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
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice