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The way of the whisky

I’m 24 and like most people of my generation I drank poorly when I was younger; such things as shooting vodka and Tequila, as well as thinking that Stella Artois was a good beer. For this, I apologise. I’ve changed.

In the past year I’ve picked up a taste for Scotch, which started with Highland Park. Luckily enough I’ve got a dad who liked his Scotch back in the day so I’m in possession of 12, 15, 18 and 21-year-olds and have done my duty; enjoyed all of them. The key thing I picked out – as with many spirits I drink – is that I like age, so the older the better. The one I preferred the most was the 18-year-old, due to its prickly woody character and my favourite part, the peaty character that caresses your tongue.

Highland Park is quite interesting, because despite its name it is not a Highland whisky, but in fact hails from the Orkney Islands, which are just north of the region. I would go so far as to describe it as a cousin of the Highlands, due to the similarities in complexity and flavour, thanks to the smokey, peatiness of it.

A couple of months ago I was presented with a bottle of Deanston, Virgin Oak Casks. Now like a drinks professional, I sampled it immediately, being wowed by both nose and palate. But this was only half the challenge; I sat down a couple of days later and had a proper tasting.

It had a wondrous nose of toasted fruit, hints of lemon peel and a slight spice to it. With regards to the palate, I found it to be slightly creamy, with a spattering of honey and a touch of vanilla. It did have a slight smokiness to it and I could truly taste the oak, though it was very soft. I was surprised this being from eastern Highlands, there wasn’t any peat. It has beautifully, sweet finish with the honey softening on the tongue making it a remarkable drinking experience.

Another whisky I’ve recently come across is Compass Box, a range that truly defines itself not just by quality but by the various different whiskies it produces. I was invited along to their base in Chiswick, west London as part of a UKBG (United Kingdom Bartenders Guild) visit. We sat around sampling the current range of seven whiskies:

– Asyla, blended Scotch 40% ABV

– Oak Cross, blended malt Scotch 43% ABV

– The Spice Tree, blended malt Scotch 46% ABV

– The Peat Monster, blended malt Scotch 46% ABV

– Hedonism, blended grain Scotch 43% ABV

– Great King Street, blended Scotch 43% ABV

– Flaming Heart 10 Anniversary Edition, blended Scotch 48.9% ABV

We were also shown The Entertainer, a special edition made for Selfridges, which was inspired by Gordon Selfridge.

Of the range, I was most taken by Hedonism and Peat Monster. The Peat Monster just screamed peat and it was wondrous, especially as I enjoy my oaky, smoked, woody sprits. The palate had light touches of fruit and hinted at something toasted, but I couldn’t quite decide what.

When I got on to Hedonism it was quite different to much of the Scotch we have today, as its flavour was the kind of opulence you expect from a rum. I found the aroma buttery with a floating nose of toasted nuts as well as toffee and citrus. Now for the taste of the rum….I mean Scotch! This was truly an experience, the palate was a soft and subtle which dropped vanilla, orange peel, cocoa and even a very light touch of coconut, as if your tongue had been dusted with it. I’m willing to admit it gave me a brief climactic moment and I could see why it was called Hedonism.

A few bits of cheese and meat had been prepared for us to enjoy, but they also made a fabulous pairing, especially the smoked venison, which went perfectly with the Peat Monster.

If I was to say to you that there exists a place you where you can enjoy infused Japanese single malts, you’ll probably be disgusted. But give it a chance, it’s truly quite amazing. At the always popular Roast in Borough Market, a place known for its great meat dishes, bar manager Sebastien Guesdon has truly turned the bar into a place for Scotch whisky lovers.

I recently spent an afternoon at the Roast bar sampling the highlights of the impressive whisky collection, looking with great interest at the Suntory whisky range, which includes Yamazaki, Hakushu and Hibiki. Japanese whisky is quite new top me, in fact the first time I tried it I was disgusted, but it’s grown on me just like Scotch did once upon a time. But there’s more to come, with five more whiskies from Suntory coming this autumn.

Sebastien was kind enough to show me his little project, whisky infusions, which I was instantly curious about. He had started with Hibiki 17-year-old whisky and infused it with:

– orange (Seville) and cinnamon: possessed hints of smoke, orange, spice and roasted nuts; slightly drier on the palate than a standard Hibiki.

– sultana and vanilla: smokey, dried fruits and vanilla on the nose with hints of chocolate on the palate.

– lilies: yes, I’m being serious. It pretty much keeps the original Hibiki intact but softens it a little bit, making it more palatable for those who don’t enjoy strong spirits or who are new to whisky; slight floral complexity on both the nose and palate

Japanese whisky is also the main spirit in the venue’s Shard Sour cocktail, which is a wondrous twist on a standard sour, combining Hakushu 25, lemon juice, egg white and cherry juice. I’m not the biggest fan of egg white in drinks but this was a very playful drink, with touches of soft fruit and a warmth from the whisky that made it very enjoyable.

I also tasted Jack Daniels Honey Whisky infused with Earl Grey, which improved an oversweet, unpleasant product for me. But I was also lucky enough to try Johnnie Walker Blue, King George V edition, which typically retails at between £450 and £500 for 70cl. My bank account just collapsed.

It was an amazing experience, similar to Blue label in the past but slightly crisper with more obvious hints of smoke and toffee on the nose. It firmly caressed my mouth and seduced my tongue to near ecstasy, the slight hints of spice, oak and softness mellowing on top. This would be my drug of choice due to its apparent body and mind altering abilities; an expensive habit though.

I’d urge anyone who isn’t particularly fond of Scotch single malt to try, you might be pleasantly surprised. But just know that I actually started on bourbon such as Woodford Reserve and worked hard to enjoy what I enjoy today. I’d recommend popping to Roast and meeting Sebastien, as he truly understands whisky and is the man to help you explore it.

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