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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Fiona Beckett

Whisky to give yourself a Burns Night treat

‘Unbelievably fancy’: The Macallan’s distillery in Speyside, Scotland.
‘Unbelievably fancy’: The Macallan’s distillery in Speyside, Scotland. Photograph: PA Images/Alamy

One of the best things I did last year was to take myself off on a road trip around Scotland, which I wasn’t intending to be a busman’s holiday but which, for a few days at least, turned into one. While there, I got the chance to visit The Macallan’s unbelievably fancy distillery, so it seemed a shame not to visit some other producers while I was in the country, and I honestly can’t think why I’ve never done it before.

Seeing and tasting a drink in the place where it’s made is always a thrill, but distilleries, with their shiny, polished copper stills, are particularly dramatic. As with any kind of food and drink tourism, you end up understanding so much more about the product and appreciating the difference between one dram and another. (For the ultimate audiovisual experience, go to the Johnnie Walker experience on Princes Street in Edinburgh, which will also help you identify the kind of whisky you like – or win you round if you don’t think whisky is for you.)

At most distilleries, you also get to try to buy malts that are on limited release, which often get snapped up as soon as they hit the market. Specialist whisky shops are also a great way to discover whiskies you haven’t tried before, and in their own way are as seductive as bookshops. I was particularly impressed by Gordon & MacPhail in Elgin, whose Discovery range is divided into three styles – sherry, smoky and bourbon – so is a very good place for a whisky newbie to start. My favourite was the Ledaig (pronounced led chig) in today’s pick. Look out also for The Whisky Shop, which has branches throughout the UK (there’s a good one in Fort William, for example).

It’s also more than likely that any hotel you stay in will have a big selection of whiskies, even if not all of them quite hit the heights of the Isle of Raasay, just a short ferry ride from Skye, which has its own whisky hotel. The Dowans hotel in Aberlour, meanwhile, has a terrific whisky bar with a large range of drams, many of them rare bottlings that you’d never find a whole bottle of even if you could afford it.

If you’re thinking about what you might do next summer, you could do a lot worse than distillery hopping. To get yourself in the mood, invest in a copy of Dave Broom’s beautifully written and illustrated A Sense of Place, which is as much about the culture and history of whisky as the liquid itself. You might even end up living there.

Five of the best Scottish whiskies

Glenfarclas 15-Year-Old £54 Majestic, £57.94 Master of Malt, 46%. A rich, warm sherried Christmas cake of a whisky.

Gordon & MacPhail Discovery Ledaig, Tobermory 12-Year-Old £49.95 Gordon & MacPhail, £47.95 Amazon, 43%. Part of the distillery’s excellent-value Discovery range, which focusses on different flavours. Sweeter and more subtly smoky than an Islay, with a real taste of the seashore.

Benromach 10-Year-Old £32 Master of Malt, 43%. A surprisingly complex whisky for the price, aged in used bourbon and sherry casks and with a little whiff of peat.

Oban 14-Year-Old £71.95 Master of Malt, £76 The Whisky Exchange, £77.50 Ocado, 43%. Fragrant and heathery with a touch of peat. Lovely with seafood, too, as I discovered at the Ee-Usk seafood restaurant in Oban.

Lindores Lowland Single Malt STR Wine Barrique £49.95 Hard to Find Whisky, £52.94 Master of Malt, 49.4%. One for the geeks: a limited-edition whisky aged in STR (shaved, toasted and re-charred) red wine barriques, which gives the whisky an intensely fruity flavour combined with a punchy hit of toasty spice.

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