Four Great Whiskies to Try

Did you celebrate International Whisk(e)y Day (March 27) this week? By the way, the brackets around that all important “e” are necessary as we do not wish to exclude those not Scottish. It is, of course, not to be confused with World Whisky Day (WWD, the third Saturday of May). Seriously, quite why this great spirit needs a day of celebration, let alone two, is a bit puzzling, but why not. Debate it over your favourite dram (can we say “dram” for whiskies non-Scottish? And given we must sneak in the extra ‘e’ for those non-Scottish, what is the plural? Whiskees? Aha, I kid).

Words by Drinks Writer, Ken Gargett

IWD was founded in 2008 and WWD in 2012, so neither have a particularly long history, but anything which gives us an excuse to enjoy our fave whiskies/whiskees must be a good thing.

There is a National Bourbon Day, so why not one (or two) for whisky? Some of my favourite days of the year – and I swear I am not making these up – are National Men Make Dinner Day (no surprise it happens to be my sister’s birthday), Cook Something Bold and Pungent Day, World Kindness Day and National Ample Time Day. Still not making it up.

That last one I checked further. Apparently, National Ample Time Day emanates from Tulsa (and who among us did not start singing a little bit of Gene Pitney at the very mention) and is designed to “recognise the importance of time management, making ample time in one’s life for priorities to make the most of each day and live a completely fulfilling life.” I, for one, must be considered a rank failure on that score, having wasted part of today reading about National Ample Time Day.

But I have digressed.

Whiskey (we’ll go with the all-encompassing for the moment) has long ventured forth from its traditional homes of Ireland and Scotland (for fun, ask the next Scot or Irishman you meet where whiskey originated). Witness our own Sullivans Cove winning the gong for World’s Best Single Cask Single Malt Whisky at the 2018 World Whisky Awards. Japanese whiskey is perhaps the hottest drink on the planet at the moment, although thousands of ginophiles (AKA gin fanatics) might dispute that.

I’ll happily confess, when it comes to whiskies, I am besotted with those gloriously peaty, smoky Islay malts – Ardbeg, Lagavulin, Laphroaig and more. Thrilling stuff. I understand that others are repulsed by the very same characters, but then I can’t be responsible if they have tarmac for tastebuds. However, occasionally one encounters something that causes a recalibration. There are, of course, many other whiskies I enjoy but one that really jumped up the other day was Glenmorangie’s Signet.

Glenmorangie and their excellent whiskies will be familiar to anyone fond of a quality spirit. From the Highland region, among their many claims to fame are the tallest stills in all of Scotland. They also own a favourite distillery of mine, the Ardbeg Distillery in Islay.

Glenmorangie kicked off in 1843 when William Matheson converted an old brewery, which had been operating since the very early 1700s, into a whisky distillery. They have come a long way. Now part of the Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton mega-empire, they produce around ten million bottles annually, making them Scotland’s most popular single malt distillery.

These include various whiskies in the typical age categories – 18, 19 (quite why 18 and 19 seem odd, but no doubt the master distiller would have a perfectly logical explanation) and 25. There are vintage whiskies and special editions, such as the 2018 Spios release. There are limited editions and, as with so many distilleries, whiskies for retail travel – what we used to know as duty-free.

The core range includes the Original plus – in a departure from normal Scottish practice – whiskies labelled Lasanta, The Quinta Ruban and Nectar d’Or.

Today’s High Five is only four, but we think that these wonderful whiskies more than make-up for it. Any of these would be a perfect way to celebrate International Whisk(e)y Day or even World Whisky Day, although for me, none of these days comes close to the best of the lot, and again, not making this up – Abet and Aid Punsters Day (8 November, if you were wondering). It allows me to share what has been assessed to be the greatest pun of all time: “Though he’s not very humble, there’s no police like Holmes…” Well, I liked it.

Back to the whisky; prices are, of course, always approximates.

LASANTA

Like the Nectar d’Or and The Quinta Ruban, Lasanta has spent a minimum of 12 years in oak, and like all of these Glenmorangie whiskies, they are heavily awarded in the various whisky community shows. Lasanta spends ten years in ex-bourbon casks, made from American white oak, and its final two years in sherry casks, from Jerez in Spain, which had previously been used for oloroso and pedro ximenez sherries. I find this to be the more autumnal of the Glenmorangie whiskies. There are notes of lemon curd and hazelnut. A restrained but notable character of the oak. Underlying notes of caramel and sultanas filter through. By the way, Lasanta means warm and cuddly (or perhaps more accurately and more prosaically, passionate) in Gaelic. $108

THE QUINTA RUBAN

This is the dark and exotic member of the Glenmorangie portfolio. It also spent ten years in white oak casks but then was moved to ruby port pipes from the port houses of the Douro (Quinta being the local name for these estates). The flavours move through sweet honey and raisin, vanilla, spices, chocolate and orange rinds. Underneath, there seems a whiff of rose petal. It is a complex whisky, showing both some fiery spirit and yet a velvety smoothness. Love it. $108

NECTAR D’OR

No one is going to confess to this but there is a theory floating around…Nectar d’Or is aged in casks formerly used for Sauternes, the great sweet wine of France. Now, as LVMH owns Glenmorangie and, elsewhere in the empire, they own the greatest Sauternes of all, Chateau d’Yquem, is it too much to wonder if perhaps a few barrels which once were home to that most glorious nectar were then used for this version of nectar? Whatever, the result is a lovely smoky whisky (nothing like the smoke we might see in Islay but a much more subtle version) with notes of ginger, orange rind, almonds, crème brûlée and more. A lighter colour than some, it is finely balanced with a soft, creamy texture. A delicious whisky. $120

SIGNET

Beautifully packaged. I’ll confess, I had never seen this whisky when I first tried it recently. A revelation. A joy. There were notes of florals, woodwork, forest floor, a gentle smokiness that lingered exquisitely without ever intruding. The more one looked at this whisky, the more notes of tobacco leaves, coffee beans, malt and cigar boxes emerged. Complex and although quite powerful, it was so elegant that it seemed to dance across the palate. Very refined and with the longest of aftertastes. A superb whisky by any standards. As for its production, Glenmorangie like to keep that “clouded in secrecy,” though confess that it spent time in “bespoke” American white oak casks. $240

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