The notion that whisky must only be supped from a crystal tumbler while reclining in a leather armchair and wearing monogrammed slippers is as daft and unhelpful as that other Father’s Day gift staple, the novelty tie. True, it is bound by tradition, and the rarer blends can fetch some eye-watering prices, but at its heart it’s a tremendously unshowy spirit.
Though the Scots are the obvious whisky kingpins on these isles, the fun doesn’t stop at Hadrian’s Wall any more
But that’s not to say the whisky industry doesn’t innovate. In fact, this past year has seen many malt-based happenings that have put the emphasis on experience over convention. So if you feel the need to step up from your annual bottle of Grouse, here are a few distilleries currently causing a ripple.
The Singleton (once Singleton of Auchroisk) is one such distillery, recenly hosting a Soho ‘sensorium’ for selected spirit-lovers to learn more about its 12-year-old Speyside malt.
In conjunction with Professor Charles Spence, head of (deep breath) the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at the Department of Experimental Psychology, Oxford University, the distillery set out to prove that “the different sensory inputs – the lighting, the sounds, the smells and feel – of [the sensorium’s] different rooms should really help to bring out different aspects of the whisky”.
As we moved from a grassy ‘nose’ room through a sweetly scented ‘taste’ boudoir to a rustic, woody ‘finish’ space, the Singleton’s distinctive three dimensions seemed to solo suitably.
Another Speyside titan, The Glenlivet, has played the experiential card of late too. Eschewing the usual array of tasting notes and ageing history, it has launched the Glenlivet Alpha, a mysterious jet-black bottle free of any information at all.
Drinkers were encouraged to follow their nose, literally, and chase online hints to reach their conclusions about it. If you can get hold of one of the 3,500 bottles, it is a great gift for any whisky connoisseur; a fine-tasting blend wrapped in a riddle they’ll be desperate to solve.
Talisker, too, is being far from unadventurous, with its Storm blend also arriving sans age statement. Packing a slightly less peaty punch than the Skye distillery usually opts for, the Storm has a nicely piquant finish.
Though the Scots are the obvious whisky kingpins on these isles, the fun doesn’t stop at Hadrian’s Wall any more. The Welsh distilled whisky for hundreds of years until industry-wide production was shut down in 1894. But 110 years later, Penderyn, puts Welsh whisky (or wisgi, to be correct) back on the map.
The Penderyn distillery, perched high in the Brecon Beacons, is considered to be the smallest in the world, but that didn’t stop it scooping the numerous gold medals at last year’s Whiskies of the World Masters.
It produces a limited edition series, Icons of Wales, celebrating “the finest moments from Welsh history which showcase independence, innovation and individuality” (if you fancy reconnecting with any Cymru roots).
So production is widening and brands are innovating. Take this as your cue to move your whisky outdoors, although it might not seem an immediate choice for a summer sip. But Father’s Day is in June and the sun might be shining, so if you hint heavily enough for a fine American bourbon, such as Old Fitzgerald or a Woodford Reserve, and you add some fresh mint, sugar, ice and muddle accordingly, then voilà: you could be enjoying a Mint Julep while you bathe in your progenitor’s praise.