Over the past few days, the whisky Twittersphere and blogging world has been all a flutter discussing who is doing what for Burns Night – there will be whisky tastings, whisky pairing dinners, dancing and much addressing of the Haggis all celebrating the Scottish Bard, Robbie Burns (for more info, see here). But, the 25 January celebrations are not as well known to those that are: a) living outside of the UK; or b) non-whisky drinkers.
But here at Miss Whisky I’m all about converting new people to the drink all over the globe. So, with that in mind, I started thinking about what whiskies are great to get beginners going in time for tomorrow’s celebrations – or at anytime in the future!
As such, read on about some of the best whiskies I believe might just get your taste buds and your heart firmly in the whisky fan club!
The Blend: Grant’s Sherry Cask Finish:
You may know Grant’s as a cheap, run-of-the-mill blended whisky. But, the company is much more interesting than a first presumption might allow. To start, Grant’s (or William Grant & Sons) is still a family-run business, despite its status as a global giant selling 54 million bottles yearly. Also, its portfolio includes a whole range of whiskies, which are more carefully crafted. And finally, the Sherry Cask Finish is a well-made blended whisky and an affordable place to start for someone new to the drink. Unlike some of its off-licence brands, this has been matured in Spanish Oloroso sherry casks for four months after its initial ageing to level out the bite and add a softer, warmer flavour to the finish. Think: rich pudding fruits, vanilla and subtle oak. It’s an easy-drinking blend to get a beginner started and comes in at an affordable £20 or less in most shops.
The Traditionalist: The Balvenie DoubleWood:
The Balvenie is big on pride of craftsmanship. It runs awards to celebrate people still creating products by hand and anyone from the distillery or representing it will wax lyrical about how much work is put into making this whisky in a traditional way. The distillery grows its own barley and uses the old floor malting technique (whereby the barley to be used in the malt is germinated for a week on a stone floor at the distillery). All this work produces, not only, a lovely story but a lovely whisky. The DoubleWood is just one of the company’s many expressions, but it’s a great starter single malt because it combines the flavours of both bourbon (from the ex-bourbon casks it’s aged in) and sherry (from the ex-sherry casks it’s finished in) to give a greater depth of taste. It’s very smooth, with hints of nuttiness and spice, with a long finish on the tongue. It varies in cost from £29 to £33.
The Triple Distilled: Auchentoshan Three Wood:
Taking that idea of multiple cask flavours one step further is this bottling from Auchentoshan (pronounced: AW-KEN-TOSH-AN). The Lowland company triple distills all of its whiskies – which means it goes through the distillation process three times, creating a very smooth whisky and helping to eliminate that alcoholic bite that puts many first-timers off of whisky for life. But, it’s the Three Wood that is a great place to start when discovering this brand because, not only is it triple distilled, but it is also matured in three different casks: American Bourbon, Spanish Oloroso Sherry, and Pedro Ximénez Sherry. This results in a lip-smackingly rich golden-brown whisky, with notes of raisin, brown sugar, hazelnut and caramel. Delicious! It costs from £34 to £42 from whisky shops.
The Classic Malt: Oban, 14-year old:
You may not have heard of Oban but it’s a great little dram for tasters looking for something a bit more special without breaking the bank. Oban is one of the six classic malts, deemed so in the ’80s by United Distillers (now a part of Diageo Scotland). Hailing from the western Highland region, Oban is a light and refreshing yet complex whisky. It has hints of smoke on the nose, but is a mouth-filling, citrusy-sweet dram on the palate so it doesn’t overwhelm someone new to the drink. This one retails at a price of between £34 and £40.
The Outsider: Penderyn Peated:
Now, it’s not only the homeland of Robbie Burns that produces whisky in the UK. In the past few years, both the Welsh and English have gotten into the business and started making their own. Penderyn is the only distillery in Wales and was launched in 2004, winning numerous awards around the world since. The company produces three expressions: the Single Malt, the Sherrywood and the Peated. The latter is a great example of a whisky that changes perceptions about the “smoke factor” of the drink to newcomers. The thing is, most people believe an overpowering smoke smell and flavour is what dominates the majority of whiskies. But, in actual fact, while there are extremely smoky (or peaty) whiskies out there – such as ones originating from Islay like Ardbeg or Laphroaig – many more take on much lighter flavours. The Peated expression from Penderyn is a perfect whisky to try if you’re interested in sampling a smoky whisky without feeling like your taste buds have been blown out. Unlike most peated whiskies, Penderyn does not dry its malt over top of peat bricks heated by fire, which is the traditional way of imparting this flavour into whisky. Instead, it takes old casks that have already housed peated whisky, and matures its spirit in them to give a much subtler note of peat. This creates a highly flavourful, oily, smoky whisky without too much bite. The style has won it many awards and many more fans, and retails at between £37 and £40.