Savour every sip of Scott aqua vitae as it drowns your palate in flavours that transport you to the enigmatic highlands. To leave you spoilt for choice we have decoded here some of the finest Scottish single malts
Let’s raise a toast to the spirit which was first distilled as a medicinal brew by Irish Christian Monks in the late 6th and early 7th century AD and baptised as ‘Usquebaugh’, which isGaelic foraqua vitae or water of life. The brew travelled with missionary monks to Scotland and became an integral part of the Scottish identity and, subsequently,a symbol of Scottish resistance and rebellion against English hegemony in the early 18thcentury. The Usquebaughis today one of the most sought after spirit, but better known by its anglicised name-whisky.
Though the Irish claim to have given whisky to the world but the fact remains that when you talk about whisky it’s the Pagoda silhouettes of distilleries dotting the beautiful Scottish landscape which come to one’s mind. The first historical records about the brew in the Scottish official books appear in 1494.There is an entry of ‘eight bolls of malt to Friar JohnCor wherewith to make aqua vitae’. A boll is an old Scottish measure of less than six bushels. One bushel is 25.4 kg.
Morereferences appear in September 1506 in the treasurer’s accounts of King James IV.He made entries for the 15th and 17th of the month which read ‘for aqua vitae to the king’. However, the earliest reference to a distillery in the Acts of the Scottish Parliament is in 1690, when there is mention of the famous Ferintosh distillery owned by Duncan Forbes of Culloden.
An unpublished letter of February 1622, written by Sir Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy to the Earl of Mar, reported that certain officers sent to Glenorchy by the King had been given the best entertainment that the season and the country allowed. It stated: ‘For they wanted not wine nor aquavitae’. Thenew brew served was, no doubt, the locally distilled whisky.
Subsequent references in various official records establish that the Scottish folks have been producing whisky since the late 15th century and despite suggestions of newfound bestsellers, the connoisseurs stay partial to the brew with a Scottish tag.
Actually when we talk about Scottish whisky it’s the single malts that one refers to, in general. It is acombination of centuries- old production technique, the perseverance, patience and craft which goes into making a fine bottle of single maltturns it into a delight for its loyalists. Of the more than 100 distilleries in Scotland, producing the finest single malt, there are some which inspire the romanticism of Robert Burns and others which arouse the rebel sprit of Scotland epitomised by Braveheart William Wallace and Robert the Bruce.
Being a Scotch aficionado there are some single malts which one enjoys more than others and therefore, the following favourites:
Glenfarclas 40 Year Old
The Glenfarclas Distillery is located on the Recherlich Farm in Ballindalloch in the heart of Speyside. This malt is at the top end of the price range for the Glenfarclas single malt whisky.A bottle costs almost Rs 42,324, yet its basic presentation is pretty much the same as the rest of the range.
The malt has a dark brown copper colour which reminds me of an old, slightly tarnished penny. The initial aroma is the scent of an old oak tainted by the dry fruity smells of the sherry cask. I like the way the two distinct aromas have blended.It is hard to decide where the oak ends and the fruity sherry begins. There is also a nice herbal quality that reminds me of woodland meadows full of heather and willow thicket.
The whisky carries a good dose of wood spice in the initial delivery. I taste vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon, allspice and glimpses of ginger, dabs of orange liqueur and glimmers of rich rum like demerara sugar. Those sherry accents are there too, as raisins and dates combine with bitter-sweet chocolate giving impressions of a fruitcake drizzled with chocolate pudding. It is, however, the woodspice that dominates as 40 years of aging speaks clearly in the whisky.
The Macallan Sherry Oak 18 Year Old Whisky
This Speyside Single malt comes from the celebrated House of Macallan.It is rich mahogany in colour and shows strong bronze highlights in the glass. The whisky delivers a wallop of smoky sherry flavour and spicy oak as it enters the mouth. The sherry flavour is rich and intense and, can easily overwhelm the palate lessening the impact of the other flavours in the whisky. One can taste dried fruitslike prunes, raisins and dates, charred and caramelised baking spices, a woody cognac with a hint of grape, and a dab of cherry flavour all mingling together.
Addinga few drops of water to itreveals a nice brown sugary sweetness, and then you taste orange marmalade and ribbons of cocoa. The smoky sherry still permeates the whisky but the added water allows more of the subtle nuances to be appreciated. The Macallan Sherry Oak 18 years costs almost Rs 11,700.
Highland Park 25 Year Old Whisky
It is rich mahogany in colour with a noticeably heavier or more oily appearance than one would normally associate with whisky. The effect of the long-term aging in oak barrels reverberates through the whisky.
My first impressions of tasting it brought memories of caramelised butterscotch toffee, sweeter underlying sugars and a floral peat rich with heather, citrus, and damp spruce moss.
The taste has strong elements of canned fruits – apricots and peaches, which add weight to the whisky. There is a firm cereal grain running through the whisky and a subtle smokiness under the peat with dry fruit flavours of raisins and prunes which seemed to burrow into it and become part of the floral peat. The intensity of this smoky peat keeps rising and falling, carrying and pushing forward other flavours rather than becoming the dominant flavour. Amidst all of this is an underlying oak flavour which is firmly melded into the whisky. A bottle of this beauty will set you back by Rs 27,084 approx.
Old Pulteney 21 Year Old Single Malt Scotch
This award-winning single malt displays light amber/gold hue. It has an oily texture which coats the palate.The first flavour I encounter is butterscotch with hints of tart green apple and fresh green grapes. A few expressions of dark fruit – dates and purple plums – follow, and there are hints of Christmas fruitcake. A little chocolate custard bubbles up, and then as I hoped, the oak spices kick in. Spices, tart green apple and gooseberries all seem to collide in the finish causing an explosion of spiciness upon the palate as the whisky is slithers down smoothly and the spice builds up upon the palate. Old Pulteney 21 year comes with a price tag of about Rs 9,500.
Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban (12 Year Old Edition)
This whisky displays a light to medium gold colour with some obvious rusty tones. The initial aroma is fruity, oak filled and stained with chocolate.
The first sip brings forward oak spices and luscious flavours of maraschino cherries dusted with chocolate. I taste light lemon and orange peel flavours within the oak spice accompanied by vanilla and a light touch of mint. The time in the port pipe has given the whisky a vague smoky character similar to what we would find with a sherry cask whisky. However, I find the fresh fruitiness to be more vibrant than it would be in a typical sherry cask whisky with more flavours of ripe fruit and red berries and less of dark dry fruit. The sweetness seems to be just about perfect as it complements the fruit and spice without becoming cloying. A bottle of it will come to you for about Rs 4,500.
There are many more single malts which are worth dying for.But that’s for another day. Till then I will leave you with this phrase in Scottish Gaelic, ‘Slàintemhor a h-uilelà a chi’s nachfhaic‘ [great health to you every day that I see you and every day that I don’t].