Our drinking buddies from across the pond share five ways to get through autumn weather.
If foul weather calls for any drink, it’s whisky. More specifically, it’s Scotch. From those rich and spicy fireside drams to those ashy, peated whiskies which could stave off any storm, Scotch has it covered. However, it can be a tricky category to navigate. So, where do we start?
There’s blends, single grains, malts, and even blended malts, which are altogether different. Then there are the different whisky producing regions of Scotland – Speyside, Islay, Highlands, and so on. Do they really say anything about what the stuff in the glass tastes like? Then there’s age statements to think about. Is a 20 year old Scotch twice as good as a 10 year old?
So let’s cut through the noise. A neat (sorry) way to do that is by trying some Scotches – lots of them. How convenient. So without any further ado, here are 5 Scotch whiskies to look out for this autumn.
Bruichladdich Classic Laddie
If you’re getting into Scotch, you have to know about Bruichladdich (‘Brook-laddie’). Firstly, they do things properly; all their whiskies are naturally coloured, non-chill filtered, and aged exclusively on the Isle of Islay where they are distilled. Then there’s the fact that they produce not just one Single Malt, but three. The distillery name itself is used for their lighter, unpeated expressions whilst Port Charlotte (more on that later) and Octomore show a much heavier, smokier style of Scotch.
The Classic Laddie is an excellent introduction to the Bruichladdich range; unpeated spirit distilled from exclusively Scottish barley makes for a fresh and floral island dram – a stark contrast to many of the other malts distilled on Islay. As it’s released in annual batches, subtle differences in each barley harvest can be discerned; a much welcome justification for buying several bottles to seek them out.
A few miles off the south-west Scottish coast, the Isle of Arran now hosts two distilleries; one in the north of the island producing a weighty, fruity style of unpeated whisky whilst its newly opened sister distillery in the south is set to release it’s inaugural spirit as an altogether much earthier and smokier style of peated Scotch.
Whilst we wait for the first releases from the latter, we’re all too happy to crack into older releases from the former. The Arran 18 Year Old is a particular stand out from the range. Aged in casks once home to sweet and nutty Spanish sherries, this is a winter dram at heart loaded with classic Christmas spices, ginger and caramelised orange notes.
Port Charlotte 10
Right, we’re back to Bruichladdich. Port Charlotte is the name given to some of the smokier, heavily-peated expressions crafted at perhaps our favourite Islay distillery. It’s salty, ashy and sweet – admittingly not the most natural of flavour combinations. Nonetheless, it works.
This is a heavily peated Scotch, no doubt, but that smokiness works with – and not against – the soft sweetness imparted by the wood. It is also undeniably dram of its origin; the winds battering this part of the Isle of Islay coat the casks with sea-spray and impart their contents with a subtle, but discernible, salinity. All whiskies taste the same? Nonsense.
Never heard of Bladnoch? We’re not surprised; even though it’s stood for well over two hundred years, this Lowland distillery has never made much of an effort when it comes to the ole’ marketing thing. That’s changing, and quickly. Having had ceased production and all but closed up shop – apparently it’s hard to sell whisky if you don’t tell people about it – Bladnoch was recently rescued by new owners.
A total refit of the site was followed by a welcome string of new releases including the Samsara. Ex-bourbon casks were complemented by a healthy number of refill Californian red wine barrels to give this release a sweet, plummy profile. Welcome back, Bladnoch.
Glen Scotia Victoriana
Poring over nineteenth century maps of the Scottish town of Cambeltown is a fascinating, albeit obscure, endeavour. ‘Distillery’; ‘Warehouse (for whisky)’; ‘Distillery’; ‘Brewery’. You get the idea. A mere handful of streets hosted no fewer than thirty distilleries at one point, earning Campbeltown the title of Scotland’s Whisky Capital.
The town’s deep harbour can claim most of the credit; ships were able to stock up on, ahem, precious cargo, before heading to every corner of the empire. Seeking to evoke the mercantile hustle and bustle of the Campbeltown of those days past, Glen Scotia released the ‘Victoriana’.
A higher bottling strength of over 100 proof – the precise strength varies per batch – is a promising start and a nod to the altogether punisher, weighter whiskies of that era. A period of ‘finishing’ of the spirit in heavily charred casks likewise imparts the spirit with a rich chocolateness which is not really a trait of most Glen Scotias. Nevertheless, it really works. The judges at the World Spirits Competition in San Francisco last year agreed, too; the Victoriana picked up a gold award there, adding to a slew of similar accolades. All well deserved – a cracking dram.