In Depth

Best Scotch whiskies to celebrate Burns Night 2021

Join in the traditions and raise a glass to ‘Rabbie’ on 25 January

Scots will celebrate the life of their national bard Robert Burns on 25 January and the festivities include recitals of his most famous poems and eating haggis, neeps and tatties. 

A few drams of Scotch whisky will no doubt also feature on Burns Night and one traditional way to join in the celebrations is to raise a glass to “Rabbie”.

Which whisky should you choose for your Burns supper? Available in a wide variety of flavours and prices ranging from affordable to bank-breakingly expensive, here are some great options at both ends of the price spectrum.

Aerolite Lyndsay 10-year old

Aerolite Lyndsay may sound like a brand of model aeroplane, but this ten-year-old peated single malt from an undisclosed distillery on Islay bears little similarity to the epoxy resin fumes familiar to anyone who has ever assembled a Spitfire as a kid. In fact, the name is an anagram of “ten-year-old Islay”, which, even if you have deciphered it, offers no more information about the bottle's origins than has already been supplied by the anonymous creators. Regardless of its creator, this bottle offers plenty of sea-salt and peat on the nose with honeycomb and a hint of that ingredient du jour salted caramel. More smoke arrives on the palate and the finish is a mixture of toffee sweetness and yet more salt. A fine dram at a very reasonable price. £39.95; https://www.masterofmalt.com/whiskies/the-character-of-islay-whisky-company/aerolite-lyndsay-10-year-old-the-character-of-islay-whisky-company-whisky/

Royal Salute The Malts Blend

At the end of 2019, the so-called ‘King of Whisky’ Royal Salute added a pair of new whiskies to its range: The Malts Blend and The Lost Blend. The first of these, which comes as the first blended malt from Royal Salute, is composed of more than 21 precious single malts. The second is comprised of rare whiskies from distilleries no longer in production. Both join with The Signature Blend, Royal Salute’s flagship whisky, which was originally created as a gift for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The Malts Blend is an exceptional whisky, bursting with orchard fruits and gentle spices. Royal Salute master blender Sandy Hyslop says of the blend: “Like a symphony, each of the single malts ‘performing’ in this blend complement and enhance one another’s unique flavours and together create the final composition.” He’s not wrong – this is an exceptional whisky. A wintry delight. £116; masterofmalt.com

Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare Glenury Royal

Johnnie Walker added its third whisky in a series it calls Ghost and Rare. True to its name, this highland single malt, named Glenury Royal, is an exceptionally rare whisky. The limited-edition whisky has, at its heart, Glenury Royal - a “ghost” distillery that finally shut down in 1985 after a long and storied history. Johnnie Walker Master Blender, Dr. Jim Beveridge, says the whisky: “shines a light on this hidden treasure of the whisky world.” And how does it taste? Incredibly smooth with hints of cocoa, nuts, honey and dried fruits plus sweeter notes of apple and apricot. £275; thewhiskyexchange.com

Bruichladdich The Classic Laddie

There are not many people who can say they have worked in every job in whisky, but one who can make that claim is Jim McEwan, the man behind Bruichladdich The Classic Laddie whisky. According to Whisky Magazine, McEwan “started work on 1 August 1963 as an apprentice cooper at Bowmore and after working in every other area of the distillery, ended up as cellar-master and then trainee blender. In 1986 he was made distillery manager at Bowmore and began to travel the world as the distillery’s ambassador.” Before retiring a couple of years back, he created a few final whiskies that looked to be his swansong, among them the Classic Laddie. This fantastic Bruichladdich is a treat, made from 100% Scottish barley, trickle distilled, and then matured on Islay, just near Loch Indaal. It is a whisky as smooth as they come, with hints of mint and flowers on the nose, with a more sugary, malted flavour on the palate. £39.90; masterofmalt.com

