Sipping on the hubris of Timah haters

OCTOBER 21 — “What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.” Act II, Scene II, Romeo and Juliet

In Malaysia? Everything, Juliet. Name is everything. The Malay Right would likely ask the Bard to stick his rose and nose where the sun don’t shine.

Identity dispute time again, what is on and what is not on. Oh, they do deliciously overlap.

I was told early that whisky could undo me at open bars, I never realised it had the power to unhinge a whole army of conservative nutters nationwide without their taking a sip.

Timah, the two-year-old Malaysian whisky is their present target. Fame has brought it to the attention of the easily triggered, who want its local operation and promotion shut.

They — even more wound-up than usual since a by-election looms in Melaka — are riled and raged about a legal Malaysian company producing whisky on their watch.


They alternate between the choice of name and operating a potentially international alcohol brand at home. It just does not sit well with them. They live in a world which constantly manufactures facts to match their feelings, even if that requires lying about the past, present, future and alternate universes.

Firstly, there are no angry mobs. Social media and Whatsapp groups — Damn you, Zuckerberg! — amplify the minority’s resentment; this small group who unceasingly claim to represent the largely disinterested Muslim majority.

This is not to accuse an inordinate number of Muslims of imbibing or being keen on alcohol, this is just to reassert that the vast majority have more pressing issues in their lives like sustaining household income in an uncertain economy; testing themselves for Covid-19 regularly as offices, schools and offices are in full flow; and in stages reintroduce normality back into their lives.

They are not squatting in secluded rooms shaking uncontrollably from the awful truth of Timah being sold in affluent stores near them.

The majority would appreciate the government for going out there and improving their lives. Come up with what they call ideas and innovations rather than competing with rivals to save the moral souls of Malaysians.

Tropical tipple: Timah Double Peated Blended Whiskey is an eight-year-old whisky featuring subtle verdant flavours with light fruity notes. — Picture from Winepak International
Tropical tipple: Timah Double Peated Blended Whiskey is an eight-year-old whisky featuring subtle verdant flavours with light fruity notes. — Picture from Winepak International

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The word is affluent because at RM190 retail it is not a bestseller at the B40 friendly stores.

There are an innumerable number of cheap alcohol brands produced and sold in Malaysia. Whether gin, brandy, whisky or vodka, they are in modest stores in the RM50 range — Cap Kapak from Klang is available online at RM41.

Timah’s misstep was to be recognised abroad, and as such link Malaysia with a liquor tradition. There’s a cheap 18 per cent craft beer called Lambo from Balakong they do not care for, since only people in Cheras drink it. Sometimes even people from Petaling Jaya!

It’s not our way

Timah (Tin) insults Malays is the assertion.


Even in these days of political correctness and Wokeness, the specific harm must be identified when seeking remedy.

Imagine a distiller names a new whisky, (V.T) Sambanthan, in reverence to the first Malaysian Indian minister. Malaysian Indian representatives may oppose on grounds it reaffirms cruel stereotypes of the community and alcohol.

Or instead names a brandy Iban Warrior to the chagrin of Sarawakians.

While the right to complain does not guarantee a correction, explaining the basis allows space to determine if ill-feelings are genuinely generated, or worse malignant forces are at work. So, society can rationally discuss the perceived and real harms and to act accordingly.

But when they name a whisky after a metal, something with a chemical symbol (Sn) and atomic number (50) they should be well within their rights.

Sure, the company over-romanticised Captain Speedy sipping his bottle by Larut’s tropical tin mines, to offer a backstory.

However, the objection this time and specific to Timah appears from a deep-rooted belief the country — its language and culture — is the monopoly of Malays which is determined by its self-appointed representatives.

Timah is a Malay word. Throughout colonial rule and early nationhood, tin had both an emotional and economic meaning to national identity.

When a whisky passes around the world associated with the Malay language and its nation-building story, it grates those who feel that it does not represent our culture and language.

Our collective story to them should be their preserve, the property of a small easily angered minority.

The obvious rebuttal, language and culture are the most dynamic elements of society. They evolve with time and reflect all its people.

All Malaysians have stories. How about a bit of respect for that?

Malay belongs to its speakers, and there is no differentiation between Muslims and others who speak Malay. Therefore, all speakers of Malay may access the word timah and use it however they want and not feel the need to justify themselves to any other person. Subject to trademark stipulation, but the critical point, the self-declared protectors of race and culture do not own the word by default.

If it disappoints them then they have to learn to live with the disappointment.

Two things are certain from this fiasco. One, Timah will experience record sales as liberals in silence express support with their wallets. Second, the objectors are fooling themselves. The world does not operate under their SOP of shouting till they get their way. Things change daily, and demanding bans when trade only blossoms on in The Internet Age is senseless. Doors open constantly, closing one from a thousand is negligible.

One thing necessary, or the lesson from the Timah outbursts, is that there can only be that many nonsense issues in this middle-income economy.


*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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