I dreamed of going to tropical, colorful, hot countries.
MIB: I guess you were lucky not to get it.
AD: If my father hadn’t contracted TB in the second world war, that saved him from being killed on a commando raid, then I wouldn’t have come into being.
MIB: Well, then, I suppose we’re all lucky that he got TB. [Raises glass] I’d like to propose a toast to tuberculosis, a toastberculosis, if you will. But first a question: Would you say then that consuming the nose of a whisky, especially one that’s not a luxury whisky, is a rational move, likely to increase the hedons of a household consumer? Should we be worried that because this is a luxury whisky, there is implicitly a border keeping people out from the chance of getting to drink it?
AD: Focusing on the number of people who are below the line is like chasing an unicorn through the woods.
MIB: Unicorns? Well, I suppose it’s there in the nose somewhere. As for me, I think of this as the chimichanga juice that Lev “Leo” Tolstoy would have served his farmhands. Can a Lord drink with Peasants? What will the effect of that be? Will the workers run off?
AD: Bad things happen, and new escapes, like old ones, will bring new inequalities. Yet I expect those setbacks to be overcome in the future, as they have in the past.
MIB: Indeed. But would those farmhands taste what we did? We got rose petals strewn on a honeymoon bed, pine sap crusted on bark and catching sunlight like glittering diamonds. We also found the empty cicada carapace clinging to a swizzle stick, that some joker had filled with leather scraps, and an orange left in a school locker over break, becoming as soft and elusive as a fish belly. How is Compass Box able to do things like this and other blenders not?
AD: What we are seeing now is the result of hundreds of years of unequal development.
MIB: I don’t see an age statement on the label, but it does taste like it’s aged a long time. What’s more, the mouth insists that it is not chill-filtered, although it is clearly chill. It’s creamy, like a Lester Young sax solo, like gargling with polished maplewood marbles. And yet, it’s got an edge, like butterscotch employed in a pinch as a straight razor. It’s wearing steel-toed boots, and it listens earnestly and unironically to the Dead Kennedys and Black Flag. How would you reconcile these disparities?
AD: A good theoretical account must explain all of the evidence that we see. If it doesn’t work everywhere, we have no idea what we are talking about, and all is chaos.
MIB: Ah, so chaos is the essence of whiskies that aren’t luxury whiskies? Why is that?
AD: My measurements tend to show that things are getting better, but there is a lot of work still to be done.
MIB: Indeed there is, if you call putting more of this whisky into my belly “work.” The finish is long; the high heat permits the length to unfold like an origami crane being returned to a square of lilac rice paper. Did you find also the walnut spread? The anthracite charcoal finish? Did you also find that these components of numbing agents have a powerful, welcome effect?
AD: I think putting numbers together into a coherent framework always seemed to me to be what really matters.
MIB: As do we! So you also enjoyed the burnt butterscotch pulled from the bottom of an aquarium?
AD: Life is better now than at almost any time in history.
MIB: My sample is gone and I’m living a nightmare. How ‘bout you and your sample, Angus?
AD: I’m just hoping it’s not a dream which I’m going to wake up from.