Whisky pairings: how to pair whisky and Christmas food

whisky and Christmas food

Have you ever found yourself scouring the wine aisles at Christmas, desperately Googling what type of red wine goes with turkey (you can’t go wrong with a Pinot Noir, if you were wondering) and wishing that there was a way that everything you served at Christmas could be accompanied by whisky?

(No? Just us?)

Well, in the interest of science, whisky and all things festive, we put our heads together and came up with a few whiskies that will pair up nicely with everything you serve over the festive season, from the turkey to the cheese. (In fact, we’ve proved once and for all that whisky and Christmas food are a match made in heaven.)

Here’s the one-stop guide to pairing your whisky and Christmas food:

Whisky as an aperitif

OK, we’re not off to the best start – the first entry for whisky and Christmas food contains no food at all.

But stick with us.

You know how at Christmas you always hand out Champagne or sparkling wine, even though nobody ever drinks the stuff?

Well, why not replace that with a nice warming glass of whisky?

Of course, you’re not looking for a peaty monster or a complex single malt here, but a crisp whisky that cleanses the palate and gives the rest of the day that nice warm glow.

A Lowlands single malt works really well, in fact. (This 15-year Rosebank in particular).

Whisky with Christmas Dinner

A traditional Christmas dinner is full to the brim with rich and varied flavours.

You’ve got the meaty flavours of the turkey, the pigs in blankets and (if you use sausage meat) the stuffing, the creamy, buttery flavour of the potatoes and the sweetness of the root vegetables (plus extra sweetness if you honey roast them).

But, while it may seem that the cacophony of flavours might make it difficult to find a whisky that pairs well with them, it’s actually quite simple.

After all, rich, salty flavours with sweet notes is hardly unusual for a whisky, is it?

A single malt aged in a bourbon barrel is a perfect whisky and Christmas food choice – the creamy, smooth mouthfeel matches well with the textures of the dinner, while the sweet vanilla and caramel notes match up with the vegetables and compliment the meat.

(Not sure which bourbon-aged Scotch to pick? We’ve put together a list of our favourites.)

Whisky with Christmas pudding

Christmas pudding and whisky are a match made in heaven – the rich fruitiness of the Christmas pudding (as well as the port that the fruit was soaked in) are the perfect partner for a deep, rich Scotch with fruity notes and sweet characteristics.

In fact, why not go the whole hog and choose a whisky aged in a sherry cask?

This Gordon & Macphail bottling of a 45-year-old Glenlivet would be our choice. On the nose, it has that classic sherry character with hints of fruit, nuts and liquorice, while the palate brings forward rich chocolate notes. Finally, the fruit warms into an almost Christmassy winter spice that’s an ideal match for your figgy pudding.

Whisky with cheese

Yes, we know – you’re supposed to pair wine with cheese.

But, we’re mavericks. We’re rebels. So, we’re going to pair whisky with cheese.

Now, you’re never going to find a whisky that pairs nicely with all of your cheese – a mild cheddar needs a sweeter, milder whisky (a bourbon, for example) while a mature, in-your-face Roquefort needs to be matched in terms of intensity with a smoky whisky (an Islay, for instance).

The key is to think in terms of boldness and to match like-for-like; mild whiskies with mild cheese, bold whiskies with bold cheeses.

Here are a few pairings that work really well:

Brie and a peated whisky: the smoothness of the brie mellows out the peaty hit of the whisky, while also helping to emphasise the whisky’s sweeter notes that are often hidden beneath the smoky posturing.

Highland Single Malt and Gouda: the gouda draws attention to the Highlands’ saltiness and nuttiness, making the whisky and cheese combination much richer and more rewarding.

Whisky and chocolate 

There’s lots of things to consider when you’re pairing whisky and chocolate. For starters, you’ve got to think of everything from the peatiness of the whisky to the age, the smokiness, the barrel it was finished in, the proof and the grain.

After that, you’ve got to weigh up the type of chocolate, the bitterness of the chocolate and the cacao content to see if it matches up with the whisky. (If you thought pairing whisky with Christmas food had been difficult so far, then think again!)

But – before you give up and wash a strawberry Roses down with an Islay – we’ve put together an easy-to-understand guide to matching your chocolate with your whisky.

(Take it from us – when you get it right, it’s really good.)

Whisky as a nightcap

Who are we to tell you what whisky to treat yourself to at the end of a long, stomach-bursting Christmas Day? Treat yourself to a dram or two of your favourite whisky, sit back and relax.

(And, as it’s Boxing Day the day after, start working out how to pair your favourite whiskies with the leftovers…)

 

 

‘And a Laphroaig behind door three’: our thoughts on the whisky advent calendar trend

whisky advent calendar

 

It’s nearly time to start buying your advent calendar, and if you’re a bit of a whisky buff, there’s no doubt that you’ve heard of Drinks by the Dram, a whisky advent calendar going for a pretty eye-watering £10,000 (or, around $13,000 USD if you’re on the other side of the pond).

Sure, it’s not the most expensive advent calendar in the world – Porsche make a calendar that costs $1M USD and contains a custom-built motorboat, while Biegel Schmuckdesign offer an advent calendar of diamonds that costs a cool $2.5M USD – but spending £10,000 of your cold, hard cash on an advent calendar is still a step up from your run-of-the-mill cardboard calendar full of cheap cooking chocolate.

So, is a whisky advent calendar worth the dough?

Of course, there are other whisky advent calendars at less wince-inducing prices. The Old & Rare Whisky advent calendar by Drinks by the Dram is £999.95 and there are other Drinks by the Dram options available from around £150. (Which isn’t such a bad price for a different dram a day.)

However, if you’re here on the Whisky Foundation site, you’re probably not all that interested in trying blends and off-the-shelf bourbons.

Case in point:

The Drinks by the Dram 2017 Whisky Advent Calendar contains a 3cl dram of Buffalo Trace – a perfectly serviceable bourbon that you can buy 70cl of at your local supermarket for about £20.

Some quick maths tells us that the £150 you spend on the 24 days of whisky in the Drinks by the Dram 2017 calendar works out at around £6.25’s worth of whisky per day.

If you buy 70cl of Buffalo Trace for £20 at your local supermarket, you’re paying almost 86p for 3cl of bourbon.

If you buy the Drinks by the Dram whisky advent calendar, you’re paying over £6 for exactly the same amount of exactly the same whisky.

But perhaps the value for money isn’t the point, right?

Chocolate advent calendars usually taste terrible – but they’re worth the money you spend because it’s a little bit of excitement every day in the run-up to Christmas.

Every window you open gets you a little treat and takes you a day closer to the festivities.

However, when you treat yourself to a whisky advent calendar – especially if you’re a whisky buff – you want the whiskies in that calendar to be quite something, don’t you?

You don’t want to open a window and find a dram of a whisky they serve as the house special at your local bar, do you?

And, unfortunately, that can be the case with your run-of-the-mill whisky advent calendar.

For every dram of Macallan, Glenfarclas or Talisker in the Drinks by the Dram calendar, there’s also a window that contains Jim Beam or Evan Williams.

Which is the whisky equivalent of getting a piece of coal in your stocking.

And yet, for all its faults, there’s something we like about the whisky advent calendar.

There’s something exciting about drinking a new, surprise dram every day. And there’s nothing better than sipping a new whisky that you’d never have tried otherwise, only to find out you can’t get enough of it.

(And there’s definitely something nice about having an excuse to drink whisky every single day of December…)

But the very best whisky advent calendars are the ones that are put together by connoisseurs and experts – the ones that aren’t just put together to make money, but carefully considered to give the drinkers a taste of whiskies they’d never have tried before.

And – if you pick the right one – they make the hobby of trying new, exciting whiskies more affordable. (You don’t have to take a punt on a new bottling and hope that you like it.)

Which leads us to conclude that there’s nothing inherently wrong with even the cheapest whisky advent calendars – even the ones that contain Jim Beam – because they’re all about celebrating the wonder of whisky.

To paraphrase William Faulkner, ‘there’s no such thing as a bad whisky advent calendar, some just happen to be better than others’.

 

St Andrew’s Day Scotch: finding the perfect dram for Là Naomh Anndrais

st-andrews-day

Is there a better day to celebrate all things Scottish than St. Andrew’s Day, or a better way to celebrate all things Scottish than with a St Andrew’s Day scotch?

We don’t think so – but yet, in recent years, St. Andrew’s Day seems to have fallen out of favour.

It doesn’t have the raucous celebrations of Hogmanay or the quintessentially Scottish activities of Burn’s Night, so it has just, ever so slowly, faded from prominence.

As The Guardian eloquently put it:

If Burns Night is a favourite uncle who plies you with sweeties, St Andrew’s Day is a duty visit to a maiden aunt who gives you mouldy oatcakes and lectures you about personal hygiene. I picture poor old St Andrew greetin’ on Burns shoulder up in heaven, saying, “They’ve always liked you better. I can be fun too you know. The whole crucifixion thing is all anyone ever remembers.”

So, here at Whisky Foundation, we’ve decided that St Andrew’s Day needs a bit of a rebranding – because celebrating the life (and crucifixion) of an Apostle is like so totally 20th Century.

St. Andrew’s Day needs to rally around something typically Scottish; something everybody in Scotland can agree on; something that people around the world recognise as a symbol of the greatness – and diversity – of our country.

And there’s only one thing for that:

St Andrew’s Day scotch.

Imagine this: every year, there’s a day dedicated entirely to Scotch.

You buy bottles for your loved ones, you head out to Islay or the Highlands for the day, or you just sit down in the evening and enjoy a nice dram of that St Andrew’s Day scotch you’ve been looking for an excuse to buy.

Hogmanay can keep the handholding and fireworks. Burn’s Night can keep the haggis and poetry.

St. Andrew’s Day has got Scotch, good friends and quiet appreciation of the Scottish way of life.

It sounds pretty good, right?

(We’re willing to be that if the government had put forward this plan – rather than the Bank-Holiday-that-isn’t-really-a-Bank Holiday – then St. Andrew’s Day would still be the nation’s favourite day.)

But in order to celebrate the day the Whisky Foundation way, you’re going to need that perfect St. Andrew’s Day Scotch.

Luckily, we’ve got a few suggestions.

St Andrew’s Day Scotch – the perfect drams:

 Ardbeg 18 Year (Signatory, 1998) Straight from the Cask

w41

This Signatory bottling is everything that a bold, in-your-face St Andrew’s Day scotch should be.

It’s a true expression of the Scottish character – well, the character of several of us, at least: confident, outspoken and bold.

 It all starts with a colossal whack of peat on the nose, followed by a citrusy, fruitiness that gradually mellows into herbs and spices.

Then, as you take a sip, it hits you with another whack. Waves of salty peat crash against your palate, leaving behind deep, aromatic flavours of cardamom and curry. (Which are a nice surprise, actually.)

But the finish is what this whisky is all about.

It’s long and bold and full-on. The peat is still making itself known, but now it’s also introducing vanilla and chocolate notes (from the time it spent in a first-fill bourbon cask for sixteen years) that give way to the peat again.

It’s a real treat – and a great expression of the Scottish way of life.

Talisker 25-year-old (Gordon & MacPhail, 1958)

Talisker 25 Year Old

This Talisker is like taking a sip of the Scottish landscape – there’s maritime notes, floral hints and a whack of peat.

(Or, in other words, it’s an incredible St Andrew’s Day scotch.)

On the nose, you get this harmonious fusion of peat and fruits that, in theory, shouldn’t work – the two ideas seem discordant.

And yet, as you give it a whiff, you get a hit of an incredibly complex aromas. Smoke and peat dance around herbs, fruits and flowers to give off a smell that is out of this world.

In fact, we’d be happy to just sniff it and then put the cork back in.

(That’s obviously a lie, but you know what we mean.)

On the palate, peaty sultanas gradually build into fruits, spices and a syrupy sweetness.

But not all at once, and not in a crass, in-your-face way. They start to slowly fizzle and build into their complexity as your savour the taste.

And then, like any good Island malt, it has a long, smoky finish.

It’s good. It’s very good.

Very, very good.

Then again, it’s Talisker and Gordon and MacPhail. Did you really expect anything other than perfection?

Rosebank 20 Year

Rosebank 20 Year Old

We’ve had two celebrations of bold Scottish character, but this Rosebank is a little more complex.

Whisky-writer-extraordinaire Jim Murray once described Rosebank bottlings as ‘the finest example of a Lowland malt’ – so the bar is set pretty high.

Luckily, it doesn’t disappoint.

Starting with coal smoke and lemon marmalade on the nose, this whisky builds into a palimpsest of bitter oranges, peanuts, fruits and tar.

Like we said, it’s a complex and divisive whisky, and it definitely won’t be for everyone – but if you like whiskies that are full of character, complexities and flavour, then this is an ideal St Andrew’s Day scotch.

This may well be – and we don’t use this word lightly – a legendary whisky. (And a perfect celebration of the Lowlands.)

What’s your St Andrew’s Day dram going to be this year? Let us know on social media – we love to hear from you!

 

Pass the (wild) turkey: 5 perfect Thanksgiving whiskies

thanksgiving whiskies

As Thanksgiving fast approaches, it’s time to start thinking about the most important part of the meal – the alcohol. And if you’re thinking of grabbing a nice bottle of red or a crate of beer, we’ve got some great news for you – whisky pairs incredibly well with almost every Thanksgiving food you can think of.

Turkey? Check.

Green bean casserole? Check.

Mashed potatoes? Check.

Pumpkin pie? Double check.

So, if you’re planning on stocking up your drinks cabinet over the course of the next few weeks, take a look through these perfect Thanksgiving whiskies – we guarantee you’ll be everybody’s favourite host.

Essential Thanksgiving Whiskies:

#1: A good bourbon

While we’re all about that Scotch here at Whisky Foundation, we can’t talk about thanksgiving whiskies without putting a bourbon front and centre. It’s the all-American whisky – a sweet, caramelly delight.

And it pairs perfectly with turkey – the sweet vanilla and slightly spicy notes of a good bourbon are the perfect bedfellows for the crispy, salty turkey skin and tender turkey breast. (It also goes incredibly well with pumpkin pie and green bean casserole – win, win, win.)

WF recommends: Of course, you could go with a bottle of Woodford Reserve or Wild Turkey – both are great sipping bourbons for their price – but if you want something with a little more pizazz, then why not go for a Scotch aged in a bourbon barrel? You still get all of those vanilla and spice notes that match up so well with the majority of the feast, but you’re also getting a little more complexity too. This 5-year-old Talisker (Kingsbury, 2008) is perfect – there’s white pepper and a complex character to begin, followed by vanilla, spice and caramel notes from the half a decade it spent in a bourbon cask.

#2: A decent bottle of rye

Rye is like that relative that you only see at Thanksgiving and then wonder why you don’t hang out more; it’s the less-known (and slightly cooler) cousin of bourbon, and is a perfect pairing for your cranberry sauce.

The light (and slightly spicier) character of the rye (made from at least 51% – you guessed it – rye) are a perfect match for the tartness of the cranberry sauce.

WF recommends: Again, you can’t go wrong with a bottle of Bulleit 95 Rye for a budget-friendly Thanksgiving. But – as it’s a celebration of all things American, why not go with a bottle of the first whisky produced in America? Michter’s US-1 Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey is a killer rye – spicy, peppery and full of rich fruity notes, all held together with a woody, oaky spine. It’s really, really good.

#3: A peaty Scotch

We love a peaty whisky here at Whisky Foundation, so there was no chance that we wouldn’t include on in this list. It’s lucky then that peaty whiskies are perfect Thanksgiving whiskies – and not just because you can sip them long after all the food has gone away.

They’re also surprisingly good partners for your mashed potatoes and gravy – the meaty, salty gravy is the perfect muse for the peaty whisky to sing its smoky siren call, while the creamy, silky mashed potatoes hold the whole thing together.

If you love potatoes and whisky, there’s nothing better than this surprising combination.

WF Recommends: Of course, a Lagavulin 16 – the first love of all peat fans – is a fool-proof choice, but if you’re looking shake things up, why not try this Ardbeg 18 Year (Signatory, 1998)? It’s a bold, in-your-face, peaty monster. It starts with a colossal whack of peat and keeps going from there. We can’t get enough of it.

