It's no secret that we're not Scottish. In fact, the nearest we get is that Joel's dad is from Oxford and his mum from Bergen in Norway, with Glasgow lying right in the middle of the two. Oh, and Neil owns a very fetching Bowmore tweed jacket. But as a couple of writers who spend nearly every waking hour living and breathing Scotch whisky and loving every minute of it, sometimes it's nice to take a step back and do something a little bit different.
So with this in mind, this year, we decided to theme a Burns Night tasting we were hosting with a distinctly international feel. A sell out audience of 60 rabid Scotophiles, one massive haggis, poems and stories from Scotland of old, all accompanied by some exceptional Japanese food, courtesy of the fantastic restaurant Tsuru, a piper (well, a saxophonist) and a magnificent haul of world whiskies.
Our plan was to introduce the whiskies to attendees without actually explaining the origin of the whisky or using the distillery name- giving the whole evening a vague air of mystery and anticipation, which proved to be much harder than we expected. So, with our back against the wall, we did what we do best... and resorted to poorly constructed puns, analogies and crude descriptors. Joel: 'Neil... can you describe Wales to me in a sentence?' Neil: 'Err... Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey and daffodils?'
Words and lack of credible descriptions aside, we were fortunately blessed with a line up of whiskies that did all the talking - each with its very own accent and personality. So with the food menu paired to perfection, we launched into a short trip across the whisky making globe, starting off our journey in the fine company of the Japanese:
Nose: Hugely fruity and plummy with slight wafts of fragrant licorice, rice wine, honeysuckle and when you dig deeper, some wonderful buttery/creamy notes.
Palate: A delicate yet rich texture in the mouth with layers of smooth malt and grain, licorice, some fresh fruits, lemon zest and vanilla.
Finish: Lengthy, with spiced notes and vanilla traces. Well balanced and thoroughly enjoyable.
Nose: Something deliciously fruity and perfumed, coupled with some white chocolate notes and some unmistakable chopped hazelnuts.
Palate: The freshness of the Penderyn is immediately there, but it is enhanced hugely by some lovely oily fruitiness, some country fudge, dried apricots and then a hint of drying wood.
Finish: Some lingering dryness, but it's fruit all the way into a well rounded and lengthy finish.
Nose: Initial soft fruit notes, some dusty books, white pepper, buttered brown toast and a slight waft of old lobster pots/sea air/iodine. Direct and very appealing.
Palate: Very thick and rich on the palate, tongue coating and silky. The peat smoke combines with a sweetness to great effect - think a smoky version of golden syrup and you're somewhere nearby.
Finish: Fresh, with smoky overtones and a hint of drying oak.
Nose: Milk chocolate, hazelnuts, fresh oak and hints of woody spice.
Palate: Hot and spicy, with dried ginger and soy notes, a hint of menthol, malty notes and a touch of citrus orange.
Finish: juicy, with hints of fresh oak, lingering woody spices and dark caramel.
Nose: Similar light orchard fruit notes to a highland whisky, with apricot, stewed pears, plums and vanilla. Also a touch of dessert wine.
Palate: Sweet and light, with vanilla, more apricot, chopped green apples a hint of light oak and milk chocolate.
Finish: Short, with lighter fruit notes and a tiny touch of liquorice.
With Scotch whisky at an all time high from both a sales and quality point of view, it's no surprise that the rest of the world should be following suite and these bottles provide a suitably splendid alternative, should you fancy a foray off the tartan map for a change.