It would be unfair for me to say that innovation doesn’t happen in whisky very often; bearing in mind that this is the same spirit we’ve been producing since before we documented it in 1494, the wheel has probably changed marginally more. Having said all that there is a wind of change a foot in Scotch, no more than a small breeze perhaps, but as demand grows and the increased perception of its value as a luxury good, the whole industry has had to take stock. Here’s the lowdown on some more interesting things going on in Scotch.
1. The Macallan 1824 Range (Gold, Amber, Sienna and Port)
The new Macallan range is one major change in thought. Even the most novice of whisky drinkers know that the age of a whisky has long been the mark of its value and quality; certainly whisky companies have not been shy in reflecting the price against the age of their stock. My personal opinion on any whisky has always been derived by the liquid in the bottle, rather than age on the label and as the demand for whisky grows, the whisky industry is perhaps coming round to my train of thought. Perhaps the price aged stock can command in Asia helps.
Instead of getting bogged down on the age of a particular whisky, the new Macallan range instead concentrates on the confidence in their liquid and the “magic” performed by their Whisky Maker Bob Dalgarno in matching casks to expressions. Effectively the four colours, Gold, Amber, Sienna and Port, are Bob’s reflection of flavour as well as the colour liquid in the bottle. Interesting I hear you say, but what’s the liquid like? Pretty good, the Sienna is a particular favourite and is available from around £65 mark. It’s typically Macallan, oily and mellow with a light vanilla sweetness and a long finish. Drinking a Macallan is a bit like driving a Bentley, you’re unlikely to be disappointed.
2. Clan Denny (Girven) Single Grain 21 year old 59.6% ABV
Meanwhile over in Glasgow there is a gust of change. Widely covered in the press last week, brothers Fred and Stewart Laing parted ways at Douglas Laing Ltd, with Stewart Laing setting up his own business, Hunter Laing. It all seems very amicable and they have split the brands like Provenance, Big Peat and Old & Rare range between them. One which will be staying with Douglas Lain, is the Clan Denny range, which includes some blended malts and some single grains. This particular Clan Denny is a cracker, I challenge anyone to turn their nose up at this. It’s deliciously sweet, slightly tangy and surprisingly easy going for a dram of its ABV. It’s one of those drams that is a great of example of why single grains aren’t to be sniffed at and have a big future over the coming years. At around the £60 a bottle, it’s fantastic value for money compared to some whiskies of a similar age or price. Make sure you give it a bash.
3. Highland Park Loki 15 year old (Valhalla collection) 48.7%
Not so much new news, but the reviews that Highland Parks Valhalla range has been receiving have been nothing short of sparkling. Thor was the first of the four annual releases taking inspiration from Highland Park’s Nordic routes and Loki has followed this year to a rapturous reception. The whole range is limited edition and here’s where the problems lies - it’s been such a succcess, try and find a bottle! Loki is one of the most treacherous and mischievous characters in Norse mythology and Highland Park have fittingly created an expression that has been matured in both Spanish sherry and heavily peated casks. They have ended up producing a deeply intense whisky, which is a stramash of delicious ripe sweetness and smoky punch. If you see it, buy two - keep one and sell the other one!
4. The Edinburgh Whisky Stramash, 25/26th of May 2013, Surgeons’ Hall, Edinburgh.
Talking of stramash’s, forgive me for mentioning my own madcap whisky exploits this month, as the Whisky Stramash returns in three sessions over the 25th and 26th at the Surgeons’ Hall in Edinburgh. After Edinburgh embraced our off the wall approach last year, we felt it would only be fair to return this year with even more audacious plans. I’m not giving too much away, but they do include Deanston Malt Whisky dressing up visitors in vintage clothing and transporting them back in time to take their photograph, Big Peat getting all “Heston” molecular and sensory with bacon and HP sauce, and Woodford Reserve creating a pop up speakeasy - think Boardwalk Empire, cocktails and lindehoppers. All that plus much more and with over 200 different whiskies to try, you’d be mad to miss it!
5. Glen Moray 1986 Portwood Finish, 25 years old, 43%
There’s a bit of excitement going on at Glen Moray as they launch their new Portwood expression over the coming weeks. The release is aged in bourbon casks for 24 years, then transferred in to predominantly tawny Portwood casks and fired to the top of the warehouse for a year to get all the heat the cask requires to achieve the desired finish. Another scarce whisky, limited to 3000 bottles, you can expect a mouthful of dried fruits, cherries with a fantastic sweetness replacing the dryness you would expect from the bourbon casks. Priced around the £140 mark and packaged in a superb retro wooden box, this rare vintage is worth seeking out.
• Darroch Ramsay is the organiser of the Edinburgh Whisky Stramash which will be held on May 25/26