SINGLE MALT IN SIX DRAMS
BY SAM RILEY
The world of whisky is every bit as fascinating and addictive as its fine wine counterpart, and just as appealing to passionate hedonists and collectors. When the Chelsea Vintners team aren’t enjoying an incredible bottle of wine, we are equally partial to a dram or two!
There is a reason why the word whisky derives from the Celtic uisge beathe, meaning water of life; this unique spirit has given life to drinkers around the world for centuries, with the best examples representing the ultimate in fine spirits and commanding prices that make even the most exclusive wines seem positively accessible…
Sam Riley, just one of our several in-house whisky enthusiasts, has mapped out his own journey into the beguiling world of single malt whisky in six sensational drams. Cheers and slàinte mhath!
An accessible international classic thoroughly deserving of its reputation as the ‘nectar of the gods’. This is a classic foray into Islay whisky and a real essential for any enthusiast’s home collection.
Intensely flavoured and full bodied, dominated by peat, iodine and seaweed, but with a rich, deep tropical sweetness. Pungent smoke fills the palate with a gentle hint of caramelised pineapple, followed by a long sea salt finish and hints of cask oak. Best served with cold kippers and freshly shucked Scottish oysters.
COMPASS BOX ‘THE PEAT MONSTER’ ARCANA
This properly peated number comes from London maestros Compass Box. CB are blenders at the very top of their game, showing that some of the best drops on the planet come from the ancient art of marrying casks to create a sum better than the parts. Blended whisky fell out of fashion around the turn of the millennium, largely because buyers became fearful that they were being fobbed off with unsellable cheap nonsense (which many were). Founder John Glaser has the obvious answer to this problem – and it’s written on the back of each bottle. By releasing a full recipe to accompany each blend, you can see (although probably never replicate) just what you’re enjoying. A special 20th Anniversary edition of their classic Peat Monster was dubbed the Arcana and aged in custom French oak barrels for an additional 2 years. Jaw droppingly good.
This waited patiently on my list for a long time before I finally tasted it with a good friend and wizard of a sommelier, Dom Smith. The richness and complexity is just mind-blowing, like a liquid Christmas pudding; full of spice, smoke and treacle, PX sherry, cherry and roasted nuts. What was ridiculous was how easy it was to drink! After our first mouthful I remember just grinning at each other – we didn’t need to talk to explain the giddy joy it brought. Further proof that blended whisky can be truly great.
ICHIRO’S MALT CHICHIBU IPA CASK FINISH 2017
Ichiro Akuto, the man behind Chichibu and Hanyu, might just be the greatest independent distiller in Japan. For this incredibly rare bottling, he emptied a few casks of his Chichibu single malt into a holding tank before sending this precious cargo to his favourite craft brewer, who aged their top IPA in it for an extended period. The brewery returned the ‘beer-washed’ single malt casks to Ichiro to fill with his single malt for an extra special maturation. As a lover of IPAs, the obvious imparting of hoppy bitterness alongside flavours of blossom honey, yuzu and grapefruit won me over in an instant. This shows that Japanese distillers have not just an admirable respect for tradition, but a wonderful streak for experimentation as well.
PAPPY VAN WINKLE 23YO
To Kentucky and perhaps the most revered name in Bourbon County … Pappy Van Winkle. Everything I’ve ever tasted with those words on has knocked me backwards – they’re just so delicious and you can easily see why they command the prices they do with their scarcity. I’ve got a terribly sweet tooth and great Bourbon for me hits all the same high points as a great dessert … toasted coconut, roasted espresso, dark chocolate, buttery toffee, vanilla, nutmeg and star anise. This delivered by the bucket load and tasted like a hypothetical combination of a Bounty Bar and a Werther’s Original Butterscotch, two British classics I’m rather partial to! True whiskey hedonists won’t do much better in the way of drinking pleasure.
THE LAST DROP 1971 TRIPLE MATURED 45YO
A sensational gift from my colleague Cecily, this revealed to me just how good Scotch can get if you wait. It was humbling to drink a serious dram that has matured for twice as long as I’ve been alive, revealing a complexity and softness that only the greatest patience can produce. Enjoyed at the end of a great dinner with friends, every drop was savoured and went down effortlessly, but the remarkable depth of flavour from three separate maturations stunned us all into silence. My only complaint is that there’s none left – and that it’s given me the insatiable desire to find something that might live up to it.
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