What’s the deal?
Single malt whisky is one of those things many people think they understand, but don’t. Essentially, the ‘single’ in single malt whisky refers to the one distillery the finished product comes from (think of it with a comma — so it’s ‘single, malt whisky’). This allows it to be blended from a variety of whiskies, as long as they come from barrels at that distillery. Legit ‘blended whisky’ is made from a variety of malts that can come from several distilleries.
Is single malt better than blended whisky?
Well, while there’s nothing intrinsically superior about single malt whisky, enthusiasts develop very strong attachments to certain distilleries, and swear off anything blended. At the risk of offending a single malter, this can be short-sighted, as there are some superb blends out there — Dewar’s 18 Year, for one. Like much else, it’s a matter of taste.
How do I know what the good stuff is?
You can’t, really. With single malts it’s so hard to generalise. Even deeply held beliefs about the taste of Scottish whiskies are spurious. For example, while most of Islay might be known for producing pungent and peaty drams, Bunnahabhain, on the island’s east coast, is light caramel and vanilla with a hint of smoke. With new regions such as India entering the market, and so much innovation across both new and established distilleries, the received wisdom is less relevant than ever. In short, if you like it, it’s good stuff.
Is there a ‘correct’ way to drink it?
Purists will revolt, but again, it’s down to you. Have it neat, with a splash of water to calm the alcohol burn, or with ice if you want something refreshing — though the cold temperatures can flatten flavour.
And what about cocktails?
Single malt cocktails are tricky, as the whisky can be both too robust and too subtle to mix. Complementary flavours include lemon, cherry, chocolate and other alcohol such as vermouth. Try Blood and Sand, made with single malt scotch, blood orange juice and cherry brandy.
Best distillery tours
Scotland is naturally spoilt for choice when it comes to distilleries, but what sets Talisker apart is its location on the postcard-perfect shores of Loch Harport on the Isle of Skye.
Suntory Yamazaki Distillery, Japan
Japan’s oldest distillery is also one of its best. Make sure to check out the Yamazaki Whisky Library, home to more than 7,000 bottles of firewater. Book well in advance.
North America’s first single malt distillery (pictured above), in Nova Scotia, also produces the world’s first single malt whisky aged in barrels used for ice-wine (dessert wine made from grapes frozen on the vine).
The cocktail: The Penicillin
Created by former Milk & Honey bartender Sam Ross in 2005, it’s essentially a turbocharged hot toddy, with the pungent ginger and smoky scotch cushioned within a smooth combo of honey and lemon.
3 tsp honey water (3 honey to 1 water)
45ml Lagavulin 16 Year Old Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky
30ml Dewar’s 12 Year Old ‘The Ancestor’ Blended Scotch Whisky
15ml King’s Ginger Liqueur
22.5ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into ice-filled old-fashioned glass.
2 Garnish with candied ginger.