“Inspiring bold John Barleycorn! What dangers thou canst make us scorn! Wi’ tipenny, we fear nae evil; Wi’ usquebae, we’ll face the devil!”
“O Whisky! soul o’ plays an’ pranks! Accept a Bardie’s gratefu’ thanks!” (Robert Burns 1759 - 1796)
The cold, dark month of January has little in the way of respite to offer, luckily enough for us Scots; we do have one night of this month to celebrate.
For January 25th is Burns night, the night we celebrate the great bard himself, though as for any Scottish party we are inviting the whole world to join in, so this Burn’s night why not crack out the Haggis, neeps and tatties (Haggis, turnip and potato for those of you not familiar with Scots) and partner it with the national drink. No, I’m not talking about irn bru, though that would be the perfect non-alcoholic alternative, I’m of course talking about whisky.
I’ve picked five of my favourite malt whiskies to really help you celebrate this Burns night. The man himself was endemically tied to whisky, he was of course an excise man at one point, though he was also fairly well known to celebrate the entrepreneurship of those who distilled their whisky a little more illicitly.
For those of you who maybe new to whisky, the best place to start is with a lowland malt, a region which is famed for its light and floral malts and will be the most enjoyable to try for the first time. It really is the perfect gateway malt.
My personal choice of these would be the Auchentoshan Three Wood.
It’s a triple distilled malt from a great distillery near Glasgow. The triple distillation means it will be much lighter and perfect for beginners, or those who like their whisky refreshing.
It is also triple matured, with its maturation time being split between bourbon casks and no less than two types of sherry cask. This gives it an extra richness of flavour, with a toffee and Christmas cake nose, perhaps enjoyed as a pre-dinner drink before the supper. Price:- £40 approx.
Of course there are those of you who might want to try something that packs a little more punch. If your tastes are a little richer then why not try the Glendronach 15 year old?
This distillery was once considered a sleeping giant but for my mind is now one of the best ‘newer’ distilleries around. I use the term ‘newer’ lightly, as Glendronach have been around since 1826 and have been producing great malt since then, however it is only the last 10-20 years that they have really begun to excel once more, specialising in sherry cask matured whisky.
The 15 year old is aptly named and this is a great age for it, it’s a rich sherry casked malt with fruit and chocolate aromas. Price:- £45
Perhaps something a little more traditional for such an occasion is preferable? Well then the Springbank is what you want and the Springbank 12 year-old cask strength in particular.
Campbeltown was once one of the biggest whisky producing regions but now very few distilleries based there still produce, Springbank is the most ubiquitous of those that still do. One of the oldest and best known distilleries, it is still run independently and is family owned.
All of the production is still done in-house at the distillery, which is rare to find these days.
The whisky itself is fascinating, this 12 year old is cask strength and depending on the batch usually clocks in at around 54-55% abv, which is ok to be drunk neat but some people might prefer a few drops of water.
Nice and spicy with hints of cinnamon, butterscotch and smoke this will be the perfect accompaniment for your main course on Burns night. Price:- £45
I know some of you out there are wondering where is the smokey peaty one? Well don’t worry I’ve got the perfect malt for you. The Caol Ila 12 year old, (pronounced Cull Eela) is known as the hidden gem of Islay and for good reason. It’s lighter in phenol level (this causes those lovely peaty flavours) than its southern coastal cousins and for that reason has a much more subtly complex flavour.
It has a lovely oiliness to it, with hints of smoke and sea salt coupled with fruit. It is an excellent drink to finish off the night. Price:-£35
It is a little known fact that Rabbie Burns almost left Scotland for the Caribbean to be a sugar plantation owner before his poems made him famous and there is little doubt he’d see the humour in my final choice.
A perfect blend of Scotland and the Caribbean, this malt whisky is finished off in a rum cask to give it an interesting hit of flavour. The 14 year old Balvenie Golden Caribbean cask is a cracker.
One of the best known Speysides, the Balvenie have earned their fame for one reason, consistently good whiskies. This particular malt is one shining example of their great cask management and excellent spirit.
Well balanced and with a nice hint of Vanilla and citrus fruit, this whisky is an excellent accompaniment with dessert after your Burns supper. Price: - £42-45