October 14, 2020 7:00:39 AM
When it comes to flavour and complexity, nothing packs a punch like whisky. Those distinct drams that set your taste buds alight – with bursts of honey, fruit and vanilla aromas, a spicy, nutty core and layers of richness from cask finishing.
And there you have it: where there’s whisky, there’s wood. Much like the natural beauty of a well-maintained hardwood floor that’s seen years of life, barrels used for ageing will have previously held another liquid, such as bourbon or sherry, to impact the taste and encourage more flavours, especially with special finishes at the fore.
Highly polished, the modern face of whisky appeals to a new generation of drinkers, who not only appreciate its unique flavour profile and quality when served neat, but how this amber spirit works so well in mixology.
“In the past few years, we’ve seen a new generation of drinkers opening up to the big flavour that Scotch offers. Gone are the days of Scotch being seen purely as a drink served neat and sipped by the fire – it has so much more to offer, and it’s that versatility that’s really beginning to shine through,” says Emma Walker, expert whisky maker for Johnnie Walker.
“We’re seeing a real interest in how Scotch can be mixed and played with in bars and restaurants all over the world, as they also embrace this new way of drinking. We’re excited to see how this will continue in the future, particularly as people get more used to creating their own cocktails at home.
“We love experimenting with flavour,” Walker adds, “it’s what gets us up in the morning, and we encourage people to explore the amazing breadth of flavour that there is in Scotch.”
Like the sound of that? Here’s six superb Scotch whiskies to nose out now…
1. Johnnie Walker & Sons Celebratory Blend Limited Edition Scotch Whisky, £55 for 70cl, Amazon
To mark 200 years of the world’s bestselling Scotch whisky, this celebratory blend is one of three special releases. Rich and complex, it pays homage to their original Old Highland Whisky, first released in the 1860s and bottled at 51% abv to reflect the strength of whiskies of that era. A heavy hitter, with an enticing nose of sweet dried fruits, marzipan and subtle spice, it offers a warming mix of roasted nuts, flashes of sweetness, and gentle peat studded with soft pepper.
2. The Glenlivet Caribbean Reserve Single Malt, £38 for 70cl, Tesco
The Glenlivet have rolled out the rum barrels to introduce some bold and tropical Caribbean flavours to their traditional Speyside style.
“We’re always looking to challenge the status quo and move things forward in the world of whisky, and the Glenlivet Caribbean Reserve is the latest example of this,” says Marnie Corrigan, brand director for whiskies at Pernod Ricard UK. “By bringing rum barrels and Scotch together for the first time in our history, it’s the perfect drink to keep the spirit of summer alive as we head into autumn, with its well-balanced flavours and notes of caramel, toffee and tropical fruit.”
Described as the perfect core cocktail ingredient as well, the brand’s David Robinson says: “One of the most wonderful things about this whisky is its ability to hold its own in mixed drinks. On the palate, we have notes of cooked pineapple, toffee, red apples and pears, which give scope to move into more autumnal flavours, such as baking spices and soft stone fruits, in stirred down or shaken drinks.”
Suggested serves include a Plum Old Fashioned, with plum bitters and demerara sugar working with the flavour notes in the whisky “to create a fantastic celebration of autumn”.
3. Ballantine’s 7 Bourbon Finish, £27.99 for 70cl, Drinksupermarket.com
An exciting milestone for Ballantine’s, their new blended Scotch is aged in oak casks for a minimum seven years, before being finished in American bourbon barrels for a blanket of creamy sweetness.
Ballantine’s master blender, Sandy Hyslop, says they wanted to clash global whisky cultures to create a delicious Scotch whisky, with a distinctively American attitude.
“The seven-year ageing, combined with our bespoke bourbon barrel finishing process, brings extra layers of richness, creaminess and caramel sweetness to the blend, making it ideal for Scotch lovers wanting to dabble in bourbon, and for bourbon fans wanting to break into Scotch. This is quintessential Ballantine’s with a bold new dimension – and the perfect tribute to our pioneering heritage.”
4. Smokehead Rum Rebel Islay Single Malt Whisky, £54.99 for 70cl, Smokehead
With so many exquisite flavour camps – from floral to fruity to smoky – it can be hard to know where to start, but this is rightly revered for being smoky and peaty.
“Our brand-new bottling, Rum Rebel, really defines what Smokehead is all about. It’s bold, it’s fearless, it’s not for everyone,” says their brand director, Iain Weir. “There are so many smoky whisky styles out there, but the boldness and melding of such powerful flavours in this expression sets us apart from the hum-drum. When the rich, smoky, salty Islay Smokehead collides with spicy, sweet Caribbean rum casks, carnage is inevitable. We are overwhelmed by the boldness of flavour in our new bottling.”
5. Highland Park Cask Strength Release No 1, £54.75 for 70cl, The Whisky Exchange
Cited by whisky enthusiasts as the greatest all-rounder, with its balance of fruit, honey, peat and oak, Highland Park’s new releases are always eagerly anticipated – and this single malt, matured (mostly) in sherry-seasoned American oak casks, is no exception.
“Bottled straight from the cask, this is a wonderfully full-flavoured single malt whisky in its purest form,” says Scott McCaffer, brand manager for Highland Park. “Part of its beauty is that it can appeal to such a wide range of palettes because water is not added after maturation, and as such it can be enjoyed neat for a fuller flavour, or with added water to suit your taste.”
Expect heather honey on the nose, soft toffee and sun-ripened citrus fruit, with lingering peat smoke on the finish.
6. The Dalmore 12 Year Old Sherry Cask Select Highland Single Malt, £69 for 70cl, The Whisky Shop
The Dalmore have unveiled the latest addition to their award-winning Principal Collection – an impressive line-up of single malts to highlight different nuances of their famously smooth and rich house style.
This superb bottling is a beautiful coming together of the finest oak. It spends 10 years resting in American white oak ex-bourbon casks, before being finished in oloroso and Pedro Ximénez sherry casks to bless this liquid gold with aromas of caramelised orange and ginger, entwined with honey, dark chocolate, spice and deep sweet fruits – all contributing to a wonderfully elegant and particularly pukka expression.