There is something quite glorious about a summer’s day. To be honest, here in London, it isn’t quite summer just yet, but we are at the start of a rather warm snap which will, fingers cross, will last across the weekend.
In the UK, this is the sign for women to raid their wardrobe for flowery Laura Ashley dresses and for men to bare their legs; but when it comes to whisky, our thoughts turn from heavily peated numbers, to lighter whiskies (grains and blends), served up in a highball glass with ice, topped up with soda water and a slice of something zesty.
And herein lies the exact reason why we all need a cabinet of drinks: there is no one ‘cure all’ spirit for that moment when you want to pour yourself a dram or mix yourself a cocktail.
Our advice for putting together a basic drinks selection is to build up your cabinet from the basics, making sure you have a good quality gin and vodka in your freezer, with plenty of ice and some glasses, too (if you don’t have a lot of room, then make sure you have four Martini glasses at the very least). If you can store highball glasses too, then a top tip is to put a small amount of water in the bottom of each glass, so you have a natural layer of ice in each one; brilliant for G&T’s.
Moving from the freezer to the fridge, ensure you have some cans of tonic and soda water, as well just some filtered water too.
Topping all this off, a good drinks cabinet should contain a nice brandy (go Armagnac for better value than Cognac), a good rum (two if you can afford it- one for sipping, one for mixing), some Tequila and cocktail bitters (Angostura at the very least). And then some whisky.
You’ll notice here that, save for the rum where you can reach out over several varieties and Tequila / Mezcal where you might want a sipping option as well as a mixer, whisky is where the greatest variation is to be found. If we were being honest, you probably could do with having the following in stock:
A Smoky Whisky: Preferably a single malt with a good level of peat smoke. Example: Lagavulin 16.
A Sipping Whisky: Not everyone likes peat, so have a non-peated offering, too. Could be a blend, single malt, a bourbon, Irish or Japanese whisky. Example: The Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Years Old.
A Sunshine Whisky: A grain whisky or blend helps for those summer days when you want a long drink. Example: Cutty Sark Original.
So, in a basic cabinet we’d look at three different whisk(e)y offerings; quite a lot more than the others, but all playing different roles in the team.
In this blog we focus on all styles of whisky, trying to review them with their purpose in mind. As became evident in our look at flavoured whiskies recently, you can’t review something like J&B Urban Honey in the same way that you would a 40 Year Old Brora. Equally, as with Dave Broom’s new book The Manual, you shouldn’t be ashamed of mixing a ‘sipping single malt’, either.
When it comes to these single malt sippers, there are more and more appearing on the market all the time; some brand new offerings from indie distillers, others being released from major distillery names as range extensions.
One distillery who is undertaking a re-jig of their more niche offerings, is The Balvenie who have recently launched a couple of new single barrel expressions. It was a year ago when we reviewed their ‘new’ 12 Year Old First Fill American Oak Single Barrel, and the time has come again for another release from them, this time a 15 Year Old Oloroso Sherry cask.
The Balvenie – 15 Year Old Sherry Cask – Single Barrel – Cask Number 4440 – 47.8% avb – each batch has no more than 650 bottles – RRP £79.99
NOTE: These tasting notes are for one specific cask release, no. 4440. Other casks may differ.
Nose: Certainly a sherry cask whisky, this gives ginger and honey up front, some dusty oak and golden syrup, this isn’t hiding its roots. There is a slight Piri-Piri sauce element which develops over time. Returning to the nose after a while, the key elements have died a little and the spirit remains, giving a punchy youthfulness to the dram, but always with that Oloroso backbone of sweet spices.
Palate: Fresh apricots drizzled in honey sit atop cinnamon spices, some over ripe banana and rum and raisin milk chocolate. It is powerful with a hint of complexity, and some spiritus elements. Mouthfilling, the wood influence shines through towards the back of the palate giving plum chutney and more raisins.
Finish: Lots of ginger, runny honey and spices, which develop into nutmeg and cardamom.
Overall: This is a very tasty dram, which packs in big flavours with a good ABV balace, too. My preference is with a splash of water, which opens up the dram to reveal red cherries and heather honey, giving a better example of the smooth Balvenie spirit for which it is famed.
Another giant of the Speyside distillery world, who is also expanding a diffusion range (if you will) with an Oloroso matured edition, is The Glenlivet who welcome the ‘Oloroso Matured’ batch to the already popular Nadurra line. This will be the first ever 100% sherry matured offering from the distillery, under their own label. At the moment this is only available in Global Travel Retail, is a No Age Statement and is bottled at 48% abv but, as with other Nadurra releases, will see a ‘full strength’ edition hit local markets in the future.
The Glenlivet – Nadurra Oloroso Matured (batch OLO314) – NAS - 48% abv RRP TBC
Nose: More tropical fruits than the Balveinie, which is focuses more on ginger and honey. This is a fresher dram (I’d wager a touch younger, but not by a lot) and gives peach melba, fruit cake, cardamom and mango on the nose. A hint more summery than the Balvenie.
Palate: Cinnamon and Cardamom come through with a sprinkling of nutmeg. Blood Orange and fresh mint are backed with cigar box and a distinctly meaty tone of well aged rare steak, slightly peppered. It sits well on the palate, with the pepper and sweet sherry partnering well together.
Finish: Bloody orange meets vanilla macaroons to give a hearty, sweet finish which is mouth watering with a back drop of gala melon.
Overall: Again, this really opens up with a drop of water, smoothing it out reflect the distillery character and would be my preference to serve with a splash of H2O. It is going to be interesting to see how this works at an even higher abv. Bring it on!
These two new expressions are both excellent and with a splash of water both reveal their true distillery characters, which is pleasing as it is easy to lose track of the true DNA of the base spirit once sherry casks are involved. Both are perfect examples of ‘sipping whiskies’ which make themselves available for team selection in your drinks cabinet. Now it is up to you to decide which you want to be part of your team...