Douglas Laing Timorous Beastie Highland Blended Malt Scotch Whisky (£40, Waitrose) Is it possible to address a haggis via zoom? I guess a few of us are going to find out tomorrow night – and there’s no reason, with all the experience of socially distanced virtual celebrations that we’ve accumulated over the past year, that Burns Night 2021 can’t provide its usual burst of cosy wintry revelry. The whisky’s the thing, and, with apologies to the many superb distillers of Japan, Canada, Sweden, Wales et al, it really does have to be Scotch. Where to start? With its reference to Burn’s most famous poem, the name and packaging of independent bottler Douglas Laing’s blend of Highland malt whiskies (from distilleries such as Blair Athol, Dalmore, Glen Garioch and Glengoyne) is almost too cute – too much aimed at the kind of part-time whisky drinker who will only buy a dram for Christmas and Burns Night – to be taken seriously. But it’s actually really beautifully put together – a richly full-flavoured, candied barley sugar-like character with a delightful silky texture.
Highland Black Blended 8 Year Old Scotch Whisky (£12.99, Aldi) For a more than decent dram on a budget, there are two whiskies that have stood out for me in recent years, one apiece from the arch-four-letter discounters Aldi and Lidl, and both well under the 20 quid barrier where whisky generally starts to get interesting. The first is Aldi’s excellent serial awards-botherer, a classic blend of various Speyside and Highland malts with Lowlands grain from Girvan that has a winningly straightforward tropical fruitiness with a touch of cream and honey and plenty of warming depth for the money. This would be my choice for mixing in simple gingery classics such as the Whisky Mac (with ginger wine) or the Ginger Highball (with ginger ale). The second is Lidl’s stylishly put-together Ben Bracken Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky (£16.49), which comes on like vanilla ice topped with golden syrup, nuts and cream and which is, in fact, very good indeed served with that very dessert.
Laphroig Lore Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky (from £65, Waitrose; Master of Malt; The Whisky Exchange) At this very cold, dark time of year, the whisky that appeals most to me tends to be the full on peaty style associated with that whisky-mystical, wind-swept, west-coast isle of Islay. At their best, Islay’s distillers make whiskies that come on like a welcoming peat fire in a glass, although when you sip you get not just smoke but the iodine and salt of the sea. Is there a drink with a more profound sense of place than an Islay whisky? Only certain wines can match the likes of Lagavulin 16 Year Old Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky (£59.95, The Whisky Exchange), which has the intense peppery-smoky hit of an island smoke-house infusing a palate of citrussy fruit and seaweed. Just as intense, Laphroig’s Lore packs a similar winter beach-walk-buffeted-by-sea-spray effect, although as you sip, notes of coffee, toffee and chocolate emerge alongside the brine and the wisps of smoke.
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