#4: A Lowlands single malt

Now, big hits of peat or vanilla are going to work well with your turkey and potatoes, but they’re not going to work with complex flavours like stuffing. For that, you need a delicate, complex whisky – and Lowlands are perfect for that.

(And if you’re worried about sticking to all-American whiskies, remember – 4.8 million Americans are of Scottish ancestry!)

WF Recommends: The citrus, candy and salt (as well as the long, lemony finish) of this 15-year-old Rosebank are an ideal accompaniment for your stuffing this Thanksgiving.

#5:   Your favourite whisky

What’s better than sitting down after a huge Thanksgiving feast and sipping a dram of your favourite whisky?

We’ll tell you: nothing.

So, we’re not even going to tell you what whisky to buy here, nor are we going to recommend any particularly great whiskies, it’s time to treat yourself to a bottle of your favourite malty treat and sip a well-earned sip or two.

Now, isn’t that something to be thankful for?

 

Starter Scotches: Lagavulin 16-year-old

starter scotches

On this blog, we’re a little guilty of writing for an audience of people who have been drinking, loving and cherishing whisky for years. And, although we try to avoid falling into the pit of whisky elitism wherever possible, we have noticed that whenever we recommend a bottle of whisky, it’s complex, elegant and takes a while to get your mouth around.

In other words, they’re not ideal for whisky newbies.

How are you going to tell your medicinal from your smokey, or new wood from old wood, without a frame of reference?

So, we thought we’d put together a series of blog posts that look at starter Scotches – the kind of Scotches that are perfect for somebody new to the world of whisky.

But we’re not going to fill this series full of Bell’s Original and Teacher’s Highland Cream.

We’re going to write about whiskies that are the perfect first steps for taking your whisky drinking experience to the next level. (Think of it as expanding your whisky vocabulary.)

(And, pretty soon, you’ll be ready to take on the complex independent bottlings and see what all the fuss is about.)

And so, to kick of the series, we thought we’d look at a much-loved single malt from Islay – the 16-year-old Lagavulin.

Starter Scotches – Part I: Lagavulin 16-year-old. 

OK, Lagavulin 16 isn’t the easiest whisky to get on with. (We know, that makes it an odd choice for the Starter Scotches series, but bear with us.)

If you’ve only tried a few Scotches and a bourbon or two, you’re in for a huge shock.

This whisky is not subtle.

And it’s probably unlike any alcohol you’ve ever experienced. (Unless you’ve ever tried mezcal, the Mexican agave spirit? If so, they’re quite similar in terms of smokiness and shock.)

Trying your first Lagavulin 16

Nosing

Like all Lagavulin’s whiskies, the 16 is made with heavily peat-smoked malt which gives it an incredibly distinctive whiff that’s akin to leaning over a bonfire and taking a huge sniff.

So, before you take a noseful, prepare yourself for that.

It’s probably going to smell unfamiliar and unlike any whiskies you’ve ever tried before – but in all the right ways.

The first thing you’ll notice is a huge hit of smoke. The second thing you’ll notice is the huge hit of smoke, too. And the third, fourth and fifth.

(Some people notice the smell of TCP, too – that’s completely normal.)

Once your nose has got used to the smoke, take another whiff. Can you smell a faint salty note? That’s the sea air that’s typical of Islay whiskies.

Congratulations – you’ve just nosed a Lagavulin and detected a tonne of characteristics! (Want to find out more about why you nose a whisky? We’ve written a handy guide.)

Tasting

When you take a sip, that hit of smoke and peat doesn’t let up. It’s a one-two combo followed by a haymaker of pure smoky aggression.

If you’ve never tried a peaty whisky before, it’s going to knock your socks off.

This scene from Parks and Recreation is a pretty spot-on depiction of a first Lagavulin experience:

But then, go back for a second and third sip, and you’ll notice that the smokiness has mellowed out a little, giving you a peek into the maritime environment of the Islay distillery. You’ll get salt, malt, sherry with hints of fruity (pineapple and orange) sweetness and big oaky flavours. (And, of course, peat.)

And, despite the smokiness, it’s surprisingly sweet.

That sounds difficult to get along with – why is it part of the Starter Scotches series?

Good question.

This Lagavulin is the whisky equivalent of jumping in at the deep-end.

It’s not like gradually trying better and better whiskies to notice subtle changes, it’s a short-cut to the front of the line.

The Lagavulin 16 isn’t just a big, bold and powerful whisky – it’s also complex and intriguing. You get to experience peat and smoke like never before and learn to look for different notes in the whisky.

Your nose and palate will learn a tonne of new things in a short space of time, and you’ll have a point of reference for every whisky you try from now on.

Plus, you get to try a damned good whisky.

Cheers.

Photo credit: Jason's Scotch Whisky.

Independent bottler in the spotlight: Wemyss Malts

wemyss malts

If you’re an avid reader of the Whisky Foundation blog, you’ll know that this is the third in a series of blog posts that explore the people behind our favourite whiskies – the independent bottlers.

Last month, we took a look at Kingsbury (and the month before, Signatory Vintage).

This month, we shove Wemyss Malts into the limelight.

Hold on, Wemyss Malts?

We know, they’re not up there with Gordon & MacPhail or Samaroli in terms of name recognition. And they’re not even particularly well known among fans of independent bottlings.

And that’s a shame.

(And the reason we decided to shine our light in their direction this month.)

First things first, how on earth do you pronounce it?

It’s not we-myss.

It’s not wem-iss.

