Each year, when the winter season arrives, a bottle of whisky can be the perfect gift for that difficult friend or relation, or even the perfect gift to yourself. But, as someone who receives plenty of whisky, I always appreciate someone putting in that extra bit of effort to find me something slightly different. Here, over the next few pages, I will look at some truly unique whiskies, which really push the boundaries in terms of experimentation and finish. There are also some whisky-related gifts, in case your lucky recipient already has too much Scotch on their shelves!
The new Glenfiddich IPA is the first of two releases from the distillery’s new Experimental Series. Rather than playing it safe, the 130-year-old distillery has instead opted for quiet innovation with this new range, which promises much more to come. The aim of the Experimental Series is to combine the brand’s passion for Scotch whisky with its boundary-pushing approach. This has seen it collaborate with trailblazers from the drinks industry and beyond, with the hope of inspiring unusual and unexpected variants. As the name might suggest, the distillery has collaborated with the local Speyside Craft Brewery to infuse its whisky with the citrus and tang you would expect from an Indian pale ale. Master blender, Brian Kinsman, worked with the brewery to create a brand-new beer which would work well with the whisky. This intensive process saw lots of experimentation, with the casks used to mature beers of different strength and with varying levels of hops. After this rigorous process, the whisky was ready to be put into the beer-soaked casks.
If you are looking for a whisky that tastes like a beer, then move along. Instead, this is a whisky that sits nicely alongside an IPA. The nose is unmistakably a Glenfiddich, although the fruit and sweetness has been ramped up, along with an aromatic burst of hops. The palate is vibrant and zesty, coupled with sweet vanilla and toffee.
TOMATIN 9-YEAR-OLD CARIBBEAN RUM CASK
The Tomatin Distillery, located in the outskirts of Scotland’s most northerly city, Inverness, is fast becoming one of my favourites. After a number of years flying under the radar of many whisky drinkers, the distiller has gradually built a sterling reputation for making top-notch Scotch whisky that does not cost the earth. My first contact with Tomatin came at Royal Mile Whiskies’ annual Whisky Fringe back in 2013, when the legendary Alistair Mutch guided me through the entire range. I have been hooked ever since, as well as being impressed by the distiller’s increasing willingness to experiment with different types of casks.
Three new expressions were launched during the summer, the highlight of which is the 9-Year-Old Caribbean Rum Cask. The result is a tropical fruit explosion with flavours of pineapple, coconut and banana on both the nose and the palate, alongside some creamy vanilla and a hint of allspice which works its way through. Believe me, you will want to grab one of the 6,000 bottles before they all disappear from the shelves.
THE DALMORE QUINTESSENCE
2016 is a big year for Dalmore, as the distillery’s master blender, Richard Paterson, celebrates 50 years in the industry. Better known as ‘The Nose’ for his exceptional ability to assess whiskies through smell alone, Richard has become one of the whisky world’s best-known faces. He has spent the last five decades taking Scotland’s national drink to the four corners of the globe, which has earned him celebrity status amongst whisky lovers. During this time, Paterson has also been at the forefront of innovation within the industry – creating some of the world’s most coveted and iconic whiskies. And the new Dalmore Quintessence shows this old dog still has plenty of new tricks up his sleeve. Richard describes the Quintessence as a combination of his two great passions – Dalmore Distillery and exceptional red wine. Travelling to the vineyards of California, he has picked five different types of wine cask to finish the whisky in. Following an extensive period of maturation in white oak ex-bourbon casks, the spirit was split across five red wine casks and matured for a further five years, before coming back together to create an extremely unique whisky.
The most striking thing about this dram is the deep, cherry wood colour of the liquid. This accentuates the aroma of black forest fruits on the nose, along with the sweet zing of marmalade and deep notes of molasses. The forest fruits turn into tropical fruits on the palate, with some warming ginger and the sweetness of dried raisins; truly delicious.
AS WE GET IT
Although the previous three whiskies are brilliant, some drinkers prefer their whisky to come with slightly less faff and pomp, but still with an air of mystery. If you count yourself amongst them, then As We Get It from Ian MacLeod Distillers is the one for you. The whisky does exactly what it says on the tin, with the liquid gold drawn right from the cask and placed straight into the bottle. That means no chill-filtering is carried out, no artificial colouring is added, and (dangerously) it is bottled at cask strength – pretty potent stuff! The beauty of these bottlings is that as they come straight from the cask, the whisky’s colour and strength can change with each bottling, so no two bottlings are ever the same. Also thrown into the mix is the fact that no distillery is named on the bottle – you can either buy ‘Highland’ or ‘Islay’ – but you can rely on the whisky in the bottle being of the highest quality.
With the bottlings coming straight from the cask from different distilleries each time, it is difficult to give consistent tasting notes, but MacLeod present them as the best example of a whisky from that region, so expect peaty smokiness from the ‘Islay’ and lighter, fruitier notes from the ‘Highland’. Oh, and do not forget that these regularly weigh in at 55+% ABV, so be sure to add a dash of water!