With The Bard’s birthday just around the corner, Peter Ranscombe raids his notebook to recommend some very special whiskies from recent tastings.
WHISPER it, but you don’t need haggis to enjoy Burns’ night.
Raising a dram in memory of Rabbie Burns, Scotland’s national bard, is an equally-fitting tribute to the poet who gave us the words to Auld Lang Syne, Comin’ Thro’ The Rye and To A Mouse, torturing generations of primary school pupils in the process.
Whether you enjoy the light whiskies of the Lowlands, the smoky Scotches of Islay or the sweet sherry influences on Speyside, there’s a dram for you in the selection that follows…
Tweeddale Grain of Truth (£50, Raasay Distillery)
Plenty of classic grain whisky lemon and cereal notes on the nose lead onto burnt sugar and cinder toffee on the palate. This fresher and lighter style is ideal for anyone who’s just beginning to develop a taste for Scotch – or for those opting for vegetarian haggis on Burns’ night.
Benromach 15-year-old Speyside single malt Scotch whisky (£51.83, Master of Malt)
My Grandma used to make apple fritters as an after-school treat on a Friday, slicing the fruit into circles before dipping them in batter and shallow frying them, before sprinkling brown sugar over the top. Benromach’s 15 year old brings back memories of those naughty snacks with its green apple and demerara sugar flavours, which are accompanied by honey, digestive biscuit, and a tiny touch of well-integrated smoke on the finish.
Balblair 1991 Highland single malt Scotch whisky (£121.76, Master of Malt)
Bottled last year, this 27-year-old Scotch continues Balblair’s tradition of bottling single vintage whiskies. The nose is subtle – like warm golden syrup poured over rice crispies – but there’s much more flavour on the palate, with that golden syrup being joined by milk chocolate and digestive biscuit. It’s smooth, yet still packs a punch, but what surprised me most was its freshness.
Raasay While We Wait 2018 (£53, Raasay Distillery)
The latest addition to Raasay’s While We Wait series of spirits – which are made at other distilleries while its own whisky is ageing – delivers aromas of sandalwood and light wood smoke, before erupting into sweet flavours of shortbread, caramel, brown sugar and malty cereal. For a whisky that’s only 46% alcohol-by-volume (ABV), it feels a lot warmer on the tongue.
Tobermory 2005 Fino Cask Finish (£99.95, The Whisky Exchange)
A really intriguing nose, with cured meat, orange peel, brown sugar and woodsmoke. There’s real complexity and depth on the palate too, with a pronounced sweetness alongside milk and dark chocolate, malty biscuit and more orange. Almost too good to spit when writing my tasting notes. This 12-year-old whisky brings back memories of wet days on Mull, sheltering in Tobermory distillery.
Ledaig 1998 Pedro Ximenez Cask Finish (£150, The Whisky Exchange)
If you like your whisky smoky and chewy then look no further. The smoke and TCP notes on the nose are joined by prune and treacle from the thick sweet sherry casks. Those dried fruit flavours of prune and raisin carry through onto the palate, along with honey, treacle and vanilla. The smoke makes a comeback on the finish, in tandem with a kick of heat from the 55.7% ABV.