The Angry Corrie 52: Dec 2001 - Feb 2002
Spirit of the hills
The long dark nights of winter ... rain battering the window ... gales rattling the slates. Ideal weather to end a wild day on the hill with a glass of whisky. Or two. Or 201.
Uisge beatha - the water of life. The perfect way to round off a day in the hills. The traditional accompaniment to bothy nights, starlit camps and special hill celebrations. Ideal, too, for those moments of quiet reflection. And - just when you thought it was safe to put up your feet with your favourite dram - ideal material for compiling another damn list!
Recently, on the rhb newsgroup, various hill folk were discussing whether or not baggers were also collectors of things other than hills. The usual culprits such as stamps and birds were mentioned, then I chipped in that I'd once thought of compiling a list of single malt whiskies but had never got round to it. I really should have known better: a few days later, a whisky list duly arrived courtesy of Gordon Adshead down in Cheshire. (For details on how to obtain this, and on how to join the rhb newsgroup, see below - Ed.)
Gordon's original list has since been added to and now stands at 201 malts; but, as with any list, compilation was no simple matter. It would be equally as hard to decide which malts to include on your own personal tasting list, as this will depend largely on three factors: what's available, how much time you are prepared to spend tracking down the rarer malts, and how much you are willing to spend. What about closed distilleries, for instance? Do they "count"? The whisky is likely to have been available for a while, gradually becoming rarer, not to mention more expensive, until it runs out altogether. For example, the last 34-year-old cask of Ben Wyvis was bottled this year and currently sells for over £600 a bottle. However, the precedent has already been set for omitting Ben Wyvis from attempts on lists (ha! - see page 5 - Ed.), so don't worry, you'll be in good company on that one. (Jon Metcalf's own version of the Adshead list runs to 335 malts, as he includes numerous long-defunct distilleries around Campbeltown and elsewhere.)
New distilleries such as Arran are easier. All that's required to bag all these is a little patience as it takes at least seven years, if not longer, to produce a single malt worth drinking. In bagging the full set you will have to take into account all the different ages and strengths (for which a visit to the Lochside Hotel in Bowmore to view the huge selection of Islay malts is highly recommended). Then there are the different "finishes": Glenmorangie, for example, has produced 14 finishes to date, the most common being the port, sherry and madeira wood finishes, governed by the type of cask used for the final maturation. The quest to taste all the single malts, should you care to take it on, will provide you with a lifetime's interest and variety.
If, like many of us, enjoying a dram is often associated with days on the hill, then there are many variations to this theme depending on your inclination. You may, for example, decide to sample those malts such as Ben Rinnes that share their name with a hill. Or you might opt to visit each distillery and climb the nearest Marilyn while you are there. This would take you to some off-the-beaten-track places - Glentauchers is handy for the horrible Knockan and Talisker is beneath Arnaval. As for Royal Lochnagar - Creag Ghiubhais, Geallaig Hill, Meall Alvie, the Coyles of Muick and Conachcraig are all closer to the Crathie distillery than is Lochnagar itself.
Or maybe islands appeal to you, or a particular part of the country? And, for those who like a real challenge, there is the Adshead Round of visiting all 42 distilleries on Landranger 28 in one day, accompanied by a sympathetic driver of course (and a doctor - Ed.). As far as we know, this still remains to be attempted, let alone successfully completed. It will be a staggering achievement for whoever manages it first.
As we all know, it is the planning, doing, enjoying, discussing and reminiscing that are important, and that applies equally well to malts as to hills. One thing is certain, however - ask folk which is their favourite malt and you'll likely receive a different answer from everyone. While many agree that hills in the west are, by and large, better and more interesting than hills in the east, there is no such general agreement when it comes to malts. In fact when Jon, Gordon and I were discussing the subject before writing this article, it became apparent that we agreed on very little except that we enjoyed drinking the stuff. We couldn't even agree on whether or not to add water, for goodness sake!
Anyway, here are a few personal mini-listings, courtesy of Jon and me, for you all to disagree with.
Cask and it shall be given: best of the bunch
Jon Metcalf -
Helen McLaren -
Making a dram out of a crisis: ones to avoid