Wine & Food

    The best whiskies to try as the nights draw in

    20 October 2020

    Whisky is not just for cold weather but it does make a certain kind of sense in the winter months. No other spirit can provide central heating like a good dram at the end of a chilly day. This month has seen a wave of new releases so there’s plenty of whisky fun to be had as autumn turns into winter. 

    Nc’Nean Organic Single Malt, 46% (£49.95, Direct)

    Scotland’s only whisky made with 100% sustainable energy made quite an impact when it was released earlier this year. The industry newcomer’s first bottle of single malt fetched a record breaking £41,004 at a charity auction in August and early buzz saw the first general release sell out in just 24 hours. Luckily, you won’t have to wait too long to find out what the fuss is all about as batch two is available to pre-order now for November delivery. At three-years-old – the legal minimum for Scotch whisky – this is a perfect demonstration of how good young whisky can be. Matured in a combination of ex-Bourbon barrels and rejuvenated red wine casks, it’s full of fresh fruit with plum, nectarine, and ginger snaps on the nose. Surprisingly textured for a young malt, it tastes brilliantly of almond butter, coconut, and Bellinis made with super-ripe peaches.

    Highland Park Cask Strength, 63.3% (£54.75, The Whisky Exchange)

    Unfiltered, uncut brilliance from one of Scotland’s finest distilleries. Matured primarily in Sherry seasoned American oak, it’s a broad-shouldered dram packed with burnt orange, heather, nut brittle, cocktail bitters and sweet peat smoke. This is the sort of whisky you want to take your time with: Approach it slowly, add some water, add a little bit more water, and let the whole thing unfold. Makes an absolutely delicious, if incredibly strong, old fashioned. Superb value for money and a welcome addition to the Highland Park range.

    Hedonism Felicitas, 53% (£140)

    This 20th anniversary release from category defining blenders Compass Box celebrates the brand’s first whisky. With the original Hedonism, industry veteran John Glaser demonstrated that with careful cask selection and blending grain whiskies – usually destined to play second fiddle to malt in blends – can show great character and depth. Bottled slightly stronger than the original, Felicitas is an elegant dram with wonderful maturity. Expect white chocolate, nougat, toasted brioche, and a little silver needle tea. This one is sold out online but you’ll probably still find a bottle if you ring round specialist retailers. Failing that, you can try the whisky that shook up the industry 20 years ago – Hedonism is still a masterpiece, accessible but with hidden depths, all crème brûlée, popcorn, and finesse (£57.90, Master of Malt).

    Ardbeg 5yo The Wee Beastie, 47.4% (£35.99, Amazon)

    One of the great cult whisky distilleries; beloved by fans for its intense smokiness, sweetness, and umami. It’s divisive in the sense that some people will find the smell of an open bottle on the other side of the room overpowering and others will get the distillery logo tattooed on their bicep. The latest edition to the core range is youthful in the best possible way with thick peat smoke, white pepper, apple juice, and woody herbs. This kind of whisky was invented to fortify and boost morale on cold, Hebridean evenings so it’s a perfect bottle to reach for as the temperature drops. Don’t be afraid to add a glug of water to tame the wee beastie, it’ll get sweeter and reveal a fresh, spruce-y side with dilution.

    Cardhu 2008 11yo Diageo Special Releases, 56% (£84.95, Nicholls & Perks)

    One of the oldest distilleries in Speyside, Cardhu has produced a rich, fruity make since the 19th century. Even at cask strength this wonderful expression of the distillery character is sweet and inviting with lots of wildflower honey, strawberries, mandarins, limoncello, and milk chocolate. Adding a little water will add strcture, revealing oak spice and vanilla. The annual special releases from drinks giant Diageo offer a chance to try unusual expressions from its vast stable of distilleries. This Cardhu was a real standout of 2020, though if you like a little sea spray and smoke the 8yo Talisker finished in Carribean rum casks is also excellent.

    The Dalmore 2003 Distillery Exclusive, 55.2% (£1,500, Harrods)

    This absolutely massive whisky from Highland heavyweight the Dalmore was previously only available at the distillery. However, Harrods is offering 100 bottles of this vintage single malt which has been finished in premiere cru Bordeaux barriques. Master distiller Richard ‘the Nose’ Paterson is well known for his use of wine casks and this unusual expression of the Dalmore is a perfect example of his style. Maturation has leant the rich and citrussy spirit aromas of coffee bean, cherry, Grand Marnier, and leather-bound books – imagine a nice old Cognac with the heft of a highland malt. You don’t normally see Dalmore at cask strength (that’s to say bottled without added water) and the extra power is much appreciated. Also available exclusively at Harrods is a 2006 Marsala finish, priced a little more modestly at £200 a bottle and a touch fresher than its older sibling, showing pineapple, grapefruit, and vanilla ice cream. Highly recommended.

    Grace Ile 25yo, 48% (£299.95, Master of Malt)

    Refined single malt from an undisclosed distillery on the island of Islay. Despite its advanced years, this is a fresh and elegant dram that tastes refreshingly of lemon peel, rock pools, smoked oysters, menthol, and ashes. Long aged Islay malts are always a real treat, especially those undimmed by too much oak influence. This is definitely one for fans of Caol Ila and Laphroaig, though it’s well worth a try if you’re usually cautious about smoky malts. A 3cl sample is included in The Character of Islay whisky tasting set, which can be yours for just £29.99.