And it’s not Wem-ees.

It’s Weems.

(We had to Google it, so don’t beat yourself up if you didn’t get that.)

It comes from the Gaelic word for the caves which stem from the rocky outcrop on the Firth of Forth.

Why?

Because atop that rocky outcrop lies Wemyss Castle, the ancestral home of Wemyss Malts.

(It all makes sense now, doesn’t it?)

What’s so special about Wemyss Malts then?

First of all, Wemyss Malts has a long history with the Scotch industry (even though they only started trading in 2005).

How?

The Wemyss family and Scotch go all the way back to the late 1800s when John Haig (yep, the founder of Haig’s) decided to build his distillery on Wemyss land. (He probably built it there to take advantage of the Wemyss barley, which is still prized by whisky makers across Scotland.)

Second of all, we love their attitude towards whisky.

It’s everything we try to be here at Whisky Foundation: passionate yet unpretentious, knowledgeable but accessible, precise yet understandable.

As they say on their website ‘even for the knowledgeable consumer, much of the malt whisky terminology can be confusing. Our range of hand crafted malts was conceived with the aim of making them more accessible and understandable.’

And so, what you get is a very simple approach to whisky, free of much of the confusing whisky terminology that can be off-putting to new drinkers.

(As we said before, they’re pretty much the Ronseal of whiskies. They smell and taste like the name on the bottle)

Our favourite Wemyss Malts bottlings:

Wemyss Malts choose the best malt whisky casks that the industry has to offer. They do this by having their very own ‘nosing and tasting panel’ pore over the many different casks maturing in distillery warehouses across Scotland. (Their process is very similar to what the wine industry calls a négociant – choosing and bottling a small number of the very best casks for their customers.)

And they do an incredible job choosing.

Their blended range is pretty great – but we’re not about the blended malts here at Whisky Foundation.

We’re all about the single cask bottlings.

And Wemyss does not disappoint.

IB #1: Spiced Peach Cobbler (Invergordon, 1988)

(See what we mean about ‘say what you see’ names?)

Unsurprisingly, this Invergordon single malt tastes like a peach cobbler. But that’s only the start. On the nose, you’ve got cinnamon and cardamom followed by a wave of poached pear for a huge, wintery hit of spice and fruit.

Next comes the autumnal combination of apples and peaches (obviously) with an avant-garde twist: just the faintest hint of black pepper.

Then, to finish, it’s all washed down with the sweet warmth of milk chocolate.

It’s very, very good – and the perfect dram for a rainy winter’s day.

Tutti Frutti Zing (Glentauchers, 1992)

A contender for the best named whisky on the market, the Tutti Frutti Zing is an independently bottled Glentauchers single malt that is like drinking a sip of your childhood, it’s fruity, sweet and reminiscent of paper bags full of pick and mix.

On the nose, you’ve got the sweet hits of grapefruit and pomegranate, with a slightly floral harmony in the background. But as soon as you take a sip, it’s all about that old school sweet vibe: it’s zesty, it’s citrusy and – most importantly – it reminds you of eating a Refresher.

It’s one of a kind, and we love it.

Barbeque Mango Salsa (Bowmore, 1989)

Granted, Barbeque Mango Salsa isn’t as catchy as Tutti Frutti Zing, but it ain’t half intriguing.

And, as ever, it’s not a misnomer.

Of course, the Bowmore brings that classic Islay smokiness together with the smell of the sea. But there’s so much more than that going on here – there’s aromas of burning oak chips and tropical fruit, setting up that Caribbean barbeque vibe. Then, on the palate, it’s meaty as hell with hints of apple and fruit.

As you head to the finish, fresh fruits and vanilla rise to the surface for a smooth finish.

Think – like it says on the bottle – of charred meats with a tangy fruit salsa, and you’re not far wrong.

These Wemyss Malts are just exciting because they eschew the stuffiness of whisky language, they’re all genuinely exciting, intriguing and playful whiskies that aren’t happy to do things the same way as everyone else.

If you’re a fan of outside-the-box whiskies, you won’t go wrong with a Wemyss Malts bottling.

Whisky tales: Captain William Grant and the revenge of the fairies

whisky regions

 

Before we even get onto this incredible whisky tale, let’s take a moment to think of how great Captain Grant and the Revenge of the Fairies would be as a schlocky, B-movie horror film.

Read this aloud in your best voice-over voice:

Captain William Grant arrived back from the military to continue life as a humble farmer.

He had dodged typhus and malaria while he was away.

Now, he was back on Scottish soil and ready to continue his life.

Then he saw an opportunity to start making whisky.

But there’s one thing he didn’t anticipate…

[Screeching 80s synth music]

The wrath of the fairies.

[Sirens, screeching music, pounding drums.]

This summer, catch the film that critics are calling ‘terrifying’.

Captain Grant and the Revenge of the Fairies.

Never has a fairy been so scary.

See what we mean?

(Ahem, sorry. We got a bit carried away there.)

Anyway…

When we read this story, we knew that we had to tell you.

It has all the elements of a classic whisky tale.

Heritage, smuggling, Scotland, entrepreneurial spirit, tradition and, erm, fairies.

So, before we go off on another 80s-horror tangent, let’s get to it:

Captain Grant and the Revenge of the Fairies.

Our story begins in 1809, when our hero, William Grant of Auchorachan, left his parent’s farm to serve in the British Army. (This wasn’t as noble as it sounds, his parents’ had bought him a lieutenant’s commission.)

