People often ask me about whisky, I think this is because I usually have a faint whiff of Talisker about me and have sunken eyes but it might be because I’m always prattling on about the stuff. Anyway, someone recently told me they’d moved house and were looking to stock up a drinks cabinet, splash out a bit on some quality booze and some standard stuff as well as non whisky and something different.
First off how much? I’d say quality over quantity but it’s a full cabinet and quality drink often have quality prices attached so you need to be careful before you end up spending hundreds of pounds. Next off I’d always recommend buying stuff you’ll actually open and drink, there’s no point, in my opinion, in buying something nice and never opening it, why bother buying it? So taking that into consideration I’m going to say two malts, two blends, something American and then a gin, rum and a vodka plus a couple of bottles of what I call curiosities which I’ll get onto later.
Okay so first off we’ll talk about single malts, every self respecting drinks cabinet should have at least two, one big and bold peaty number and a softer dram, maybe a sherry cask, but something familiar, many people are intimidated by whisky so it’s wise to have something people will recognise.
So for my first whisky I’m going to suggest an Ardbeg 10 year old. It’s a peat based malt from Islay with strong flavours of smoke and pepper but with a hint of tablet and most people who’ve drank whisky before will have heard of it, it’s not cheap but you can often pick it up for around £35 if you look hard enough and it’s so strong a little goes a long way.
For the laid back single malt I’d suggest the Highland Park 12 year old, this is usually priced between £25 and £30 pounds and well rounded and easy to drink, it’s got a hint of sweetness to it and is a much easier drinker than the Ardbeg but still something worth savouring, don’t go knocking it back.
Next up I’d get a couple of blends, good blends are common these days and it’s nice to have something you can rustle up a cocktail with or even just a splash of ginger ale or one of the now popular alcoholic ginger beers such as Crabbie’s.
First off let’s get something you can mix doesn’t cost the earth and still holds well should you fancy it on it’s own, I’m going to suggest a bottle of Whyte and Mackay Special blend, this is a lovely whisky with a smooth finish and you really feel they’ve made an effort to create a drink that sits well on a more expensive table rather than the firewater you might expect for the £14 to £16 pounds per bottle price tag. Whyte and Mackay also do a 13 year old special blend that might be worth looking out for if you like the basic model.
Your second blend could perhaps be something a little special, Johnny Walker do a Green and now Platinum (formally Gold label) label whiskies which are superb “pure malts” pure malt is advertising speak for blends which don’t use grain whisky, they are still blends though but command prices up to £60 which I know a lot of you might get a bit queasy with paying so much for a blend but they are worth it but let’s stick to something sensible, you can go wild later in your own time, so I’ll suggest a bottle of J&B Rare Scotch whisky. J&B can be found for around the £20 mark and oozes sophistication and class, it’s consumed in huge volumes all over Europe, especially Spain where it’s the number one selling whisky by a mile, it’s smooth and fragrant and excellent to sip with a drop of water or mixed as a sour or just with coke and ice.
Okay so that’s the Scotch sorted and if you look about you’ll get all four bottles for under £100 which is brilliant for such high quality booze I’m sure you’ll agree but for now we’ll leave that behind and look further afield for a bottle of something American.
Bourbon, Tennessee or straight up whiskey with an E have become very popular over the years with the big brands Jim Beam and it’s rock star cousin Jack Daniels being big sellers on this side of the water and whilst they’re okay, the more expensive bottles of these brands are actually pretty decent, there are so many bottles out there why not get something a little more exotic? Go on be brave.
So for that reason I’m going to suggest Woodford Bourbon Whiskey, it’s a little bit more expensive at £30 maybe a little bit less if you look around, but it has a wonderful chocolate orange taste with a little bit of wood, you’ll love this and it mixes as well as it drinks straight.
All of the above whiskies are available in supermarkets both in store and online but if anyone is interested I can recommend rarer stuff that is sold in specialist shops too but I’m trying to be open to all here and I know how snobbish whisky shops can be, I’m going to do a run down of online whisky retailers later on in the year to help people who want to shop for something a little bit different but don’t want to hit the specialist shops.
Okay so whisky/whiskey is sorted, you’ve got five bottles on your shelf but not everyone likes whisky so I’m going to give you a brief run down of what else you could have.
Right I’ll be brief here because this is a whisky site after all. I think a good drinks cabinet should have a Gin a rum and a bottle of vodka because for some reason people like vodka although I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion about vodka drinkers, I mean what’s the point other than getting drunk? Exactly.
For Gin I’ll suggest Bombay Sapphire, it’s easy to drink, makes lovely gin and tonics and you can buy it everywhere and most importantly it’s not Gordon’s which is awful stuff and tastes like I imagine drain cleaner would taste like all chemicals and despair whereas Bombay has some lovely botanicals and has a pleasing aroma.
Mount Gay Eclipse is my rum of choice, it’s not too sickly sweet on it’s own and mixes well with coke or lemonade an all round pleasing drink and easy to get hold of.
For a vodka, well it’s hard for me to point one out because I don’t drink the stuff but I know a lot of you do, you shouldn’t though and I AM here to judge, but if you must have a bottle in the house in case someone uncouth comes by you could do worse than a bottle of Finlandia, which is a smoother drink and the last one I tasted in a cocktail, sorry I’m not much help on vodka, if you have any better advice please feel free to share, but not with me.
Now you might remember I talked about something different? Something a bit cheeky perhaps to tickle the taste buds if I may be so bold? So with that in mind let me take you on a palate Grand Tour with some Whisky liqueurs, how awesome am I?
First off you could go mental with the choice on offer so I’m sticking to two but you can experiment yourself and see what you like. Most whisky liqueurs are blends of whisky and spices and herbs and many have honey, honey seems to work wonders with whisky so stick to them at first and you won’t go far wrong. For your tasting pleasure I’m going to suggest Drambuie and Compass Box Orangerie Whisky infusion. Everyone knows Drambuie don’t they? It’s a Christmas drink loved by all and is a beautiful mix of herbs and spices (secret recipe but it’s a fun game to try and figure it out) and a mixture or grain whisky mixed with aged Speyside and Highland Whiskies, this is a lot better than people give it credit for and for me not to be mixed although the deadly mix of two shots of this and a shot of whisky to make a Rusty Nail is lethal. You might not have heard of Compass Box, they are a small specialist whisky maker making a signature range of beautiful whiskies and whisky liqueurs which I’ll do an in depth review at some point in the future. Anyhoo, Orangie is a 40% liqueur made with whisky and a mixture of spices and hand peeled orange zest adding a unique flavour and moving away from the more traditional honey and heather approach most companies go for, it’s expensive and it’s hard to get but it’s worth searching for or getting online although it won’t last long in most cabinets.
So there you have it, I’ll give you a week to go out and buy your new drinks cabinet and fill it with that little lot and then we can talk about what you should be drinking it out of, assuming you don’t just drink it straight from the bottle “Glasgow style”.