Ulsce Beatha: Water of Life

It’s a cold and rainy Friday morning in New England, and my thoughts turn to Scotland.  I spent a similarly wet day trying to be outdoors on Isle of Skye last November.  The goal all along in Scotland was for a generous mix of outdoor activities.  Plan B was to visit distilleries when Mother Nature turned her back on us.  And so it was that when the sky was full of cold water in Skye we went to Talisker.  We capped the trip with a very intentional visit to Speyside and the Glenfiddich and Balvenie Distilleries. We didn’t go to Scotland to drink our way around, but we made a point of visiting distilleries in each region we found ourselves in.  If castles and battle sites teach you the history of the place, distilleries teach you the entrepreneurial spirit and patience of the Scots.

Two things you realize quickly when you’re on distillery tours is that you never have enough time to see all of them and it’s best to have a designated driver if you want to immerse yourselves in the process.  Alas, I was the designated driver and time wasn’t on our side to see everything.  But we managed three hours at Balvenie for a magical tour that I highly recommend.  Off-peak tours are especially enlightening as you have a little more elbow room and an opportunity to dwell in special places.

The Gaelic Ulsce Beatha, pronounced “ish-ka ba-ha”, translates to “water of life”.  Similar to the Latin Aqua Vitae.  Whisky distilling began in Ireland, made its way to Scotland via Islay, where it was transformed into something else entirely.  There are plenty of differences between Irish Whisky and Scotch Whisky, but the primary difference is in the distillation process.  The Irish triple distill, the Scots double distill.  Mix in the raw ingredients and the essence of the land and you’ve got two very different spirits.  There’s magic in each of the spirits, should you choose to linger with them.  Lingering is the key, these aren’t meant to be slammed down like you’re on spring break in Cancun.  Honor the spirit or don’t dance with it.

Tonight, on this rainy and raw day, I’ll dance a bit with the spirits.  Just enough to honor them without offending them.  A taste of the essence of Scotland, which draws my attention still.  Humanity is taking a bit of a hit at the moment and we’re all living with plan B, but there’s hope for brighter days should we get this right.  I’ll have a virtual toast this evening to your continued good health.  Slainte Mheh!

Subscribe to Alexanders Map

Similar Posts


  1. I know what we’ll be sipping at sundowner time this evening! Hey, I forgot, is whisk-EY for the American version? Egads, If that can ever be called a comparison, I realize.

    1. Yes, add the “e” for America. Meant to write about that too but ran out of time

Leave a Reply