Whisky: It’s home is Scotland ! A number of fabulous whiskies are all available in the marketplace as we shall note in a moment. All are enjoyed either on their own or thrown over ice as in ‘on the rocks’, with either a dash of still or sparkling water or with ginger ale as a long drink. It also makes for an exceptional cocktail drink. I’m a fan of adding cola to provide some toffee sweetness.
It is fair to say though, the land of the rising Sun, Japan, rightly claims to have made some exceptionally smooth products – see the offerings from Suntory for example. However, don’t ignore those from other parts of Britain, the United States Of America, Australia and India either.
Whilst history is a little scant concerning whisky’s origins, there is a reference in the Exchequer of the Rolls of Scotland of 1495 which talks about the ‘water of life’.
Brief Outline On The Process
The general process requires distillation in a copper pot, usually as a batch still. The spirit matures in oak casks which have often been used to store other wines and spirits such as sherry or port. The whisky must be allowed to mature for at least 3 years according to law before bottling and retail. In olden times, whisky was sold as soon as it was produced but quality suffered as a result.
Blended whiskies have been an established part of the lounge and bar scene ever since it was recognised that a uniform product was needed year in year out for retail. One of the most famous blends is Johnny Walker ‘Black Label’ (manufacturer: Diageo) which offers the drinker a rich, fruity and spicy flavour on top of which are slightly caramel, toffee notes and a smoky aftertaste. The whole is matured for a minimum of 12 years and includes in its mix, 30 malt and grain whiskies sourced all over Scotland. Jim Murray, acclaimed author of the ‘Whisky Bible’ considers this blend at the pinnacle.
An even more interesting product is the rich and intense taste of Johnny Walker ‘Double Black Label’ which has an even richer , intense flavour coupled with vanilla notes. This one demands a dash of spring water to release the various full-bodied smoky flavours that emanate in the mouth. Smoky malts are specially selected, stored in deep-charred, extremely old oak casks. The whole is reminiscent of West Coast and Island single-malts from places like Oban.
One of the most recent additions to the whisky world is Haig Club Clubman (40% ABV) which is a single grain Scotch matured in fresh bourbon casks. This is distilled at the Cameronbridge Distillery, founded in 1824 by John Haig. It was developed in partnership with Diageo, the British entrepreneur Simon Fuller and that icon of British sport and modern style, David Beckham. It is said to have vanilla and dried fruit notes which result in a ‘light, sweet and vibrant taste with a smooth, clean finish.’ The spirit works well with Colas as the sweetness is complemented by the caramel finish in a cola. It performs really well as a delicious long, mixed drink. The product is aimed at those who are not overly familiar with scotch but are seeking a subtle, sophisticated drink for evening supping.
The owners Pernod Ricard have this rather soft and well rounded 12 year old whisky from 1879. It has according to various tasting bodies, fruity notes of red apple, sherried character and fruity aromas balanced with a rich chocolate, toffee, cinnamon and ginger spiciness. The body is warming and lingering in aftertaste. The colour is a golden amber with a ruby tinge. Ideal served neat or on the rocks. It was the 2015 silver outstanding medal winner – international wine and spirits competition. The IWSC awards tasting notes describe the aroma as:-
“Super, inviting nose with kumquat, orange and lemon then rich malt and vanilla, big but dignified entry into the mouth with immediate flood of the palate and flavour distribution brings ripe fruit, lots of spice both sweet and peppery”.
The Auchentoshan American Oak Single Malt was given birth in 1823 and is Scotland’s only triple distilled whisky. It is a lowland single malt of golden colour with a sweet aroma of vanilla and coconut. There is a also citrus zesty thrill to the drink. That triple distilling process means the flavour is exceptionally smooth and versatile for cocktails. There is a whisky and ale serving which opens up a new world for this particular drink. The whisky is matured in American bourbon casks. It is a winner of the International Wine & Spirit Competition 214 Médaille d’Argent.
