In my early adult days, I had tried the usual suspects – entry level blends in oversized glasses with too much ice – and found them unpleasant at best. So, I moved on to wine, cider and beer and was never really tempted to try spirits again. But then, at the advanced age of 34, I discovered…
My eye were opened at a chance encounter at the workshops at Whisky Live in 2004. My dad was a whisky fan, and I ended up booking for him, a good friend and myself. One of those workshops was the Classic Malts, presented by Dave Broom himself. To say I was blown away was an understatement! I was officially a convert to whiskies that had nuances of smell, taste and finish.
Lagavulin 16 was for me a revelation and remains so to this day. It is beautifully balanced in all respects and is wonderfully accessible to anybody trying peated whisky for the first time. My collection is never without a bottle.
Buffalo Trace – Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Growing up I had been exposed to the likes of Jack Daniels, and while drinking it with cola was fine, I failed to find much magic. Even now, when I suggest to Scotch drinkers that there are fine bourbons and whiskies to be found from the USA, it is hard to get them past the view that America is defined by “Jack”.
My own view was changed by the second workshop booked at that same fateful Whisky Live. I think this one was presented by Gary Gayheart who was the then Master Distiller at Buffalo Trace. Again, I was simply overwhelmed by what was before me and loved every minute of the workshop and interactions with a superb product and its ambassador in chief. The original Buffalo Trace remains for me a defining bourbon that is typically easy drinking and flavourful, with a lovely long and lingering finish.
Great King Street – Artist’s Blend
The toughest thing about a shortlist like this is not filling it with Compass Box products – there are so many excellent whiskies from John Glaser and his team that I love. In a world that increasingly tries to tell us that the best whisky is single malt, in 2000 Compass Box bucked the trend and continues to fly the flag to this day. While I love single malts, the art of making a beautiful blend is something to be admired. My “go to” blend is The Artist’s Blend, which ticks every box: no added colour, non-chill filtered, and consisting of top class malt and grain whiskies.
Whisky newcomers as well as old hands can enjoy this dram, with its lovely rich fruity taste, added to by hints of sweetness and close to zero alcohol burn. It is a truly great example of the blenders art, a great dram to enjoy at any time – straight up or as part of a cocktail.
Redbreast 12 Cask Strength
What would life be without Irish whiskey? I love many things about this dram: The cask strength bottling provides a thick, oily body, the sweet and spicy finish goes on for ages, and a wonderful nose that smacks of nuts, spice and dried peel, reminding me of my favourite biscotti.
The big thing for me however is always how smooth and rounded this is, despite the high ABV. Redbreast 12 CS even pairs well with a great espresso – remember that life is too short to not enjoy two great indulgences, coffee and whiskey, at the same time!
As a confirmed peathead, any listing of only five drams would have to include something from either Bruichladdich or Ardbeg. It’s a tough choice between an Octomore or this, but for me Corryvreckan defines what I imagine Islay to be.
Not the conventional choice – most peat lovers would pick Uigedail. But I prefer the less sherried finish along with the slightly higher alcohol content, and that’s before you get to the overwhelmingly nautical, oily and smoky nose! A whisky of this type should be a full sensory assault and Corryvreckan delivers on all fronts. The taste for me is of pepper with hints of salt, thick and viscous, with the finish being one of the longest I’ve experienced and producing flavours of coffee, dark chocolate, salted caramel and pepper sauce.
Not an everyday dram for sure, but one that when you are in the mood for it is unmatched!
Join the Cape Whisky Club!
Every month the Cape Whisky Club hosts whisky lovers from all over the mother city to join in a shared whisky tasting. Anyone is welcome to join! If we like you, we’ll invite you to the private group and start sending you invitations for whisky tastings.