Very Able Troopers (Vat 69)

After a longtime neighbor and good friend of my family passed away at the well-traveled age of 86, I inherited many year's worth of fond memories, a book's worth of practical DIY fix-it knowledge and a partially consumed bottle of blended scotch whiskey labeled "VAT 69"- Gold. It was my 50th birthday when my parent's presented me with the bottle.

I'm not a spirits aficionado, but have enjoyed a fondness for the occasional snort of good whisky, or its version as distilled and matured in Scotland, and more commonly known as Scotch. But VAT 69? Never heard of it. After a quick sniff and sip in honor of our good friend, my curiosity in the brand was furthered upon discovery of Carl's handwriting on the side of the label. In black Sharpie, he denoted there, 1985. As far as taste, it was pretty damn special. No sense wasting time on fancy descriptions of how my palate danced to the earthy tones so in more instinctive layman's terms, it's bold with a bite. I recommend it with a large ice cube or two in a short, thick glass on a cold day. If at all possible, while wearing flannel near a fire pit. Otherwise, indulge any chance you might have to enjoy it without distraction.


1932 statue of Sir Ernest Shackleton outside the London headquarters of the Royal Geographical Society. Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Here's a more formal description from that made me like it even more.

VAT 69 is a famous old brand of blended whisky, chosen by Sir Ernest Shackleton to accompany him on his Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914 ‘for medicinal and celebratory purposes’, and also famously the favourite whisky of Captain Lewis Nixon of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, immortalised in the book and TV series Band of Brothers.

That info caught me off guard. The unbelievable, but entirely true story of the ambitious, but ill-fated 1914 expedition headed by Earnest Shackleton and his crew of 27 aboard their ship, Endurance is no doubt the stuff of timeless legend. I've read several of the dozen or so books written about it, and have seen the movie starring Richard Branagh in a commendable portrayal of Shackleton. I've also seen Band of Brothers, but am now more curious to learn more about the real-life Captain Lewis Nixon.

And if all these revelations weren't kickass enough, further investigation revealed that Vat 69 is the nickname of a subdivision of the Royal Malaysian Police 69th Commando Battalion The VAT 69 (Very Able Troopers 69), also known as Task Force, Charlie Force and Special Project Team, is modelled on the British 22nd Special Air Service Regiment.

It was founded in 1969 (hence the name – 69) as a small combat unit to counter the tactics and techniques of the communist terrorists. It began when the Minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security, The Honorable Allahyarham (late) Tun Dr. Ismail proposed the formation of a special force for fighting the communist insurgency in 1969.


THE CREST OF THE SPECIAL ACTIONS UNIT OF PGK. Literal translation: "Quick to Overcome Terror"

If the personal sentimental value of this bottle wasn't enough, all this history and backstory sealed my fate as a future consumer. I believe we drink for two reasons. To celebrate and to forget, but always with purpose. This experience provided a rare twinge of personal regret for not having known about this before. I think about both my grandfathers, Jerome Larkin and John Paxton, as well as my Uncle Brooks Kleber, who all served with distinction in WWII. None of them should've made it home alive, but they did and so I write these words. Knowing what I know now, there's no doubt they were all familiar with VAT 69; both the drink and its military heritage.

In honor of all them, and of course, Carl, and in the spirit of Adventure, Exploration and the Defeat of our Enemies in the name of liberty and freedom, I shall ration, but savor every sip of this meaningful batch. Rest assured, the ration part of that statement will cause no stress of strife, as I will be soon acquiring another bottle for gratuitous sharing and swigging purposes. Bottoms Up and ... Thanks for reading. -sp-