Balvenie whisky was founded by William Grant in 1889. He began his life in Dufftown, 1839 and at seven started herding cattle for his family at a farm on the River Deveron. Spells as a cobbler and clerk lead to a book-keeping job at the Mortlach distillery. He soon learnt about distillation. In the shadow of Balvenie Castle, he started his distillery.
One classic product is the Double Wood 12 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky. This is a 12 year old malt said to taste of sweet fruit, sultanas overlaid with Oloroso sherry notes and layered on top, vanilla and honey.
Glenfiddich is a family run distillery operating since 1887 which makes it one of the oldest in existence. The distillery was started by William Grant with a second-hand copper still on Christmas Day and is still going 5 generations later. The name Glenfiddich is gaelic for ‘Valley of the deer’.
The distillery created a single malt 15 year old scotch whisky (40% alcohol content). This especially flavoursome whisky is produced in their most recent innovation, the unique Solera vat. The process was pioneered in 1998. This special vat houses a mix of single malts which have already been matured in bourbon, sherry and new oak casks sourced from Spain and America. The Solera Vat is always kept half-full so that the various flavours continue to develop, adding rich complexity.
Tasting notes (Glenfiddich 15 years): The whisky is non-chill filtered to protect the many subtle flavours the spirit offers. It is described as having unique floral, honey, rich fruit, warm spice and peppery notes which are released along with a sweet, velvet and warm finish. At full strength the smooth, warming flavour is centred around a delicious creamy spiciness. After adding a little water, the softer vanilla and gentle luscious fruit flavours come through.
It has won a number of prizes at the International Wine & Spirit Competition and the International Spirits Challenge. This makes it the world’s most decorated single malt.
Isle Of Jura
The Isle Of Jura distillery has produced ‘Superstition’. The flavour is described as ‘lightly peated with hints of smoke and spice. Tastes of tangy cinnamon, ginger spice and honey with whispers of salty sea spray, rich coffee and roasted chestnuts’. The colour is of a deep intense mahogany which is slightly darker than other whisky hues. It has won awards including:-
2015 Silver Outstanding Medal Winner – International Wine & Spirits Competition.
IWSC Awards Tasting Note (Jura: Superstition). The floral rose sweetness of Turkish Delight, with the addition of honeycomb and aniseed, makes for a deliciously approachable yet well structured malt.
One whisky that isn’t as well known as it should be is Dalwhinnie Winter’s Gold. This comes from the highest and coldest distillery in Scotland. This spirit has a flavour rich with toffee, fresh green apple and honey notes and supported by some robust smoke and golden malt hints.
The famous 16 year old Scotch malt from Lagavulin (Owner: Diageo) is a treat at any time and occasion. The flavour is described as dry and peaty with a ‘gentle but strong sweetness’, followed by sea and salt coupled to woodiness. It is best with intensely flavoured salty blue cheeses – Roquefort, Stilton,Gorgonzola and Lanark Blue. Also excellent with anchovies on toast.
Awards: 2015 Silver Outstanding Medal Winner – International Wine & Spirits Competition
IWSC Awards Tasting Note: Smoke and marzipan distinguish the nose, with a certain nuttiness joining these flavours on a palate that shows well-integrated oak and a delicate sweetness.
The 10 Year Old Islay Single Malt Scotch is one to look for. It has a shining, gold colour with flavours of smoke, seaweed, sweetness overlaid with some medicinal, slightly phenolic notes. The saltiness coupled with sweet is due to the peaty water used in its distillation. It has a full bodied long finish.
The flavour of whisky has been part of the overall sensation associated with this national spirit of Scotland. Over a 1,000 compounds have been identified in the aroma of whisky alone. They include generally a variety of alcohols and fusel alcohols, fatty acids and esters, lactones, aldehydes and ketones and other carbonyl compounds. We’ll talk about this in another post at a later date because there is nothing more complex. To really understand whisky flavour though, dip into Jim Murray’s annual examination of the best whiskies in the world.
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