Whiskies for Burns Day
WineAlign Spirits Review
by Margaret Swaine
January 25th is fast coming upon us and with it the annual commemorative tributes to the life, works and spirit of the great Scottish poet, Robert Burns born on that day in 1759. Burns’ is most famous for penning Auld Lang Syne and To a Haggis. Traditional Burns suppers centre on haggis (sheep’s heart, lung and liver stuffed in a sheep’s stomach), neeps (turnips), tatties (potatoes) and plenty of whisky and music. Here are some whisky suggestions to raise a glass to the bard.
Speyside in the craggy heather covered Highlands is the dominant whisky area in Scotland with about 50 distilleries between the towns of Elgin, Rothes, Grantown on Spey, Dufftown and Keith. An official “Malt Whisky Trail” travels through Speyside to Benromach, Dallas Dhu, Glen Moray, Strathisla (home and heart of Chivas Regal), Glen Grant, Cardhu and the famous Glenfiddich, and The Glenlivet as well as Speyside Cooperage.
In Elgin, the historic Gordon & MacPhail shop is an essential stop-over for any connoisseur looking to take a nip or more of Speyside home. The shop, run by the family-owned independent bottler, has been a fixture on Elgin’s South Street since 1895, and now houses an array of Scotch malt whisky, including some very rare bottles.
Gordon & MacPhail which has been bottling malt whiskies for over 120 years, has been solely owned by the Urquhart family since 1915 who own that shop and the bottling business. They produce 380 different expressions of whisky and bottle from 103 different distillers, 30 of which no longer exist. The company purchases new make (unaged spirit) from the distillers and then ages it in cask themselves – so some of those slumbering casks contain spirit from now defunct distilleries. The family company owns more aged whisky than anyone in the world.
Much of their inventory is bottled with the vintage date (when it was distilled) and the bottling date. An understated masterpiece from Gordon & MacPhail is the 1945 Macallan aged for 68 long years in fresh sherry hogsheads before being bottled in 2013 at a natural cask strength of 45.1% under their Speymalt label.
In 1992 the company bought their first distillery: Benromach Distillery established in 1898 but mothballed in 1983 by former owners. They completely refurbished the gutted and run down facility and reopened for whisky production in 1998. The goal was to reproduce the gorgeous pre-1960s Speyside character: light, fruity, and beautifully balanced with subtle smokiness. (Most current Speyside have practically no peatiness.)
Benromach Classic Speyside 10-Year-Old is exactly that expression. Fruity with sweet sherry notes and gentle peat throughout. Benromach Organic Speyside 2010 (bottled in 2016) is the world’s first “certified organic” scotch whisky.
Islay (which means Island in Gaelic) off the west coast of Scotland boasts the peat-smokiest drams in the country. Laphroaig Distillery which has been making whisky for over 200 years is well loved for peat reeking whiskies. In recently released Laphroaig Select, they’ve tamed the smoke and added some new American oak influence to help introduce newcomers to their portfolio. Laphroaig Select is a marriage of Quarter Cask, PX Cask, Triple Wood and Ten-Year-Old whiskies hand-picked by Laphroaig’s Master Distiller, John Campbell. Ian Macleod Dun Bheagan Islay 8-Year-Old Single Malt delivers the Islay style at a bargain price.
Dewar’s Whisky is aiming to convince people to drop the haggis for a good scotch egg when ringing in Robbie Burns’ day. The Scotch Egg Club, which will take place in cities across North America as a pop-up speakeasy on January 25th is designed to celebrate two of Tommy Dewar’s great passions: whisky and chickens.
First launched in Brooklyn last fall, Tommy’s Egg Kitchen will make its Canadian debut in Toronto open for one night only to host a scotch egg competition presided by acclaimed Scottish chef James Forrest. The culinary competition features six chefs from across Canada who will compete for the title of best scotch egg. Guests will have the chance to eat and judge, tasting each of the finalists’ scotch eggs to determine the ultimate winner based not only on taste but how well it pairs with a Dewar’s cocktail.
The best scotch egg I ever tasted was on The Delicious Ale Trail in Yorkshire at The Shibden Mill Inn in the heart of West Yorkshire. The 17th century property, tucked deep in a valley by a river, was named Yorkshire’s Favourite Pub 2011. Their scotch eggs were tiny, tender quail eggs with still runny yolks surrounded by hot sausage meat with a crispy, crunchy coating. Crackly pig skin and house made mustard relish vegetables completed the dish. I wonder if our chefs can do better?
Dewar’s, which claims to be the world’s most awarded blended Scotch whisky with more than 500 medals earned in international competitions, was created by John Dewar, Sr. in 1846. John Dewar pioneered the art of blending using up to 40 different single malt and single grain whiskies in his blends. His two sons, John A. Dewar Jr. and Thomas “Tommy” Dewar, expanded the brand to become a global market leader by 1896. Dewar’s 12-Year-Old, a blend created by Dewar’s sixth master blender, Tom Aitken is super smooth and multi-layered. Té Bheag Unchilfiltered Whisky, a blend malt whisky with lighter grain whiskies, is a great value scotch with a neat story behind it.
Aultmore Distillery has been producing whisky since 1897 on Buckie Road in Speyside. Their water source on the Foggy Moss, is a secluded site once known for smugglers and illicit stills. That water, filtered through gorse and heather, they believe is key to the fine taste of their whisky, as well as slow maturation in oak casks and their copper pot stills. Aultmore 12-Year-Old is a gentle floral dram without a hint of peat.
Robert Burns from the Isle of Arran Distillers, one of the few remaining independent distilleries in Scotland based at Lochranza on the Isle of Arran, is an eloquent smooth dram. Although the bard never actually visited the Isle of Arran, he certainly would have seen it on clear days as he laboured in the fields of Ayrshire on his father’s farm.
Cheers! Or in Scottish Gaelic “Slàinte Mhath!” (good health).
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