The ups and downs of the whisky world are very much in evidence in this month’s selection of staff picks. Distilleries open, grow, get mothballed, decline, close, re-emerge and change hands throughout their colourful histories. The four brands on offer here each have a story to tell that illustrates this perfectly.
A few year’s back the idea of a distillery in India producing world class single malt would have been inconceivable, yet now we have Amrut whisky by a distillery very much in its ascendancy and doing just that.
Back on the more familiar soil of Scotland we find three whiskies which illustrate the changing fortunes of the whisky industry. First, a St Magdelene whisky, gone but not forgotten the distillery has been replaced by an apartment block but some of the whisky continues to mature in casks which, from time to time, are bottled for our enjoyment.
Next we move to Campbeltown, a region which once dominated whisky production, then declined to the point of extinction before brands like Longrow, re-born within the stills at Springbank, began the revival process.
Finally we have Bruichladdich, once a fiercely independent Islay distillery and now preparing to be taken over by a French drinks giant. But, here at least, it’s the whisky rather than the politics we will focus on.
Staff Picks - our choices for this month
If you haven’t tasted a whisky from Amrut yet, then you are certainly in for a treat. I have chosen the standard Cask Strength release here as with its characteristic mix of dusty spice and ripe fruit, it’s a worthwhile purchase that takes water very well. However, almost all of the Amrut stable are high quality and its worth making a special mention on behalf of the superbly fruity Double Cask, and carefully composed Intermediate Sherry Cask, both of which are deserving of a place on your “must taste” list.
£41.95 at www.whisky-online.com
St Magdalene sadly closed in 1983 but unlike many of other lost distilleries it doesn’t draw quite the level of attention it might. Over the last few years we have seen casks released by a range of bottlers and, for my money, these spirit-driven examples from the chaps at Douglas Laing are some of the best. With a range of notes that move from a chalky, flinty minerality, dried grasses and waxy citrus into contrasting hints of beeswax and cigar leaf, this is a perfect reason to discover an often unsung, lost Lowlander.
£126.55 at www.whisky-online.com
Longrow is one of three whiskies made at the much loved Springbank distillery in Campbeltown. This "100 Proof" expression is a natural strength peated malt that hasn't been tampered with. No chill filtration, no added colour. Medium peat and toffee sweetness on the nose, underpinned by some spicy notes - fennel and clove - lead to a characteristic Campbeltown saltiness on the palate. Robust and full of personality this whisky is packaged with a no frills label. No apologetic marketing gloss, just great whisky. Britain is "enjoying" a very rainy summer so if you're fed up of hiding inside, stick some of this in a hip flask, get out there to the great outdoors and hit the trail, this drop will warm you up and lift your spirits.
£48.52 at www.masterofmalt.com
Opening on a sweet and rounded note of marron-glacé, soft ripe fruit & almond pastry, this whisky announces its intention of being dangerously drinkable. A wisp of singed biscuit and the barest hint of smoke - reminiscent of sugary pastry that's spent thirty seconds too long in the oven - comes in as a counterpoint to that nutty sweetness. Diving in we find a rich mouthfeel and balanced palate, full of fruit, nuts and honeyed sweetness, confirming our suspicion that this is a highly appealing, very accessible whisky which could work perfectly as an aperitif, accompanying dessert or whilst relaxing with the newspapers on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
£33.42 at www.masterofmalt.com
Prices correct on date of publishing