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Issue 11 - Give them a drop of winter warmth

Scotland Magazine Issue 11
November 2003


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Give them a drop of winter warmth

Winter is the ideal time to invest in Scottish whisky or give it to a loved one as a gift. Dominic Roskrow picks out some of the best

Excuse the sweeping generalisation, but to my mind nobody does winter better than Scotland.

Oh, there are some fine places to see out the cold; The Rockies, Lapland, southern New Zealand might all make a case.

But let’s face it, Scotland has some very distinctive advantages.

Let’s start with food. Scandinavia might be very nice, but you can’t seriously match hard black bread and dried salted fish with the sort of hearty fare you get in Scotland; meat bridies, pies and haggis with tatties, neeps and lashings of gravy.

Scotland’s one of a handful of countries that actually looks better in winter, alongside Norway, Austria and Switzerland. But which of those has invented a form of dance so energetically created to keep out the cold?

Frankly, slapping men in leather trousers just doesn’t do it; recklessly throwing yourself around in a folkie form of head-banging to a pipe and violin group does.

Then there is hogmanay. Which other winter destination had the intelligence to come up with the party to end all parties right in the middle of winter and straight after Christmas, just as the depressing realisation that the festivities are over and there are at least two months of misery ahead?

The Scots have got it sorted; Hogmanay events that run well in to January and then another houlee at the end of the month to mark the work of Rabbie Burns.

Yep, the Scots do winter perfectly. That’s why it used to be called Hibernia after all.

But the coup de grace, the winning score, the knockout punch, is provided courtesy of the country’s national drink.

Keep your Eastern European vodkas, your brandies, your Schnapps. Nothing does cold better than a good drop of malt.

And not just cold; but the special sort of damp, penetrating cold that Scotland seems to specialise in.

As winter and the festive season sets in, Scottish whisky – both blended and malt – makes the perfect gift. No matter whether you’re celebrating Christmas, Hogmanay, Hanukkah or Diwali, a decent bottle of whisky still does the trick every time.

Following our attempt to source the best hotels for Hogmanay by asking a selection of our media contacts for their selection, we’ve done the same again with drinks.

These lists are highly subjective . They aren’t designed to be exhaustive or totally representative of this magazine.

Single malt whisky is whisky that is taken from one distillery only.

The whisky may include whisky from several barrels from that distillery, and whisky from several different years.

But the whisky will only contain malted barley, and no other grain.

The age on the bottle refers to the age of the youngest whisky in the bottle, but there may be whisky considerably older contained there, too.

Of all whisky types single malt is probably the one that takes most getting used to, but is the most rewarding for those that find they like it.

Tastes vary massively but in broad terms, Lowland malts tend to lighter and more floral, Speyside ones most likely to contain a rounded balance of flavours, Highland malts heavier and more robust, and Island malts likely to be smoky, peaty or spicy.

Islay in particularly is famed for its heavy, peaty and phenolic whiskies. Below are a few that we have picked out as favourites.

One of Speyside’s rising stars, and a whisky that is starting to win new admirers across the world.

Up among my personal favourites, this is an example of an Islay peaty whisky at its most robust. For something a bit different the new Ardbeg Uigeadail (pronounced Oog-ADall) which has sweet notes to make for a stunning taste experience.

Calling itself the Spirit of Glasgow, Auchentoshan is a light Lowland malt whisky. Light doesn’t mean insubstantial by any means and the 10 year-old in particular is a warming and welcoming dram with a balanced and complex range of different flavours.

Ben Nevis won votes because it is considered a good example of a Highlands malt with its robust fruitiness and hint of smoke.

Bowmore is quite probably the most complex Islay whisky because it displays a broad range of island characteristics in a unique way. There are lots of expressions and the balance between sherry, smoke and peat varies significantly between them. But all Bowmore is good, and Bowmore Darkest is worth picking up for something truly special.

If you’re setting someone off on a journey of discovery in to the wonders of Islay, start here. Pure class in a bottle.

The most popular single malt in the world and for that reason alone, a sure-fire winner. and it comes in the distinctive bottle that is recognised across the world.

Great in any of its expressions and one of the best all-rounders available. The more recent French oak finishes and cellar collection range make for a special present. Its sister is Longmorn, and that’s a whisky to die for, too.

For outstanding whisky from Speyside, Glenrothes takes some beating. Some fine single cask bottlings in stylish packaging make this a very special and impressive gift.

From Orkney, this is described by Michael Jackson as the greatest all-rounder in the world. And there are plenty of people who would go along with that.

Not for the faint-hearted but this is classic Islay malt and tastes wonderful with cheese such as Roquefort and feta.

The Macallan is a Speyside distillery with a difference because its whiskies are matured in European sherry barrels and the whiskies take on the taste and colour of the wine as a result. All expressions of Macallan are good, but some of them make a great alternative to Cognac or Port as an after-dinner drink.

For value for money old Pulteney takes some beating. It is the northernmost distillery on the mainland and on the coast to boot. The debate rages as to whether its distinctively briney taste is a result of the sea air, but it’s certainly a distinctive and challenging whisky whatever the reason.

Big, bold and peppery, this is a man’s whisky, the tipple of James Bond and altogether quite wonderful.

Vatted malts are malt whiskies with single malts from more than one distillery. Blends are whiskies that include at least one other grain apart from barley. Although many whisky enthusiasts are dismissive of these whiskies, they actually require a great deal of work, are often more complex and can be exceptionally good. Each of the choices that has been selected below would appeal to the drinker of fine Scotch whisky who prefers a rounded and balanced taste.

If peaty and smoky are your thing, then this will hit all the right buttons and is excellent value for money too.

In the blended sector, the perfect all rounder and, like The Glenlivet, a perfect gift for someone who enjoys whisky but you’re not sure what region he or she favours.

Our sister publication, Whisky Magazine has an event called Best of the Best. It takes its 40 top scoring whiskies and gives them to 75 tasters around the world and they score them. This one scored higher than any other whisky in any category – including the single malts category – and was described as both ‘heavenly’ and a ‘complex masterpiece.’

A heavyweight name, an international reputation – and a twist. The blue label version of Johnnie Walker isn’t cheap but is a great example of just how good blends can be, balancing its different flavours in to one smooth and accessible drink.

The number one selling whisky in Scotland so it must be doing something right. It’s made by the people that bring you The Macallan and Highland Park. Enough said.