Often it can be difficult to see past the big names of Whisky who are competing for your attention at every turn. But if you look past them you will find a host of Scottish whisky makers who are taking risks and pushing their craft forward in all of the right directions.
Here is our pick of 5 exciting scotch whiskies that are well worth a try.
When he’s not being involved in lawsuits with the Scotch Whisky Association, John Glaser – founder of Compass Box Whisky – is preoccupied making some of the finest independently bottled whisky available today. This special edition bottling of Hedonism sums that all up beautifully. A luxurious entirely grain based whisky (so, no barley), centred around one superlative cask (“the muse”), it celebrates how a whisky doesn’t need to be a single malt to excel.
This limited edition bottling was released in celebration of International Woman’s Day, and with more justification than most – over 50% of the employees in the company are female. And that’s something we can all drink too.
When Mark Reynier and Simon Coughlin purchased and reopened the Bruichladdich Distillery in 2001, they didn’t just take possession of the building, they also took ownership of all of the old whisky stocks - warehouses full of casks, of unknown provenance and age. With such strict regulations about what can and cannot be called Scotch Whisky, Master Distiller Jim McEwan was in a predicament – what do you do with excellent spirit, with no documented history?
Taking the focus away from age, colour, and cask type, meant that there was only one thing left to focus on: the whisky. Throw in a little black magic, and the Black Art series was born.
Long since sold out of the first expression, each subsequent Black Art has celebrated something new: interesting finishes, with deep and varied flavour profiles. Unconventional, unknown, but always utterly fascinating. Black Art no 5 was the first to be created by head distiller Adam Hannett, and it’s as good as they come.
Famous for being the first new distillery on Islay for 125 years, and for coming out with award winning young expressions, Kilchoman has quickly made a name for itself in the whisky landscape with it’s remarkable attention to its spirit and its casks.
Taking a step aside from the conventional ex-bourbon and sherry cask expressions, they came out with something remarkable with their entirely port cask matured bottling. Spending its entire life ageing in ruby port casks (rather than just being “finished” in them for a short period) the whisky has had years to develop an intricate and balanced relationship with the cask’s previous occupant.
A perfect first step for those wanting to try less conventional cask types, it offers up a tell-tale ruby hue, along with the rich, deep plummy notes of port, with a cacophony of red berries and sweetness. All that, interacting with the gentle smoke and spice that Kilchoman is so famous for, creates a dram unlike any you’ll have tried before.
Glenfiddich, one of the most storied and highly awarded of all Scotch Whisky distilleries, isn’t averse to breaking from the norm. With its relatively recent Experimental series, the distillery have already been the first to finish an expression in IPA craft beer casks, as well as vatting 20 different individually selected casks into one single expression with their project XX. The latest experiment promises something truly fascinating, though. Scotch Whisky finished in Canadian ice wine casks.
With a nose described as “a marriage of tropical fruits and wine notes” while the taste evokes “Turkish delight and lychee”, we’re not sure if it’s a whisky, or if it’s dessert, but either way we want it in our glass.
You don’t need to spend thousands, or even hundreds, to get an exceptional bottle of whisky. Bunnahabhain (pronounced boon-a-ha-ven) have been proving that for years. Quietly putting out some of the most expertly crafted, and downright best spirit the entire industry has to offer, they’re happy to offer it to you without the inflated prices the collector market has created. Our recommendation is the Mòine – with Bunnahabhain taking a step aside from their normally famous peat free spirit, to embrace a little smoke. With banana, burnt sugar, and brine on the nose, making way to black liquorice, fudge, and green apple on the tongue, it’s a deep and rich expression that anyone, even the uninitiated, can enjoy.
Honourary non-Scottish Whisky:
We love Scotch Whisky, we think it’s the best in the world, but whisky adventures should be able to cross borders and oceans in search of new experiences. Taking a quick trip over the water to our Scandinavian friends is well worthwhile, too, because at Mackmyra, the Swedish Distillery, they’re making waves by drawing on their own heritage.
With a whisky finished in French Bordeaux casks, sherry casks, and – most interestingly - glühwine casks, it’s described as “a grownup alternative to other traditional Winter beverages”. We can’t think of a better way to stay warm over the famously long Swedish winter.