Classic Drink: Single Malt

Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Single Malt, perhaps the Gentleman's drink. It's as complex and diverse as wine but, like wine, you can know as little or as much about it as you want, and still enjoy it hugely.

Most bars in England lack a good range of Single Malts. Even the smartest bars may have a couple of very nice varieties, but are unlikely to stock the breadth and range that you'd find in many pubs in Scotland. That's a shame because, while I've certainly got some favourites, one of the real joys of drinking Whisky is trying new varieties.

When you are choosing a bottle, either in a shop or in a bar, one of the first things to look out for is that it ought to say Single Malt prominently on the label. If it doesn't, it may be either Pure Malt (a selection of Single Malts from a number of distilleries) or a Blended Whisky (a mix of malt and grain whiskies). Both of these can in fact be perfectly good, and sometimes excellent, but this article is about Single Malts.

The next main thing to look out for is the age. Generally speaking, the older the better (and the more expensive) but this is by no means foolproof. In any case, many of the best whiskies, the 'cask strength', will not have an age on them at all, as they have tiny amounts of young whiskies blended into them to perfect the taste. They may, instead, have the dates of distilling and bottling. These are often an excellent choice as they will generally be a limited run taken from a single cask that has been identified as a particularly good batch, and then bottled without being diluted, making them a good bit stronger thank most.

You could also look for a whisky that has been matured in different types of casks. The Balvenie Double Wood is an excellent example, matured first in a whisky cask and then in a sherry cask, so it takes on some of the flavour of sherry. Rum, port wine and other casks are also common.

Finally, when you've chosen, it ought to be served straight up in a short tumbler. In a good bar in England, and almost any bar in Scotland, they may give you a small jug of water to dilute your drink with. While diluting whisky may seem bizarre, the addition of a tiny amount of water can actually open up the flavour and greatly improve the drink.

It's a great after dinner drink, and complimented perfectly by a bar of dark chocolate. And cuban cigars, of course.