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Distilled – Macbeth Act I whiskies released

Our latest round-up of trends from the top shelf, including the release of a new Scotch whisky collection, the recipe for a White Negroni and an overview of shōchū.

Something wicked this way comes…

by Neil Ridley 

A stunning new Scotch whisky collection celebrating arguably Shakespeare’s most famous work has been released. Macbeth is a series of 42 whiskies, each one reflecting a different character from the so-called ‘Scottish play’. The labels for each bottling have been beautifully brought to life by iconic British illustrator and cartoonist, Sir Quentin Blake.

The project is the brainchild of Alexis Livingstone Burgess, director of Livingstone and Burgess Studios, which specialise in creating design concepts for a number of high-end whisky releases. Burgess has worked with Blake for over 20 years.

‘The history of Scotch whisky really mirrors that of Macbeth,’ he explained. ‘The whole structure appeared in one moment: the most famous Scottish play, full of fantastic characters… All waiting to be cast as Scotch whiskies.’

From Blake’s initial highly distinctive pen and ink sketches, which set each character as different bird-like figures, the final concept has been realised by Sukhinder Singh and Oliver Chilton from independent bottlers, Elixir Distillers.

The duo have painstakingly sourced the different whiskies over the past four years. They also worked with celebrated whisky writer and Decanter contributor Dave Broom, who provided tasting and characterisation notes for each whisky.

An initial batch of nine whiskies – or ‘Act One’ – kicks off the range. Highlights include The Bloody Sergeant, imagined as a bold and fruity 10-year-old Blair Athol, matured in ex-wine casks. The First Witch is a smoky, dark and brooding 19-year-old Ardbeg, part-matured in Pedro Ximénez Sherry casks.

Lady MacDuff is ‘a gentle, but steely character’ according to Broom, which has been matched with an elegant-yet-complex 31-year-old Linkwood. While King Duncan – ‘The most noble of all the characters’ said Broom – is the oldest dram in the collection so far, cast as a 56-year-old Glen Grant: full of rich dried fruit and deep spices.

Prices for a 70cl bottle range from £95 for the Bloody Sergeant to £10,000 for King Duncan. Available from The Whisky Exchange

What is… shōchū?

This Japanese spirit (typically about 25% abv) is usually distilled from a base of sweet potatoes, grain or rice. It’s distinct from sake, which is a rice wine. The name means ‘burned liquor’ – referring to the heating process during distillation. The flavour of shōchū depends on what it’s made from, but it’s often described as a cross between vodka and whisky, with nutty, earthy notes. Like other spirits, it can be enjoyed neat or with mixers. It’s also used in cocktails such as the Chūhai, a fruity shōchū highball.

What to drink now… White Negroni

As the dark days of winter recede, appetites turn towards lighter drinks, so why not try this alternative to a ruby-hued Negroni? The White Negroni is a French twist on the Italian classic that replaces Campari with the French bitter aperitif Suze and also uses a French white vermouth, Lillet Blanc. It was invented in 2001 by the late and great British bartender Wayne Collins, at drinks trade show Vinexpo in Paris. Collins was taking part in a cocktail competition for Plymouth Gin. His drink won and has gone on to become a modern classic. Flavoured with gentian root, Suze (Alc 20%, Amathus Drinks, Gerry’s, Highbury Vintners, Master of Malt, Soho Wine Supply) is more delicate than Campari, with dried herbs and citrus peel notes, but the same bittersweet intensity.

White Negroni

Ingredients: 30ml gin, 30ml Suze, 30ml Lillet Blanc

Glass: Rocks

Garnish: Grapefruit twist

Method: Fill a rocks glass with ice, add all of the ingredients and stir to mix.

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