Whisky resistant or Scotch specialist? There’s a dram for every drinker.
Get set for Burns Night on 25th January with our Burns Night whisky guide.
Whisky is the marmite of the spirits world.
There are those who prefer to savour every flavour, inhaling the peaty notes of a superb single malt; then there are those who can’t even look at a bottle of the golden nectar without grimacing.
But whether you “love it or hate it”, there’s (truly) a whisky to suit every palate this Burns Night, and we’ll be drammed (sorry…) if there’s not a tipple that even the most whisky-resistant can enjoy.
Whisky is like wine, beer and coffee - in as much that few people rarely enjoy their very first sip. So don’t be put off by concerns of an overpowering peaty punch; it’s best to start with something slightly sweeter: a blend. The blended grain whisky 808 is maize-based and, unlike the traditional and more familiar barley-based whiskies, 808 is lighter, subtler and with a smoother flavour. It feels youthful and exciting, a refreshing change from the heavier single malts.
Whisky distilleries are keen to attract new converts, and with this in mind the Cameronbridge distillery in Scotland has teamed up with David Beckham to create their latest release, specifically for a new audience of whisky drinkers. Haig Club whisky uses a unique process that combines grain whisky from three cask types, resulting in a fresh, clean style with flavours of butterscotch and toffee. The ideal dram for virgin Scotch sippers, Haig is best enjoyed on the rocks.
Whisky can also be made more congenial by the way it is drank. The old rule that you shouldn’t ever add water to a malt seems to have been relaxed – in fact most distillers now say to dilute it to taste. A good entry-level single malt would be The Macallan 1824 Amber whisky. With a gentle floral, sweet citrus aroma, and fresh green apple, lemon and cinnamon to taste, enjoy with a splash of water to release the flavours.
If, however, you’re more than happy in your whisky-free world thank you very much, then perhaps this January 25th you could raise a glass to the great Robert Burns with a Scottish gin such as Rock Rose, or the newly released Holy Grass vodka, lightly infused with Highland apple vapour…
If you’re familiar with your Johnnie Walker blends and have long-since graduated from Famous Grouse, then this Burns Night be encouraged to take a risk on something new. A fantastic introduction to the Aberfeldy Distillery, The Aberfeldy 12-year-old is a clean, polished single malt with a very smooth, syrupy texture that lingers in the mouth. Boasting fruity notes of melon, pineapple and green apple on the palate, with sweet spices to finish, it’s a refreshing dram to partner perfectly with tasty haggis, tatties and neeps.
Another great, next-level Scotch is the Scallywag Speyside Blended Malt Whisky, a delicious blend of some of the greatest Speyside malts including Mortlach, Macallan and Glenrothes. With a Double Gold awarded at the San Francisco Spirits Awards in 2014, this small batch little rascal is 60% sherry-matured with a flavour profile of sweet stewed fruit, dark chocolate and a lingering finish that is partly zesty orange, partly cocoa, tobacco and fruit cake.
Whilst the next suggestion is enough to get you thrown out of any self-respecting Burns Night party, Japanese whiskies are having a bit of a moment and would make an excellent alternative to tradition should you want to break the rules a little. Released in honour of the founding father of Japanese whisky and the Nikka Whisky Co – Masataka Taketsuru – The Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt celebrates the whisky visionary and combines the strong, peaty character of the Yoichi distillery malts with the elegance and fruitiness of malts produced at the Miyagikyo distillery. Besides Taketsuru learned his trade working in Scottish whisky distilleries before returning to Japan, so there’s a conversation starter… Or just a tenuous link…
Must it be single malt? No, is the answer. In fact, with so many exciting new releases on the market, if you’ve always been strictly single malt then now is the time to branch out into blends. In spite of the fun name and fun bottle, Big Peat Islay Blended Malt Scotch whisky is pretty serious. The multi-award winning Big Peat contains Ardberg, Bowmore and malts from the now-closed Port Ellen distillery. On the nose it’s fresh, salty and clean; on the mouth it’s ash, sweet tar, seaside beach and smoking chimneys; and the finish is long and lingering with (more) salty, tangy liquorice, (more) smoke and bonfire ashes. Finally, for the real experts, Big Peat’s PPM (parts per million of phenol distilled in the spirit) is 40. To put that in malty perspective Laphroaig is 43 PPM, so Big Peat is pretty, well, peaty.
For something a little lighter, the best of the Islands are brought together in the ‘Maritime’ style Scotch Rock Oyster Malt Whisky. Featuring the finest from Islay, Jura, Arran and Orkeny, the taste of Rock Oyster is a delicacy. With aromas of rocks and salty oceans combined with sweet and honey-ish flavours and a hint of liquorice and pepper, Rock Oyster lingers on the palate and is incredibly moreish.
The ultimate whisky for Burns Night however? You can’t really beat Timorous Beastie Highland Blended Malt Scotch with both the name and label taken from Robert Burns famous poem ‘To A Mouse’. Launched just a year ago, Timorous Beastie is a small-batch using some of Scotland’s finest, including Dalmore, Glengoyne and Glen Garioch, and already commanding its own cult following. Sweet on the nose with barley and honey, and tasting of raisin and fudge, the finish brings an incredible mouth-feel of oak, hints of milky cereals and meringue.
So “fair fa' your honest, sonsie face” and raise a toast to the Scottish baird for Burns Night.