Once the meal and family games are over, there’s nothing better than relaxing with a dram or two of special Christmas whisky. Below, is a list from spirits expert Richard Woodard.
Christmas whisky that you won’t want to miss
One of the most remarkable whiskies I’ve tasted; a chameleon-like liquid that moves through phases of creamy, juicy fruit, leather, coffee bean and cured ham, always with a shy wisp of smoke in the background. A (very pricey) gem from a cult distillery that opened in 1819, closed in 1983 – but is now being rebuilt and could be making whisky again by September 2020.
Japanese whisky is in a crazy place right now, with spiralling demand driving up prices and exhausting supplies of age-stated single malts like Yamazaki, Hakushu and Yoichi. For those on a more realistic budget, this release from Suntory’s workhorse grain plant located in unglamorous Nagoya offers the simple pleasures of Sugar Puffs, orange blossom and vanilla with a spike of cinnamon. Perfect in an authentic Japanese mizuwari or highball.
A promising new release from a distillery in the eastern Highlands that has sometimes had a ‘difficult’ reputation. Often sulky and unyielding in its youth, it has shaken off that moodiness here to show breezy citrus fruit and honeysuckle, alongside a creamy texture from ex-Bourbon casks. There’s an edge of pepper and just a hint of something sulphurous in the background, but it’s mostly all brightness and lightness.
In its Victorian heyday, Campbeltown was to whisky what Epernay is to Champagne, a boomtown of 21 distilleries said to have the highest per capita income in the UK. Glen Scotia is one of only three surviving distilleries, and this – its oldest release to date – is astonishing: ethereal aromas of sea salt, juicy mango and cream soda, then green apple, fiery ginger and an edge of anis that fades into caraway. Idiosyncratic and irresistible.
Highland distillery Glenmorangie’s annual Private Edition single malts are where the distilling team of Dr Bill Lumsden and Brendan McCarron get to play and innovate. This latest release (from January 2019) uses a yeast discovered on barley growing near the distillery – and it has quite a flavour impact, adding a bready, almost nutty character to Glenmo’s trademark silky citrus fruit and hint of menthol.
Located on an old dairy farm close to Bassenthwaite Lake in the north of the Lake District, The Lakes is a hugely ambitious venture that has been (rather lazily) dubbed by some as ‘the Macallan of English whisky’. It’s early days, but this youthful, punchy (60.9% abv) no age statement release hints at a rich, dense, darkly fruited house style from maturation in a mix of PX, red wine and ex-Bourbon casks. Hedonistic.
You’ll only find this one in airports, but it’s worth seeking out. Part of the 15-strong Secret Speyside Collection, also including Caperdonich, Braes of Glenlivet (aka Braeval) and Glen Keith, this release stands out for its pure expression of full-on fruitiness, backed up by light spice, Chantilly cream and a slightly bitter edge of dark chilli chocolate. An indulgent, luxuriant malt worthy of long contemplation.
At Irish Distillers’ vast Midleton plant in County Cork, there’s an experimental microdistillery that does things a little differently, creating head-turning whiskeys such as this single pot still. A proportion of unmalted barley makes for an oily, tangy fruit character, while part-maturation in porous cherry wood helps create a pale, floral, delicate whiskey that takes time to shake off its shyness – but it’s well worth the wait.
[breakout] Buy: UK – McSwiggans £79 [/breakout]
Royal Salute is known for its rich, luxurious blends that have gained a strong following in the Far East – and this new expression dials up the opulence to 11, offering peaches in golden syrup, polished parquet, dried plum and lighter touches of cloves and ginger. There’s also enough grunt here to stop things becoming too cloying, giving renewed proof that blends are emphatically not the poor cousins of single malts.
Peated whiskey from the Pacific North West? Seattle-based Westland is in the vanguard of a new generation of American craft distillers, exploring esoteric barley types and malting regimes, peat sources and oak sub-species along the way. This is a winning combination of heavily peated and unpeated spirit, bringing an earthy smoke that moves into camphor and iodine territory, but never overshadows the richly fruited, nutty essence of the whiskey.