In the month of January there is no escaping Robert Burns, the favourite son of Scotland where he is simply known as The Bard. Auld Lang Syne, which heralds the New Year all over the world, ranks as his most well-known poem. On January 25th the life and works of this Scottish cultural icon are celebrated on Burns Night. The traditional supper honours Scottish food and drink such as haggis, cock-a-leekie soup, typsy laird and, of course, whisky – all to the sound of the bagpipe and songs by Burns. There are few better ways to ward off the winter blues.
For many the true highlight of this gathering is the chance to enjoy a wonderful selection of single malt Scotch whiskies. This is a booming market and the choices often appear endless. Here are six recommendations from each of the whisky regions of Scotland to help you enjoy this unique occasion.
Edradour 12 year old Caledonia Selection (alc. 46%)
Every distillery has its own particular story and Edradour’s claim to fame is being the smallest distillery in Scotland. It looks like it belongs to a different era and produces on a relatively small scale still using traditional equipment. The distillery releases a range of single cask whiskies such as this special whisky selected by songwriter Douglas Maclean and named after his famous song. Distilled in 1997 and aged for four years in an Oloroso sherry cask it has a sweet, creamy nose of dried figs, dates and a hint of cloves. The palate is rich and full-bodied with notes of orange, honey, liquorice and cinammon.
Jura 16 year old Diurachs’ Own (alc. 40%)
Diurach is the name for the Isle of Jura’s inhabitants who number around 200. This particular malt is reputed to be their whisky of choice. Unlike the other whiskies from this distillery the Diurachs’ Own is not peated. First matured in American white oak barrels it spends the last two years in Oloroso sherry casks. This explains the notes of sweetened raisins, fudge and honey. It is an elegant whisky with hints of orange, mixed nuts and chocolate, which merge with spicy oak and briney coastal flavours on the finish.
Glendronach 18 year old Allardice (alc. 46%)
Over half of all Scotland’s distilleries are located in Speyside. That said, it is not officially a whisky region but forms part of the Highlands. While typically the sweetest of all the Scotch single malts, Speyside whiskies fall into two predominant styles: rich sherry flavoured malts and more complex light-flavoured malts. Allardice belongs decidedly to the former style. The colour is a bright deep gold and the ageing in Oloroso sherry casks yields a sweet nose of fudge and muscavodo sugar. Rich flavours of stewed fruits and all-spice combine with well-balanced notes of malt and sherry. The finish is not only complex, but also lingering in its complexity.
Auchentoshan American Oak (alc. 40%)
The triple distillation that typifies the whiskies from this region has a softening effect on the final product. As the name suggests, this whisky has been aged in American oak barrels which were previously used for making bourbon whiskey. The result is a refreshingly smooth vanilla-rich whisky with citrus fruit top notes and hints of coconut and spice. It makes a perfect entry-level whisky in the Auchentoshan range.
Bruichladdich Port Charlotte Islay Barley Heavily Peated (alc. 50%)
The island of Islay is renowned for the peat fuel used to malt the barley, which gives the whiskies a strength and smokiness of flavour that are utterly distinctive. Also, the sea winds and rain that lash this island in the Inner Hebrides impart a salty, seaweedy character. This Bruichladdich (pronounced ‘brook-laddie’) delivers a classic Islay profile of extraordinary richness yet remarkable finesse. The potent nose of sweet peat, smoke and iodine is utterly sensuous. The explosive palate blends smokey sweet barley with rich toffee and vanilla, helped by the higher level of alcohol.
Springbank 15 year old (alc. 46%)
There are only three active distilleries remaining in Campbeltown on the Kintyre peninsula, the smallest of all the whisky regions of Scotland. However, the whiskies from this region are quite recognizable as full-bodied with great depth of flavour, smoky notes and a slightly salty finish. Springbank is unique in itself as the only Scottish distillery to manage the whole whisky-making process on the same site: malting, distilling, maturing and bottling. The 15 year old promises aromas of dark chocolate, dried fruits and nuts and mandarine. On the palate vanilla and spice with a touch of smokiness lead to a warm finish of oak and sherry notes.
It just remains for you to take your pick, charge your glass and drink a toast to the immortal memory of Robert Burns (and not forgetting a toast to the lassies).
Simon Hardy holds the WSET Diploma in Wines & Spirits. He is the founder of Fitting Wines, which provides a range of personalised wine services in Switzerland. For more information or help with sourcing any of these whiskies please contact him at www.fittingwines.com.