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« Burns toast | Main | Well-dressed whisky »
Monday
Dec062010

Amber elixir

WORDS IAN BUXTON

Take it from a whisky expert — you can keep discovering interesting drams from rare and distinctive distillers

Irish whiskey once ruled the world but it all went wrong in the 20th century and the Irish industry virtually disappeared. One of the few survivors is Green Spot, an Irish pot still whiskey bottled for wine merchant Mitchell & Son of Dublin. The distiller generously shares some of the 6,000 or so bottles made each year with UK colleagues and that means we can enjoy its unique, waxy taste. Real whiskey-lovers speak of this in reverential tones (typical UK retail £37.95). 

The survival of Green Spot foretold the revival of Irish distilling, led by Irish Distillers Ltd of Midleton. Its new Redbreast 15-year-old (£65) is a great example of the new whiskeys now coming from Ireland. Like all good Irish pure pot still whiskeys, it is strongly flavoured and assertive, making it a rare treat for the connoisseur of fine aged whiskey. 

In Scotland, Highland Park has long been one of my favourites. Occasionally it releases special editions and the latest is its Saint Magnus (£85, directly from the distillery; highlandpark.co.uk/shop). This limited-edition 12-year-old provides an affordable and collectable piece of the distillery’s history. Smokier than the normal Highland Park, this will really appeal to the ‘peat freaks’. 

Compass Box doesn’t actually make whisky. It takes other people’s and, by some  mysterious alchemy, makes it better. Snap up anything with its label but I particularly recommend the Double Single (£95), commemorating its 10th birthday. As the name suggests, it uses just two whiskies. Compass Box says, ‘the grain whisky creates a lovely, soft, sweet pillow on which the malt whisky flavours luxuriate’ – and it’s true. 

Every year the giant Diageo offers some special releases from its lesser-known malts. This year, there are nine of these beauties but they’re always heavily demanded by collectors so you’ll need to move quickly to get a bottle of my pick of the collection: the rich, rewarding and elegant Glen Spey 21-year-old (£120). 

In 2007, the staunchly independent Glenfarclas released a back catalogue of vintages known as the Family Casks. There are 43 from 1952 to 1994 and, with the dates prominent on the packaging, they make great gifts. But don’t underestimate the whisky. For the most part, it’s stellar quality and outstanding value (from £120 for the 1994). 

Glenglassaugh was mothballed in 1986 but was saved when a Dutch investment group invested over £1m to restart production and picked up the remaining old stock. Working briefly for the distiller opened my eyes to its exceptional quality. Search out the latest 26-year-old (£155) or the very restricted Manager’s Legacy editions. The original owners must be kicking themselves. 

The most popular Scotch whisky in the world is Johnnie Walker. Every so often, its blenders are allowed to go wild. This year’s result is The John Walker, a limited-edition blend using rare whiskies from distilleries that operated in the 1800s. Bottled in hand-blown Baccarat crystal, and arriving in a hand-crafted lacquer cabinet, in the UK the John Walker will be available exclusively at Harrods (£2,000; harrods.com). 

Finally, Dalmore Trinitas. There are only three bottles of this single malt, the youngest of which is 64 years old, and it has about as much in common with your everyday whisky as a Bugatti Veyron has with a Ford Focus. Two of the three sold immediately, at £100,000. 

The best sources of rare whiskies include The Whisky Exchange at Vinopolis, thewhiskyexchange.com; Royal Mile Whiskies, royalmilewhiskies.com; Loch Fyne Whiskies, lfw.co.uk; Milroy’s of Soho, milroys.co.uk. Find more outstanding drams in Ian Buxton’s new book ‘101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die’ (Hachette, £12.99)