Once enlisted, he was deployed to the Netherlands to take part in the Walcheren campaign, a failed British expedition to help the Austrians in their battle against the French. Sadly, the expedition ended in tragedy when the soldiers were struck down by an illness dubbed Walcheren Fever, a combination of typhus and malaria that wiped out 4,000 British troops. (In comparison, only 109 died in combat during the campaign.)

Panicking at the thought of losing her son, Grant’s mother begged his superior officer (later to be the Duke of Gordon – remember that name, it’s important) to send him home. Grant was retired on half pay, given the title Captain and sent back to return to farm life as Captain William Grant.

The Glenlivet he returned to was a hotbed of illicit whisky production.

The law prohibited the production of illicit whisky, but the local lairds were actively encouraging their tenants to produce whisky so they could pay their rent. (The local Justices, including our hero – once he’d cottoned on, were known to be lenient on any distiller caught.)

However, in 1823, the Duke of Gordon (remember him?) encouraged small distilleries in his glen to pop up legally and with a license, effectively putting an end to the illicit production of whisky. (There’s always one person who ruins the party, isn’t there?)

But ol’ Dukey boy was forgetting one thing: the smugglers.

And do you think the smugglers were happy about these distilleries popping up and taking their custom?

Of course, they weren’t.

In true smuggler fashion, they threatened these legitimate whisky producers with violence and scared them out of business. The ones that weren’t intimidated often fell to the pressures and demands involved with running a whisky business.

Captain William Grant sees an opportunity…

James MacPherson was one such distiller put out of business by the smugglers. He threw in the whisky-soaked towel in 1826.

And our hero, Captain Grant, was there to buy it off him, setting up Glenlivet Distillery.

Now, how was Grant going to succeed where MacPherson failed?

How does any successful businessman with low scruples get off to the best possible start?

A good dose of nepotism, of course.

Let us think: who might Grant know personally who would want to buy enough whisky to keep him in business through the rough early years of a distillery?

Oh yes, the Duke of Gordon.

For the first few years, the Duke filled his cellars – and the cellars of many of his friends – with Captain Grant’s whisky.

But Grant wasn’t satisfied with that. He began a marketing campaign to advertise his whisky in Edinburgh.

Here’s a little snippet from his oh-so-modest ad:

‘try his present stock of pure Glenlivet, eighteen months old, made by Captain Grant in his small still at Aucherican [sic], centre of the glen. It will be found very superior to what is made in the neighbourhood, and sold under the name of Glenlivet.’

(We’re thinking of adopting that tone in our Whisky Foundation ads. What do you think?)

It worked.

Business boomed, and Captain Grant, emboldened by his success, decided to open more distilleries in the glen.

But, sadly, these whiskies weren’t as popular. Some said it was the water, but the truth was far simpler: Captain Grant was a skin-flint who had penny-pinched on the equipment for his new distilleries.

And speaking of being a skin-flint…

When building a new property, Captain William Grant needed a piece of stone crucial to the structure. Rather than wait to purchase a new one, he decided to remove a standing stone from a hill at Auchorachan.

A stone believed to have been erected by fairies.

A stone that his friends warned him not to take because folktales told of the vengeful nature of the fairies and of the plight of men who trifled with their kingdoms.

But Captain William Grant was having none of that nonsense, thank you very much.

He took the stone, confident in the fact that fairie curses didn’t exist.

Well, that was until his cattle began to die of an unknown illness that nobody could cure.

Then he decided that maybe fairie curses weren’t to be trifled with, and returned the stone.

But, he should have known, the fairies aren’t the kind to forgive and forget.

His cattle were cured (we guess that fairies like cows?) but his run of bad luck wasn’t over.

First, he was fined a huge amount for breaking regulations at the distillery.

Then, when travelling in a carriage, his horse bolted and threw him onto the ground, shattering his leg.

Not long after that, his wife died tragically.

And then, to rub salt in the wound, his leg failed to heal properly. Unable to get around, his business fell into disrepair (along with his reputation) and he left the region to live with his daughter.

He died shortly thereafter.

The moral of the story? Don’t mess with the fairies of the glen.

Huge thanks to ScotchWhisky.com for finding this story. We’ve retold it in our own way, just like if we were around a campfire with a nice dram together. We’ve added in a few other historical sources, too, but all credit must go to their initial telling of the story.

Whisky bluff to whisky buff: how to nose whisky (and why it’s important).

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A few months ago, we did another post in the Whisky Bluff to Whisky Buff series that looked at the first steps in learning to taste whisky. (And not just in a ‘oh yeah, that tastes like whisky’ way.)

In that article, we spoke about the importance of nosing your whisky.

We said that learning how to nose whisky is probably the key step in whisky tasting, and the one that you’ll want to practise lots.

We also said that most whiskies are going to reveal their characteristics on the nose right away, and that the taste of the whisky should only confirm what you’d already picked up with your nose.

No pressure, right?

And although we went into a bit of detail on how to nose whisky, we think there’s a lot more to be said. That’s why we’re writing this article.

How to nose whisky: a beginner’s guide

First things first, swill that whisky.

(Like we said before, a glass that’s thinner at the top than the bottom (like a glencairn) is perfect for funnelling those all-important smells up your hooter.)

Once the whisky is in the glass, give it a swill. This releases the aromas of the whisky, and will let you pick out different notes when you nose your whisky.

Easy so far, right?

Don’t get cocky, kid.

Now things gets trickier.

Step #2: Sniff, sniff and sniff again (and, well, sniff once more)

(Before you sniff, here’s a pro tip: keep your mouth open slightly when you’re smelling the whisky. This stops the alcohol in the whisky burning the inside of your nose, which stops you from smelling all of the individual notes.)

