“While through your pores the dews distil / Like amber bead” Address to a Haggis
With Burns Night coming up this Friday, we sought the advice of Michael from newly opened Grape Minds in Summertown, an independent wine, beer and spirits shop, for their top whisky tips and recommendations.
Whisky is the subject of great adoration and complete bafflement, a delightful drop and hobby for some and a nervy mystery for others. While people can claim to “know nothing about wine” but still enjoy a glass of something fruity, for many, whisky is a closed book, too complex and too powerful to try on their own. But it doesn’t have to be so complicated.
What is whisky?
Whisky is produced from fermented grain, just like beer. This is then distilled (boiled to separate and intensify the alcohol) and aged in wooden casks, usually for several years.
There are various ways to produce a grain spirit, but with malt whisky, the grain is encouraged to germinate. This means the seed splits and begins the very early process of forming root and shoot, and in doing so turns its stored energy into sugar, which is later fermented into alcohol. The process of ‘malting’ a grain, and then drying out the damp maltings over fire, give whisky some of its unique flavour, and it is here that smoky and peaty flavours may be imparted. Single malts are whiskies from a single distillery.
Whisky, when freshly distilled, is completely clear, rough and lacking in flavour. The type of barrel(s) used, and the length of time it ages, determine the flavour and the smoothness of the finished product.
Peat in Whisky
The most obvious and divisive difference in whisky styles is the influence of peat. Many whiskies use peat, but broadly those made on the islands, and especially the island of Islay (pron. Eye-Luh) show the smoky, seaweedy and medicinal character of peat. Many whisky lovers delight in generous peat character, but it’s not for everybody.
How to drink
“I’ll drink my whisky as I like, and your whisky however you serve it.”
There are no rules for drinking whisky. If you want ice, put it over ice. If you want ginger ale, feel free. Traditional wisdom states that serving at room temperature with a drop of water in it will help you get the most of the flavours, but it’s a personal choice. Just don’t serve a fine single malt in a tumbler full of Coke unless you want to see a whisky lover cry.
Grape Minds Whisky Favourites
- Fettercairn 12-Year-Old: Fruity, caramel flavoured and easy to love, it’s a layered and delicious whisky with a long finish. £47.99
- Dalmore Port Wood: Grand mouth-filling flavours with a persistent red fruit character from the port casks the whisky was finished in. £58.99
- Jura 10-Year-Old: Delightful whisky with approachable fruity and coffee aromas in a sweeter style. £32.49
- Talisker 10-Year-Old: Fine balance of peaty smoke with dried fruit sweetness and pepper – an iconic whisky from Skye. £39.99
- Cotswold Distillery Single Malt: A rogue English whisky from the northern Cotswolds; toffee and dried fruit character, and surprisingly deeply flavoured. £44.99
There is plenty of time between now and Friday to pop in and grab yourself a bottle, and be sure to follow Grape Minds on Facebook for regular tasting events!