As my good friend Rumpole, honourable barrister at the Old Bailey, is partial to claret, I am to merlot.
But, as it was a birthday and a once-a-year occasion, I also spoilt myself with the odd glass of whisky. For the whisky watchdog, the Scotch Whisky Association, this is mother’s milk.
My rare indulgence reminded me of how vigilant it is in protecting the good reputation of this ancient drink, which is also big business. (South Africa is the ninth largest market for Scotch whisky in the world?)
A few days before my break, the association and the Chivas Brothers, the manufacturer of a well-known, old blended Scotch whisky, teamed up against a local manufacturer and distributor, Milestone Beverage in the high court. Their gripe? Milestone Beverage, a family business, had misrepresented its Royal Douglas and King Arthur products. All agreed those are not whisky products, but they were being marketed as whisky-flavoured spirit aperitifs. The whisky connoisseur told the court if it wasn't the real thing, you couldn't associate it with whisky.
A Scotch Whisky Research Institute scientist (sounds like a great job!) sniffed and tasted the Milestone products, and concluded they didn't make the cut as being whisky-flavoured.
Milestone changed its labelling to state the alcoholic beverage was an aperitif and not a whisky, but the watchdog was not happy. They won.
The whisky association is vigilant and it turns to court on occasion to protect its good reputation.
Ditto, when a Centurion company, Vintage Liquor Merchants, was in hot water over its so-called whisky.
The association told the court it was simply not the real McCoy (the product was tested and found wanting), and thus did not deserve to be labelled a whisky. Their main grievance was the word “clan”, an association with Scotland, on the label.
The watchdog once again won its battle, and again the Chivas Brothers were behind them.
The court was also educated on the spelling - "whisky" was the spelling used in Scotland and Canada, while it was "whiskey" in Ireland and the US.
Scottish whisky, it was said, had been sold for more than 1000 years across the world. In 2012, exports from Scotland were worth more than R56billion. It was only true Scotch if it was distilled and manufactured in Scotland.
In 2013 the equivalent of 57.3 million bottles valued at R2.8billion were exported to South Africa.
It was said that whisky was the fastest-growing liquor sold in South Africa.
With this in mind and a wee dram in my hand, it was difficult not to have a good birthday.