Now, there are four stages to this sniffing.

First up, the initial whiff. There’s no real technique to this, it’s a first impressions thing. You should notice any spices or smokiness right away. (They’re often the smells that are hard to ignore. A Lagavulin 16, for instance, whacks your nose with a huge sock of peaty smoke.)

After that comes the trickier part; looking for fruity notes, sweet notes and grainy notes.

Now, these tips are going to sound a little odd, but bear with us and try them out. We work (that’s a Whisky Foundation promise).

For the fruity notes, hold the rim of the glass to your bottom lip, keeping the glass straight. (The glass should rest on your chin.) This helps funnel the fruity smells to your nose, letting you pick out different notes.

To start, think general. Is it citrusy or does it smell like berries? Then try and narrow it down. Does it smell more like lemon or lime? Apples or melon?

Why is this important?

Aha. This is the cool part. Remember when we spoke about the importance of barrels?

Well, if you can detect melon or citrus notes, the chances are your whisky was matured in an American oak barrel, while apricot or peach notes are indicative of a European barrel.

You see? From just detecting a few notes, you’re now able to deduce what kind of barrel it was aged in. Pretty neat, huh?

Next, tip the glass away from you and dip your nose into it. This is where you’ll notice sweeter scents like vanilla or maple.

And guess what, if there’s lots of vanilla, that’s a pretty good indication that it was finished (or aged) in a bourbon cask.

Now look at you, you’ve gone from novice to the Sherlock Holmes of whisky deduction in five minutes. Not bad, eh?

Finally, hold the far rim of the glass to the tip of your nose and sniff. You should be able to narrow down the grain used to make the whisky here – you might smell barley, wheat or just a bread-like flavour.

And that’s it – a short and sweet guide on how to nose whisky. 

Sure, there’s much more to it when you step up another level, but look at you now. You can tell your American cask whiskies from your European cask whiskies, without taking a single sip. That’s pretty damn impressive.

(Header image credit: VisitScotland)

Authors and Whisky: Mark Twain’s love affair with Scotch

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Remember a couple of weeks ago we said that we were going to start a new series of blog posts about writers and their love of whisky? Well here it is.

This Authors and Whisky series is going to look at writers (and musicians, artists and anybody in the public eye, really) and their love of the brown stuff.

Why?

Because, while we love telling you about the behind-the-scenes details of whisky making, about the latest bottlings in our collection, and about new and exciting things happening in the independent bottling scene, that’s not all there is to whisky.

We wanted an opportunity to celebrate what whisky means to people; to talk about how a nice dram can make your whole day better.

And what better way to look at the brilliance of whisky than to look at what it meant to some of the most articulate people that have ever committed pen to paper?

(And buckle up: there’s something about authors and whisky, because there are lot of them that absolutely love the stuff.)

Authors and Whisky: Week 1 – Mark Twain

Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka Mark Twain, wasn’t just the father of the Great American Novel (well, according to Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner, at least) and author of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. 

He was also an absolute sucker for whisky.

Want proof?

Here’s one of his immortal witticisms on the subject of whisky:

Too much of anything is bad, but too much of good whiskey is barely enough.

We can certainly get on board with that.

(Well, to an extent; too much whiskey (even the good stuff) usually gives us a banging head, nausea and aversion to light the next morning. Looks like we’re not cut out to write that novel after all, eh?)

Before we get onto Twain’s love for Scotch though, we need to start with his love for bourbon. (The link between American authors and whisky usually starts with bourbon, for obvious reasons.)

Twain started his professional and drinking career as a pilot of a steamboat on Mississippi River. As with most sailors and sea folk of the time, he spent a great deal of his time drinking.

But when the Civil War broke out, he headed off travelling (and, of course, drinking).

On his travels, he’d write for papers and publications, produce great novels and earn himself a prestigious reputation. But the word of his alcohol consumption earned his castigation from some reviewers.

And yet, Twain couldn’t be described as an alcoholic – at least not in comparison to other writers with heavy drinking habits (we’re looking at you again, Hemingway).

Yes, he may have drunk from the moment he got up to the moment he went to bed, but he was very keen to demonstrate that he wasn’t dependent on it and that could stop whenever he wanted to. (In fact, he frequently stopped drinking altogether to spite his critics.)

The truth was much simpler: he just absolutely loved whisky. (And cigars, too. He was not a man of great moderation, our Marky.)

And then, he travelled to Europe and his eyes were open to The Word.

In 1873 aboard the SS City of Chester, he discovered Scotch in the form of a cocktail. (Judging by his letter, it was an Old Fashioned.)

Just look at the letter he wrote to his wife after drinking his first Scotch. You can sense the excitement and jubilation:

‘Livy my darling, I want you to be sure & remember to have, in the bath-room, when I arrive, a bottle of Scotch whisky, a lemon, some crushed sugar, and a bottle of Angostura bitters. Ever since I have been in London I have taken in a wine glass what is called a cock-tail (made with these ingredients) before breakfast, before dinner and before going to bed… To it I attribute the fact that up to this day my digestion has been wonderful – simply perfect. It remains day after day and week after week as regular as a clock.’

(We tried this cocktail – in the name of science, of course – and the lemon can overpower the Scotch if you aren’t liberal with your libation. If you’re tempted to try out Twain’s recipe, we’d recommend a ratio of 3:1 of Scotch to Lemon with a cube of crushed sugar and a dash or two of bitters. It’s pretty good.)

