14 December 2015

Best of Taste of London: whisky

So I totally didn't mean to drop the ball on this but life just got in the way. With a full time job as account manager and copywriter at a design agency, a bit on the side as editor at TryThisFor.com (which is getting a Christmas makeover, by the way) and a whole host of other things to deal with over the last few months, the 'diary' has been neglected somewhat. However, with a few upcoming changes on the very near horizon, 2016 should be back on track.

So, picking up where we left off with the vodkas and gins, it's time to talk about the best whisky I discovered at Taste. Just in time for those last minute Christmas present buying dashes.

It seems somehow fitting that my picks of the whisky all come from Scotland, seeing as I'm spending this year there again. The home of single malts, Scotch whisky must be barrel-aged for at least three years and made in single pots in the same distillery from malted barley. This, of course, is where the 'similarities' end as each distillery has its own secret processes and methods and no two taste alike.


First up on the recommendations is Bowmore, a whisky brimming with mythical history and fire in its belly. They've been distilling the same way since 1779 - floor-malted barley is smoked in peat-fired kilns and left to mature in oak casks in vaults beneath a sea loch on the Hebridean island of Islay. You'll probably find its 12 Year Old whisky most readily; a peaty number with honey and lemon running through it. I liked the 15 Year Old 'Darkest' which is smoky and chocolatey and perfect for whipping up into a hot chocolate (with cherry liqueur, cinnamon syrup, whole milk and hot chocolate). For the more romantic among you, you can even stay at their cottages and have a tour of their distillery. Or keep an eye out at auctions - a bottle of the 1850 Single Malt sold at auction in 2007 for £29,400.


Then comes Glengoyne. Distilled 20 miles north of Glasgow, Glengoyne was first known as Burntfoot and was born in the lowland hills, perfect cover for distilling during a time where producing whisky was illegal. Happily, these days it has a royal warrant and is described as the 'most beautiful distillery in Scotland'. Unlike many malt whiskies, it doesn't use peat smoke on the barley - instead using warm air to produce award-winning bottles that keep you coming back for more. I tried five - ranging from their 10 Year to their 18 Year, all aged in either sherry or bourbon casks (or a combination of the two) for distinctive smoky or sweet flavours. The 26 Year Old Cask divided opinions on the day but this sherry-aged whopping 58.2% of a dream was the clear winner of an international poll. With 'lemon peel, brambles, chocolate and eucalyptus' among the tasting notes, this is one serious game changer.


Next up is Tamdhu. The Tamdhu Distillery is almost 200 years old but in recent years, you'd have been more likely to find its whisky in blended whiskies such as Famous Grouse and J&B. When the distillery was sold in 2013, its new owners recommenced its single malt offering and you can find the 10 Year sherry-aged back on the shelf. A vanilla nose, with a toffee palate and fruit finish with a 'wisp of peat smoke' means it's a drinkable dram while the Batch Strength is richer and deeper and just a tad more mature at a cool 58.8%. Tamdhu's 'Can-Dhu' spirit and being a sucker for a 'start up' (I use that in the loosest of loose terms) mean I'm rooting for these guys too.


And then returning to Islay, we find Smokehead. This is a more modern affair with jazzy packaging that flies in the face of its back shelf comrades. It's peaty, smokey and with a depth that takes you all the way under, brings you back to the surfaces then plunges you again on the finish. There's a sweetness and spice to it thanks to honey and pepper whilst a little bit of added seaweed brings saltiness to the table. It's a vibrant whisky that's proving popular and I think that's down to its drinkability - there are some seriously big flavours vying for attention but they never overwhelm you. A nice wee dram.

So, a short but sweet round up of Scottish single malts, just in time for the sipping season.
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