Tried and tasted: best Scotch whiskies to celebrate Burns Night 2022
Join in the traditions and raise a glass of Scotch to ‘Rabbie’ on 25 January
Scots will celebrate the life of their national bard Robert Burns on Tuesday 25 January and the festivities will 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? See our tried and tasted guide below for some of the best Scotch whiskies and other varieties from around the world.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
The Singleton 38-Year-Old
Creating a whisky takes years, but to create something sensational you sometimes have to wait decades. Just ask the makers of The Singleton 38-Year-Old why having patience is so key to the process. This rare single malt was drawn from just eight casks after undergoing a 26-year secondary maturation – the longest in The Singleton’s history. The result is a whisky that on first taste was strong, intense then sweet, but on the finish it was rich and warm. The lengthy ageing process can at first be noticed in the full flavour of The Singleton 38-Year-Old, but getting towards the end of the dram it became much more mellow. Only 1,689 bottles of this superb whisky were available globally.
Peat Monster Arcana
Described as an “experiment in oak and smoke”, this limited edition from Compass Box is a result of the cask strength version of The Peat Monster being further matured in three French oak custom casks for more than two years. It was then blended with malt whiskies from the Talisker, Miltonduff and Ardbeg distilleries. If peat whisky is your preferred choice, then this should be on your menu. We tested the Peat Monster Arcana alongside a range of cured meats and the flavours compliment each other perfectly. The Compass Box team recommended any smokey meats (for example ribs and BBQ), but if you really want to treat yourself (like we did) then pair Peat Monster Arcana with chocolate. Delicious.
Glenfiddich Grande Couronne 26 Year Old
Finished in a rare French cognac case, this whisky is pretty special and has a price tag to match. With a vibrant, oaky nose and a deep taste - rich, with hints of cafe creme and soft brown sugar - this is the perfect gift for a true connoisseur looking to expand an already impressive collection. A long-lasting oak finish tops what really is a marvellous whisky, while its embellished limited-edition bottle is definitely not something you see everyday. This wonderfully aged Glenfiddich is certainly pricey, but worth every penny.
1970 Glenrothes Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Now for something a little bit special. The year this Glenrothes single malt was distilled, the Beatles broke up, the Boeing 747 made its first commercial flight to London and Apollo 13 launched on its ill-fated journey into space. That year is 1970. The release of this whisky in 2020 completed a trilogy of Glenrothes Single Malts. The first, from 1968, was released in 2018, and the second from 1969 in 2019.
Silky smooth and seriously spicy, this whisky is not one for beginners, but is a real treat for those with the money to procure a bottle. With a thick vanilla finish and smoky palette, the Glenrothes is real whisky royalty. We can only imagine it would go well with a mixer, but couldn’t bring ourselves to dilute this one. No ice or water was involved in the tasting of this show-stopping tipple.
The GlenDronach 15 Years Old Revival
Crowned “best in show whisky” and awarded a double gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, The GlenDronach 15 Years Old Revival is an exceptional Highland single malt. Matured in the distillery’s signature Spanish sherry casks, the dark fruit flavours really shine before a chocolate finish.
Balvenie 14 Year Old The Week of Peat
One of three releases in The Balvenie Stories range, this whisky belongs to the peatier end of the spectrum and was apparently inspired by distillery manager Ian Millar installing a peat burner at the company’s Scottish headquarters. A perfect whisky for someone looking to dip their toe into peatier flavours, it has a smoky nose that means the round, honey and vanilla taste comes as no surprise. Where this whisky really excels is in its gentle, smokey finish in which that vanilla body lingers delightfully. A classic Balvenie profile, pulled off to perfection.
Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 Year Old
Here at The Week, we are a pretty well-travelled bunch. The job requires frequent trips (in normal circumstances) and if there is one thing we have learnt, it is that you can get this blended whisky anywhere in the world. Whether you are in Cambodia, Kansas, Botswana or Berlin, Johnny Walker Black is always behind the bar. It’s not the flashiest or best whisky in the world, but like an old friend, it never fails to pick you up. It’s affordable, a damn smooth blend and with a 12-year statement is a huge step up from other whiskies in the same price bracket.
The Gladstone Axe The Black Axe
Blending whiskies from the Highland and Islay regions, this bold, malty dram nods on its label to great liberal statesman William Gladstone and his stress-breaking hobby of cutting down trees on his country estate. The Black Axe blends vanilla, toasted oak and smokey firewood notes to produce a whisky that is high on peaty flavours. A gentler finish then expected makes this a good choice for anyone who has previously tried and enjoyed rich, sweeter whiskies.
Cask 88 ‘Unfiltered’ series
Cask 88’s “Unfiltered” series features unique single cask whiskies that are bottled straight from the cask. In the four-bottle collection there’s “no colouring, no filtering and no dilution”, hence the name, unfiltered.
The Glen Garioch 12 Year Old (230 bottles; 59.4% ABV; £70) is a honeyed single malt of the Highlands that’s floral and fruity. Very representative of Islay whisky, the Caol Ila 13 Year Old (270 bottles; 57.7% ABV; £90) is a Hebridean malt that’s sweet to start and has a smoky finish.
With a smokeyness and spiciness, the Ledaig 14 Year Old (230 bottles; 59.6% ABV; £140) is a dessert-style single malt from the Isle of Mull that can be described as “a grown-up’s whisky”. And the oldest whisky in the Unfiltered series, the single grain North British 32 Year Old (215 bottles; 46.7% ABV; £110) is fruity and warm on the palate with a very, very smooth finish. If you’re looking for the rare and unusual, this is a must-taste collection for any whisky fan.
Talisker 10-year-old Single Malt
Straight. Always straight. This classic island dram from the Isle of Skye should not be mixed because it is just so perfect as it is. A fresh and fragrant nose bindes to pungent smokey flavours to provide a bonfire like palate, with a touch of toasted malt. Very rich and fruity, this is a really explosive whisky, packing the perfect punch for a more seasoned drinker. An Editor's Choice at Whisky Magazine and gold medal winner at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2017, this Talisker sweeps the board come award season for good reason.
Ardbeg Blaaack Limited Edition
A common theme across all of Ardberg’s whiskies is a confidence in peaty, smokey flavours. In fact, so confident is the distillery, that it brags on its website that its Ardbeg Ten Years Old single malt (RRP £47) is “revered around the world as the peatiest, smokiest, most complex single malt of them all”. This limited edition whisky certainly supports that self-confidence in big, bold flavours. Knitting velvety summer fruit pudding and bitter cherry, this whisky hits the taste buds with a sooty, peaty palette. The whisky is rounded up in New Zealand Pinot Noir casks, lending some of the wine’s body to this very special whisky.
Lagavulin 16 Year Old
A personal favourite, as well as something pretty special that won’t break the bank, this sought-after single malt is famed for its heavy, smoky and peaty palette. Typically for an Islay whisky, this Lagavulin has a richness and a dryness that may be a little too much for some, but is a treat for those that like that sort of thing. Pairing perfectly with a salty blue cheese, this mouthful of malt and Sherry provides truckfuls of fruity sweetness. Striking too is its incredible aroma, “it smells like gasoline” was one friend’s review, that fills the nose just as the flavours dominate the palette.
Glenfiddich Grand Cru
This is another one to file in the showstopper whisky category. Matured for 23 years in hand-picked American and European oak casks, before being transferred to rare French Cuvee wine casks for up to six months, this whisky artfully combines the finest Scottish and French flavours for a truly special experience. In terms of its nose, think malty baked bread and citrusy lemon, while its palette combines rich vanilla, sandalwood and white fruits. Definitely not one to splash out on for a beginner, but for the aficionados out there, this one is quite something.
Balvenie TUN 1509 Batch 7
Crafted by malt master David Stewart, the latest release from the Balvenie Tun range is an expert marriage of 21 casks - four ex-bourbon American oak refill barrels, ten doublewood refill sherry butts and seven sherry hogsheads. On first taste this limited edition is rich and intense but very quickly the fruity and sugary notes come through. The sweet finish is clean with hints of spices and vanilla.
Aber Falls 2021 Release Single Malt Welsh Whisky
For this list we’ve tasted whiskies from all over the world, but this is the debut entry from Wales. Aber Falls is the first distillery of its kind in North Wales for more than 100 years and this single malt is the distillery’s release for 2021. If you’re keen on full-bodies whiskies, then Aber Falls should be on your at-home drinks menu. Its flavour is very rich and sweet and there’s chocolate and coffee on the palate. This is a beautiful winter warmer from Wales.
Limestone Branch Distillery’s Minor Case Straight Rye Whiskey
This straight rye whiskey is a nod to its namesake, Minor Case Beam, the great-grandfather of Stephen Beam who founded Limestone Branch Distillery in Kentucky. Having been aged in cream sherry casks, Minor Case is ideal for sipping during the colder months and has a real festive feel – there’s sweetness from the sherry and also hints of fruit. This rye whiskey is a great option for a post-dinner tipple or even as an alternative drink to pair with the cheese and dessert courses.
Cotswolds Bourbon Cask Single Malt
The latest release from Cotswold Distillery is a delightfully fruity single malt that has been wonderfully matured in premium Kentucky oak barrels. Rich, with notes of vanilla and honey, this whisky is probably one for the purists among us and combines a velvety caramel palette with a subtle earthy finish. Made with 100% floor-malted barley straight from the Cotswolds, this is a perfect example of a successful transatlantic partnership.
A back bar classic, J&B Rare is a cheap, but reliable go-to for whisky fans across the globe. Like the Johnny Walker Black, this is not a whisky that is going to let you down any time soon. Following the end of Prohibition in the USA, J&B Rare was created by Justerini & Brooks, landing on shelves in 1933. Medium-bodied with hints of apple, pear, oak and cinnamon, it is often suggested that this whisky is a little sharp to be drunk straight. We have no such problem, but those who do should add their favourite mixer for a classic highball.
Daddy Rack Tennessee Straight Whiskey
An original recipe Tennessee whiskey that was created by an Englishman. A master blender with more than 30 years’ experience, J. Arthur Rackham – aka “Daddy Rack” – introduced his new brand to The Week via a tasting on Zoom. Explaining the story behind the whiskey, Rackham (who is caricatured on the bottle’s label) described it as something that is “very personal” to him and a “milestone” in his career.
He should certainly be proud of his creation because Daddy Rack is a terrific tipple. Having been twice filtered through sugar maple charcoal, it has a very smooth sweetness when drunk neat, but as the flavour enhances there’s a spicy and almost peppery finish.
Filey Bay Flagship
The Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery’s Filey Bay is Yorkshire’s first single malt whisky. A number of varieties are on offer, including Filey Bay STR Finish, Filey Bay Moscatel Finish and the Filey Bay Flagship. Distilled in 2016 and matured in bourbon casks, the field-to-bottle Flagship is made with 100% homegrown barley from the distillery’s farm. The Whisky Unplugged blog describes the Flagship as something “new and exciting” and we fully agree. Light and sweet with tasting hints of syrup and caramel, the flagship whisky from this English distillery is very unique and definitely worth a try.
Brenne Cuvée Spéciale French Single Malt Whisky
Another unique whisky we’ve enjoyed is Brenne, a French single malt. Launched in 2012, this creation is a collaboration between founder Allison Parc and a distiller in Cognac - the French town famous for the popular spirit of the same name. Made with malted barley grown in the town, Brenne is first matured in Limousin oak casks before enjoying a finishing period in Cognac casks. This process really gives Brenne a unique flavour. If you’re a fan of liquorice then you’ll really love this special whisky as it has a strong presence on the palate.
Millstone 4 Year Old - That Boutique-y Whisky Company
On this world tour of whiskies we travel from France to the Netherlands. Independently bottled by That Boutique-y Whisky Company, Millstone is the third batch of Dutch single malt whisky from Zuidam Distillery in Baarle Nassau. On first impressions, and on the nose, we knew it was going to have big flavours. Dark in colour, the Millstone has fruit, cake and chocolate coming through. This rich whisky reminds us more of winter, but if you’re sitting around a summer campfire it would make a perfect late night tipple.
Egan’s Vintage Grain
Originally founded in 1852 in Tullamore, County Offaly, Egan’s Irish Whiskey was resurrected in 2013 by members of the Egan family and today it has the fifth and sixth generation, Maurice and Jonathan Egan, continuing the traditions and legacy.
We tasted two varieties from the Egan’s collection: Fortitude and Vintage Grain. Fortitude, which is the first Irish single malt whiskey to be matured exclusively in Pedro Ximénez casks, is a full fruity number with sherry notes and dried fruit flavours. Described as an “ideal introduction to Irish whiskey”, Egan’s Vintage Grain is a single grain whiskey which is aged in American oak bourbon barrels for a minimum of eight years. The Egan family recommend using Vintage Grain in cocktails, Irish coffee as well as being drunk neat.
We sampled the whiskey alongside a traditional roast dinner and its fruit and spice tones made it an ideal compliment for the rich flavours of the meat and gravy. However, this sweet whisky really shines when paired with a dessert course - we had it with chocolate cake and ice cream. With vanilla on the nose and chocolate on the palate, it’s a winner before, during and definitely after a big meal.
Hyde No.8 Heritage Cask
Hyde Irish Whiskey launched in the UK with its collection of ten varieties. Hand-crafted by bonders with 380 years of history and experience, each variety is made at one distillery partner in County Cork, before being matured in a bonded warehouse in Little Island, County Cork.
We tasted two of the Hyde collection and first up was the No.9 Iberian Cask - a single malt which is tripled distilled then matured for at least eight years in ex-bourbon oak barrels. It is then transferred and finished for a further nine months in vintage Tawny Port oak casks - this gives the No.9 a fruity, citrusy taste before ending with a spicy finish.
In our second testing, we tasted the No.8 Heritage Cask - a special reserve commemorative blend which is finished in Irish stout casks. The stout gives this whiskey a coffee flavour on the first taste before a creamy, sweet finish. If you want a real taste of Ireland then you can’t get much more authentic than this.
Waterford Organic: Gaia 1.1
Launched in November 2020, Waterford Distillery’s Gaia 1.1 was Ireland’s first organic single malt whisky. Part of the Arcadian Series, it is distilled from 100% organic Irish barley grown on six small farms. From the striking design of the bottle to the taste of the spirit itself, everything about this whisky is unique. It starts off peppery and ends with a fruit finish. A nice touch from the distillery is a TÉIREOIR code on every bottle giving drinkers access to an online portal which provides details of the whisky.
Stauning Kaos Triple Malt Whisky
Danish whisky brand Stauning launched its range in the UK with three expressions on the menu: Rye, Peat and Kaos. Taking its name from Danish history - Thorvald Stauning used the phrase “Stauning or Chaos” to win re-election as prime minister in 1935 - Kaos is a mash-up of the brand’s rye, smoked and non-smoked single malts. It has a full, sweet flavour to start with and a spicy, peppery finish. With its striking bottle design, this triple malt whisky not only looks great, but tastes great as well.
Cotswolds Signature Single Malt Whisky
This award-winning single malt was the first whisky ever made in the Cotswolds. And what the region lacks in experience is more than made up for with this bold, flavoursome dram. Matured in ex-red wine casks, this whisky is rich in notes of honey, Seville orange marmalade and dark red fruits. A creamy, round palette gives way to a wonderfully long finish, full of custard flavours and aromatic freshness.
Rampur Indian Single Malt
This is the first Indian single malt whisky from the Radico Khaitan distillery (previously the Rampur distillery – hence the name), in Uttar Pradesh in the north of India. Despite the distillery dating back to the 1940s, this is its first single malt to make it to the UK and we can only say that we wish it had made the journey sooner. Rich on top with a thick, toffee background, the Rampur carries a balanced taste with plenty of malt and creamy vanilla. A great gift for someone who is not yet a whisky regular, but who you suspect might like to start, this is eminently drinkable with a lighter, amber taste.
Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select
Yes, Jack Daniel’s is an obvious choice. And yes, JD and coke is disgusting and only drunk by students and metalheads. But put your prejudice aside for a moment, because JD’s signature single barrel offering is not the drink of horrible early-20s hangovers. With a sweet, simple flavour profile, the whisky is built on the bones of the standard Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 offering. But the Single Barrel Select boasts a more refined flavour, with a more rounded and balanced palette, combining toasted oak and banana chip flavours.
This one we tried both with straight, with a dash of water and as what Jack Daniel’s describes as a “Gentleman and Ginger”. All worked well, though if you are following the JD recipe, increasing the measure of whisky ever so slightly is recommended.
Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey
An absolute classic that every whisky fan should have in their cabinet, this award-winning Kentucky whiskey is inspired by the small batch technique used over 150 years ago. A stunning bourbon that won a Gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2012, this evokes the tradition of smooth, spiced flavours and hints of tobacco leaf that is as southern American as bluegrass, horse racing and fried chicken.
Teeling Whiskey Small Batch
The Teeling is aged initially in bourbon casks for up to six years, before spending a further six months in Central American rum barrels. The aging process gives it a dried fruit character, which when combined with a caramel-like smooth finish makes for an excellent whiskey. Another that we best enjoyed straight, the Teeling’s creamy vanilla palette combines nicely with ginger ale for those looking for a suitable mixer.
Starward has quickly established itself as one of Australia’s leading whisky distillers, aided by a series of exceptional limited edition releases, which have ranked highly in international competitions. Its Wine Cask whisky, which was finished in Australian red wine casks, was awarded best Australian single malt at the 2017 World Whiskies Awards, while Solera - a twice-distilled single malt whisky - won a gold medal last year in the same competition. This year’s limited edition is the Starward Tawny, so named because it is fully matured in Tawny fortified wine barrels. The flavour, as you would expect, has taken on plenty of fruit from the Port casks, including dried apricots and figs, as well as spice and nuts. The result: a spectacular dram, perfect for after-dinner sipping.
Balcones Distilling Texas Single Malt
A single malt from the heart of the American whisky trail, Balcones is a real treat. Warm and woody, this is a heavier whisky than the World Whisky Blend, the Staward, or the Teeling, more suited to a regular whisky drinker or perhaps a newcomer that is a fan of tannin-heavy red wines. Undertones of honey and vanilla make for a smooth experience, which we would wholeheartedly recommend trying straight or wish a tiny dash of water rather than opting for a more elaborate mixer.
From the same maker as the World Whisky Blend, The Boutique-y Whisky Company’s 10-year-old Säntis is the first batch of Swiss single malt from the Säntis distillery in Appenzell. The distillery sits on top of a Swiss ski slope and has produced a fine whisky artfully combining a nose of toasted brown sugar and sticky treacle with an earthy, but sweet, palette.
We tried this one straight and had no complaints, but found it came to life when combined with a little maple syrup and some bitters for a perfect Smoked and Salted. At more than £100 a bottle, it is at the pricier end of our recommendations, but this delightful Swisskey is well worth the price tag. It also features the best label we have seen for a while, on which Santis distillery owner, Karl Locher, appears dressed as Bond villain Blofeld and screaming: “Let your hangovers be particularly unpleasant and humiliating!” With your help Locher, we will do our best.
World Whisky Blend
A blend of whiskies from around the globe that, according to its producer, “celebrates a truly global flavour and the way the world really drinks whisky”. World Whisky Blend combines samples from 14 different countries - including Scotland and the US - to produce a light, fresh drink with a spicy palette and hints of brown sugar. This whisky is a good one for new drinkers to try straight or with a single ice cube, in part due to its light flavour. However, 50ml mixed with around 150ml of either soda or tonic water also makes for a mean highball that would please even more seasoned drinkers.
Cotswolds Sherry Cask Single Malt
Combining dark fruity flavours with nutty undertones, this single malt is a good bet for any whisky aficionado. Perfect for a chilly evening tipple, the Cotswolds sherry cask is a brilliantly smooth winter warmer, aged in American and Spanish oak barrels for a full-bodied palette.
A Fine Christmas Malt by The Whisky Exchange
The 2021 seasonal tipple from The Whisky Exchange is pretty much Christmas in a dram. A 16-year-old Highland Single Malt Scotch made at a mystery distillery in Orkney, it has festive flavours throughout, including hazelnuts, chocolates and fruit cake. Sweet, spicy and smokey, this Fine Christmas Malt would make an ideal gift for whisky lovers. Our tip, don’t just drink it at Christmas – this is a whisky to enjoy any day of the year.