And from there, his love for Scotch only continued to grow.

As he grew older, he moved on from the cocktail to neat Scotch (or a hot toddy) with his cigar.

Long gone was his love of bourbon too, he now called Scotch ‘my pet of all brews’ (hear, hear, Mark) and could be found drinking it all day long. (He smoked his cigars all day long too – once famously declaring ‘I smoke in moderation. Only one cigar at a time.’ It’s estimated that he smoked 22 cigars a day, almost every day.)

Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish-American industrialist responsible for the boom of the American steel trade and one of the richest men in America, began to send Twain casks of Scotch. (Which, of course, made Twain incredibly happy.)

Twain once wrote a thank you letter, with his typical wit shining through:

‘I got the whisky, dear Saint Andrew, and something happened to it. Always does.’

After another cask, he wrote:

‘Your whisky came at the right time. Of course, your whisky never comes at the wrong time.’

In short, Mark Twain wasn’t just responsible for the Great American Novel, he was responsible for some of the greatest quotes about whisky ever written. To prove it, we’ll leave you with one last witticism and – if we’re honest – sound piece of advice.

I always take Scotch whiskey at night as a preventive of toothache. I have never had the toothache; and what is more, I never intend to have it.

 

 

IBs from around the world: a brief introduction to Japanese independent bottlings

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Here at Whisky Foundation, we’re often a little guilty of focusing on all things Scottish (and, on occasion, American), but the international independent scene is vibrant and innovative, and deserves attention.

So, this week, we’re going to start a new series of blog posts that look at independent bottling scenes from around the world. (We’ll be looking at Japanese independent bottlings to start, and then travelling around the world.)

(We’ve started a lot of series lately, haven’t we? There’s the independent bottling of the month, the independent bottler of the month and Women and Whisky. Oh, and we’re starting another in a couple of weeks about whisky and words, keep your eyes peeled for that and the half-a-dozen other series of blog posts we come up with in the meantime…)

But why are we doing this series?

For a start, there’s a whole world of incredible whisky that we’re just not talking about on the blog. And, as the home of all things independent bottling, that’s a bit of a faux pas.

Not to mention the fact that there are some really exciting things going on in the world of independent bottling right now, and they’re not all happening north of Hadrian’s Wall. (As loathe as we are to admit that.)

And finally, we thought that you, dear reader, might like to read about whiskies outside of your comfort zone. (And perhaps even try a few.)

So, without further ado, let’s kick the series off with a deep dive into Japanese independent bottlings.

The Whisky Foundation guide to Japanese independent bottlings

We’re sure that you whisky buffs already know a fair bit about Japanese whisky (even if you don’t all that much about Japanese independent bottlings) but if you don’t, here’s a whistle stop tour:

Since 2008, whisky drinking in Japan has gone through the roof. Between 2014 and 2015, whisky consumption increased over 25 million litres (and a fair whack of this was Scotch, because the Japanese are people of incredible taste, of course).

The reason behind it, like a lot of things to do with whisky, is rather odd. In 2013, a Japanese TV show called Massan aired. It told the story of Masataka Taketsuru, who studied whisky in Scotland and then founded the Japanese whisky industry in the early 20th Century.

And then: boom.

Scotch became hugely popular in Japan, and a fair amount of this came from independent bottlers who were excited to give their expressions to a completely new audience. (To be precise, in 2016, Japan imported £82 million worth of whisky.)

But of course, that’s not the full story. Of course, the UK independent bottlers (remember we wrote about Kingsbury a little while ago?) have been bottling exclusive bottles for the Japanese market ever since the opportunity arose. (We have a few available in our store, if you’re interested.)

The really exciting part is the Japanese independent bottlings – the IBs produced by Japanese bottlers.

And there’s one bottler that really catches our eye:

Acorn.

Acorn isn’t a giant of the industry, by any means. But it’s a very well-known independent bottler based in Sadako City that focuses on producing single cask whiskies for the Japanese market.

And, although they started bottling the classics (Glenlivet, Lagavulin, Laprhoaig) they’ve now moved onto bottling slightly more obscure Scotches from distilleries like Tamdhu and Glenturret and aging them in sherry barrels.

They’re pretty incredible.

Hold on though, what about independent bottlings of Japanese whisky?

Good question.

Unfortunately, we don’t speak Japanese or read Kanji, which means finding out information about Japanese independent bottlings incredible difficult.

But, because nothing is ever too much for our dear readers, we dug deep on this one to find out about a pretty exciting Japanese independent bottling: Akashi 5-year-old cask strength bottling of an Eigashima whisky.

Just listen to this:

On the nose, there’s subtle hints of smoke and then a hit of fudge. Then, on the palette (as a cask-strength bottling, this whisky benefits from a splash of water) a huge flood of caramel flavours followed by a hint of aniseed, with notes of wood and lime.

Has that piqued your interest?

Japanese whisky is incredibly exciting – not only because they age whisky in their own native wood (mizunara), but because of the sheer degree of experimentation that goes on.

Did you know?

In Japan, the whisky wash is often distilled through a tonne of different still shapes and sizes, which create a cornucopia of different flavours, notes and characters. Crazy, huh?

Which means that it’s not just the Japanese independent bottlings that are exciting, innovative and bold – it’s everything about Japanese whisky. It really is something special.

We’ll be honest – we don’t stock much Japanese whisky here at Whisky Foundation. We have some independent bottlings made for the Japanese market (although, you’d be hard pushed to call them Japanese independent bottlings).