Laphroaig Lore

This double gold medal award winner at the 2017 San Francisco World Spirits Competition was crafted by Laphroaig’s very own distillery manager John Campbell. Having spent time in five different casks including first-fill bourbon barrels, new American oak quarter casks, refill Laphroaig and Oloroso Sherry butts the whisky has a deep mahogany colour. On the nose, Lore is smoky with a tantalising minerality, with a hint of bitter chocolate. On the tongue, it turns richly peaty with a spicy chilli bite to finish off, and then a surprisingly long, sweet aftertaste. This is truly a “liquor guid to fire the bluid”, as Scotland’s favourite son Robert Burns would say. £68.75; thewhiskyexchange.com

Bowmore Black 31 Year Old 1964 

Deep inside one of the world’s oldest whisky maturation houses, Bowmore’s legendary “No. 1 Vaults” are the birthplace of some of the most coveted and collectible whiskies in the world – including this new addition to the Vintner’s Trilogy. The great majority of people buy their whisky to drink rather than as an investment, but if you were looking for a tasty alternative to stocks, bonds and London property, this Bowmore would could be a good place to park your cash. And if your investment doesn’t increase in value as meteorically as you had hoped, at least you have something with which to drown your sorrows at the end. Bowmore 26-year-old wine matured spends time in ex-bourbon barrels and wine barriques, which gives it a delicate burnt amber colour. On the nose, the red fruits intermingle with smoke and spiced oak and a dash of water will bring out a hint of tropical fruits. In the mouth meanwhile, expect a mixture of rich dark chocolate with a long finish and that quintessential hint of salt typical to so many great Bowmores. £22,000; masterofmalt.com

Fortnum's personalised Speyside single-malt

For a personal touch, Fortnum and Mason’s Speyside eight-Year-Old Single Malt can be personalised for the single malt-lover in your life. Your message can be added beneath the label while you wait. The whisky within displays a mix of rich fruit and gentle sugars, typical of Speyside whiskies. A versatile whisky that is sure to please. Note: personalisation is currently only available in store. £51.50; fortnumandmason.com

Springbank 10-year-old

The Springbank distillery does everything under one roof, from malting their local barley to bottling and labelling. The result is an impressively balanced whisky with malty sweetness, oodles of citrus and more than a passing whiff of smoke, says Ernest Reid, head bartender at Smith & Wollensky. The Whiskey Wash calls it “something of an unsung hero” – an unprepossessing but excellent bottle that deserves more critical attention than it has received so far. This reviewer would agree, Springbank 15-year-old is an exceptionally harmonious whisky both on the nose and palate. It would be a steal at twice the price. £45.95; masterofmalt.com

anCnoc Peatheart

Peatheart will be the seventh peaty whisky to join anCroc’s award-winning collection – and this is definitely one of its smokiest to date. The anCnoc Peatheart comes in an eye-catchingly attractive bottle, but this is no case of style over substance - the spirit inside is the product of ten years in American oak ex-bourbon barrels, delivering a dark natural colour which reflects its peaty character. Drinking Peatheart is unquestionably a smoky experience, but alongside its initial burning burst you will detect a hint of fruitiness, with pears, apples and lime in the mix. On the tongue, the smoke continues, but is laced with leather and apples, with chocolate bringing up the rear. Peatheart’s dark but delicate spirit is the ideal dram for connoisseurs looking to explore a different side of whisky. £52; masterofmalt.com

The Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve

A sweeter profile whisky probably designed to appeal to a younger audience with a taste for sugars, this whisky has notes of rich fruits, and is surprisingly thick on the palate. Created by George Smith in 1824, The Glenlivet is these days one of the biggest contributors to the growth of single malts around the world. Launched in 2010, Founder’s Reserve aims to compete with other entry-level whiskies – a class within which it holds its own. £33.95; thewhiskyexchange.com

Nc’nean Organic Single Malt Scotch Whisky 

Smooth, elegant and organic, Nc’nean Single Malt Whisky is produced in small batches for an easy-going and delicious tipple. Packaged in the industry’s first-ever 100% recycled clear glass bottle and made in the 100% renewable energy distillery, Nc’nean is a pioneer of sustainable production. It has tasting notes of lemon posset, peach and apricot, and spiced rye bread. From £49.95; ncnean.com

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