Food & Drink: The single reason to indulge in malts a la mode

The traditional drink on St Andrew's day is whisky. But with so much choice, why wait?

FOR THOSE us who like a malt whisky on St Andrew's (30 Nov), or any other day, there has never been such a choice as there is this year.

As consumer interest has grown, the Scottish distilleries that previously passed on all their whisky to blenders have increasingly set some aside for bottling as single malt. If a distillery has not done so, an independent merchant or bottler has acquired stocks of the whisky and done so himself (look out for newish bottlers such as Murray McDavid, Adelphi and Scot's as well as more familiar names like Cadenhead or Gordon and MacPhail). The only malt whisky still not bottled as a single is from Kininvie, a distillery established as recently as 1990. In contrast, some distilleries mothballed, long-closed or even demolished, bequeathed stocks of maturing whiskies that are still being bottled.

Those distilleries whose whiskies can be found as singles total more than 100, but others' malts appear in a variety of strengths, ages and styles of maturation. This year, I have sampled more than 500. This astonishing total reflects distillers' efforts to find new ways of presenting their products. There are even fashions emerging among whiskies. Here are some malts a la mode:

Millennium malts

Most of these have some genuinely distinctive feature. For example, more peat was used in drying malt in the days when distillers did this job themselves. This is evident in Macallan's crystal-packaged Millennium edition (at no less than pounds 2,000) - a 50-year-old with the sooty smokiness of an open fire behind its more familiar rich, sweetish, complexity. Likewise, Glenmorangie's Original, at just pounds 175 and 24 years, which has a more toasty smokiness to underpin its lighter, spicy delicacy. Both distillers today use bought-in malted barley, as a majority of their competitors do. The younger and less expensive Glenmorangie Millennium (around pounds 25 from Sainsbury's and other multiples; 12 years) has a syrupy touch from its maturation in new Bourbon barrels. The usual 10-year-old is aged partly in Bourbon barrels, being used a second time for Glenmorangie.

Cask strength

Depending upon the degree of evaporation during ageing, most malt whisky emerges from the cask with an alcohol percentage in the lower fifties or sixties, but is diluted to the standard 43 or 40 and chill-filtered. The latter procedure ensures brightness, but removes some flavours. Cask- strength malts, aimed at the connoisseur, are usually not "processed" in this way. In Aberlour's a'bunadh ("The Original"), at 59.6 per cent (pounds 35.99 Oddbins), the usual berry-fruit and nut-toffee character becomes so chewy as to resemble alcoholic nougat. The more mature millennium version is pounds 69 from Whisky Magazine (020-8563-2975 or www.whiskymag.com).

Vintage-dated

"Single" means that all the whisky in the bottle came from one distillery, but not necessarily one batch. Normally, bottlings of single malt are composed from several production runs, in order to achieve a consistency of character. The year on the label refers to the youngest whisky in the bottle. If, rather than an age, a year is indicated, that whisky will be influenced by slight changes in the barley and weather during maturation. The honeyish Balvenie is offered with both a year-date and cask number. I found a distinctly acacia-like note, and more butterscotch, in the 1967 (rrp pounds 199).

Wood finishes

Most malt whiskies are aged in either former Bourbon barrels or sherry butts or hogsheads. The practice of transferring them towards the end of maturation to some other type of cask (perhaps previously used for Madeira, Port (both rrp pounds 24.99), or most recently Cognac (rrp pounds 85), was pioneered by Glenmorangie. Now, other distillers are following suit. Bowmore's typically smoke, salty, ferny, flavours are now available in a balance with the cedar and fruit of claret wood. The peachy Glenlivet steps into yet-newer territory, with a fruitier-than-usual, crisp edition "finished" in previously-unused Limousin oak (rrp pounds 24.99 Oddbins).

Vatted (or "Pure") malts

These are not singles. A "vatting" comprises several malt whiskies, but none of the grain (unmalted barley, wheat or maize) that lightens a blended Scotch. A good example is Corriemhor Cigar Reserve (around pounds 28), with an appropriate smokiness. The influence of orangey-tasting Dalmore malt whisky is evident. St Andrew's Day? I might save this one until after Christmas dinner.

Specialist stockists: Peckham & Rye, Glasgow and Edinburgh; 0141-445 4555; Vintage House, London, 0171-437 2592 www.sohowhisky.com; Milroy's, London, 0171-437 0893; The Wee Dram, Bakewell, 01629-812235; The Whisky Shop, Lincoln, 01522 537834.

READER OFFER

The revised, edition of `Michael Jackson's Malt Whisky Companion', with over 800 single malts tasted and reviewed, is available to `Independent' readers at the special price of pounds 10.00 inc P&P. Readers should order by telephoning 01279 623 946 quoting reference 180771 (`The Independent') together with credit card and delivery details and the ISBN reference for the book: 07513 07084

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

    Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

    The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
    Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

    Stolen youth

    Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
    Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

    Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

    He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
    Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

    Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

    Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
    Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

    Made by Versace, designed by her children

    Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
    Anyone for pulled chicken?

    Pulling chicks

    Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
    9 best steam generator irons

    9 best steam generator irons

    To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing