It is rather sad that many drinkers limit their whisky purchasing to one bottle a year, a few weeks before Christmas. Whisky should not be looked upon as a winter beverage, nor should it be the preserve of the after-dinner drinker. Lighter, more elegant whiskies work perfectly as an aperitif, such as Grant’s the Family Reserve, the grassy Glenfiddich 12, or The Yamazaki 10 Year Old, a brilliant demonstration of what Japan is capable of.
From Speyside, the heartland of Scotch, comes The Balvenie.
The 17 Year Old has seen time in a Madeira cask, which gives it a lovely honeyed sweetness, while the Glenmorangie 18 Year Old, from Tain in the Highlands, is a complex but subtle malt.
And The Dalmore King Alexander III is unique, with it being aged in six types of oak: Cabernet Sauvignon casks, Madeira drums, Sherry butts, Marsala barrels, Port pipes, and bourbon barrels.
Islay had to make an appearance, too. Lagavulin and Laphroaig are two of the island’s three big hitters (Ardbeg being the other). Lagavulin 16 is an affordable introduction to Islay; the astonishing Laphroaig 27 Year Old is quite the opposite.
Finally, bourbon fully deserves inclusion. Bourbon offers the same complex flavours as other whiskies, but tends to offer them in a more user-friendly way. The excellent-value Maker’s Mark is a fine example.
The whiskies (in no particular order):
Grant’s The Family Reserve (40% abv; £15; thewhiskyexchange.com, and widely available)
Polished, fruity, oaky nose. Very inviting. Hint of cocoa. Rich, fresh. Pronounced chocolate note on the palate, with textbook grain and oak coming through. Very balanced; stylish stuff. Blends inferior to single malts? Not this time.
White & Mackay 30 Year Old (40% abv; £150; thedrinkshop.com, thewhiskyexchange.com, and specialists) Beautifully rich, complex nose of flowers, cocoa, coffee, and a hint of orange peel. Glorious. Soft and smooth on the palate, with cocoa notes. Sherry butt adds sweetness. Beautifully poised, easy charmer, effortless. Hard to fault. Give any non-whisky drinker a sip of this; you‘ll convert them in seconds.
Glenfiddich 12 (40% abv; £25; thewhiskyexchange.com, and widely available)
Simply one of the most delicate noses you’ll find in a glass of whisky. Dry, grassy. Very enticing. Whisky snobs may dismiss this as a little basic and unfulfilling, but to this palate, it is the perfect introduction to Scotch. Elegant and subtle, with pure, clean flavours.
The Balvenie, Madeira Cask (17-year-old) (43% abv; £69.99; thewhiskyexchange.com, and whisky specialists)
Lovely sweet, honeycomb-filled nose leads to a big delivery of rich malty sweetness on the palate, along with toasty oak. For those who find the sweetness a little too much, the more intense Balvenie Single Barrel 15 Year Old (47.8% abv; £42.49) may be a better bet.
Glenmorangie 18 Year Old (43% abv; £75.99; Royal Mile Whiskies, thewhiskyexchange.com, Vintage House, Milroys of Soho, and specialists)
A different animal to the soft, floral Original (formerly known as the 10 Year Old), the 18 Year Old delivers a layered, complex nose, full of character. The taste is subtle, with smoky fruit and candied orange peel. After some time in the glass, the trademark Glenmorangie florality comes through. Very classy stuff.
The Dalmore King Alexander III (40% abv; £140; thewhiskyexchange.com)
Amazingly fruity – this has brambly red fruits in abundance; a very un-whisky-like nose! The taste is more conventional, with biscuity malt trading blows with perfumed fruit and cinnamon, with a clean finish.
The Yamazaki 10 Year Old (40% abv; £26.99; HvN, Odd, Sel, thewhiskyexchange.com, drinkon.com and specialists)
Gorgeous, delicately perfumed nose of peaches, orange peel and honey – absolutely wonderful. Soft texture, beautiful mouthfeel, with more of that lovely perfume.
Lagavulin 16 Year Old (43% abv; approx £40; thewhiskyexchange.com, John Lewis and specialists)
The single malt of choice of Johnny Depp, who, despite not being a spirits drinker, has been known to order one just to sit with and nose. Lagavulin 16 has a big, savoury, tarry nose, and is delightfully dry, peaty and smoky on the palate, with a bit of sea spray thrown in for good measure.
Laphroaig 27 Year Old (51% abv; approx £500; thewhiskyexchange.com, BBR and specialists)
No, you read the price correctly. This is a proper special-occasion malt, and it does not disappoint. The colour of a fine old Oloroso, and a pillow-like nose that is quite staggering for an Islay: all chocolate and spice, with a subtle peatiness. In the mouth it delivers cocoa, candied peel, fruitcake and burnt sugar, but the peat is still there; this is definitely an Islay malt. Some may balk at the recession-busting price, but this is one whisky that simply must be tried.
Maker’s Mark (45% abv; £23.99; thewhiskyexchange.com, and widely available)
Inviting aromas of marmalade, toffee, candied fruit. Soft, smooth texture, with the sweetness balanced by a firm spiciness. Very easy-drinking, and great value for money.