George, David, Patrick and Andrew – saintly chaps in whose honour we drink annually. Andrew, the Scottish representative in the band, is perhaps the least known of the crew – the talented but meek bassist, so to speak.
He need not be so humble; beyond being an apostle of Jesus (no mean feat in itself), Andrew was a fisherman and miracle maker. He proved himself an old hand at the latter by sending a Scottish noble a pre-battle sign of inspiration in the form of a white cross of clouds against a blue sky (better known as the Scottish flag, the Saltire). That resulted in a decisive victory over a vastly superior English force which was advancing a wee bit too far north for comfort. He was also, apparently, the patron saint of the “Order of the Golden Fleece”. Now, we don’t know what that is, but it sounds rather excellent.
The very least we can do, then, is have an annual day in his honour. Very good – 30 November it is. That is just around the corner and given that St Andrew’s Day this year falls on a Monday, the bleakest of days, it seems fitting to stock up on a few choice single malts to celebrate.
Glasgow Triple Distilled Single Malt
Given that Glasgow almost certainly considers itself as the drinking capital of the country, it has been fairly underrepresented in the whisky world for a good century or so. Auchentoshan and Glengoyne are both within striking distance but Glasgow Distillery is quite happily settling into its role as the city’s true single malt distillery.
They even caught our attention by releasing an expression that has been triple distilled, a practice that is typically – though not exclusively – the preserve of our Irish cousins. More notably still, they matured the spirit in “virgin oak” casks.
Staying true to our reputation as frugal characters, we Scots typically re-use (upcycle?) barrels that have held American whisky or Spanish sherry. In fact, it is rather difficult to find a Scotch that has been matured in fresh wood because, quite frankly, new oak can be a pain to work with. Unseasoned by other spirits, the cask can impart overly woody notes to the spirit. That said, if used skillfully, virgin casks can produce cracking drams – and this is one of them.
An extra course of distillation has provided a beautifully light – yet fruity – new make spirit that the oak has really added a layer of caramel and almost biscuity notes to without being overbearing. Incredible stuff from such a young buck of a distillery.
Glen Grant 18-Year-Old Single Malt
There’s a lot to be said for those who do one thing, but do it bloody well. If anything, it evidences constraint; it can be tempting to go off brand in pursuit of “innovation” when there is nothing broken to fix in the first place. Glen Grant, one of the old guard distilleries of Speyside, very much embodies that notion.
The house style is that of a complex but gentle dram. Top shelf bourbon casks impart classic vanilla and nutty notes and do so consistently; every single bottling, from the youngest to the oldest in the range, pulls its weight. Their 18 Year Old is a bit of an Ape favourite in particular; there’s so much going on in the palate but it all works together effortlessly. That may sound a bit hollow but it’s true; an unstructured dram suggests that the distillery has bottled the spirit prematurely. Conversely, perfectly balanced whiskies such as this are the result of patience – sometimes it just takes time for the spirit to reach its “peak”, the point at which it has drawn everything it needs from the oak.
Deanston Pinot Noir 17 Year Old
Yes, pinot noir. Save for those of the fortified variety, such as sherry, wine finishes are still few and far between in the Scotch world, perhaps due to the propensity for the subtleties of the wine to be drowned out by the often weighty and fruity new make spirit that casks are filled with. That said, general rules do have exceptions and this marriage of grape and grain by Highland distillery Deanston is probably case in point.
The good folks there transferred barrels of roughly 15-year-old conventionally matured spirit into a batch of pinot soaked casks in the summer of 2018 as a bit of an experiment and bottled it as a limited run of 17 year old malt. We actually tried this one blind and we’re not too proud to admit that we found it rather tricky to identify it as a whisky on the nose. Crisp and fresh orchard fruit aromas give way to fairly dry and acidic characteristics on the palate. The finish is on the short side but that’s easily fixed by another sip, and another.