Desert Island Drams – Angus MacRaild

Angus MacRaild is a freelance whisky writer and consultant and recently revealed himself as the brains behind the somewhat satirical Whisky Sponge website. 


Here he takes us through the thought process he undertook to finally arrive at his Desert Island Dram.

My feelings on whisky see-saw around a central constant: distillery character. If it’s not there, my interest fades. I often get asked – mostly by my non-whisky friends – what my favourite whisky is, or “If you had to choose just one…”. It’s a common notion and one I usually sweep aside with the assertion that whisky is a mood thing – a Laphroaig by the fire and a Glenkinchie in the garden and so on…

Being asked for such a thing as a Desert Island Dram I’m tempted to leap upon my dream whiskies to taste: a cask sample of Malt Mill or an old bottle of Stromness. But these are rich with uncertainty, if I’m to tolerate drinking just one dram for a long, lonely length of time then I would want a certain degree of familiarity and comfort; whisky in which to find solace and a modicum of companionship.

Similarly, I might be tempted – who wouldn’t – by such legendary bottlings as the 1955 40 year old Bowmore, the Laphroaig 1967 Samaroli, the Mortlach 60 year old by Gordon & MacPhail…

The list could go on a very long time. But these incredible whiskies are incredible precisely because they are so often overwhelming and confounding in their beauty. I feel it would be doing them a disservice to drink them each day and loose interest or grow frustrated with them.“

When I was young and tasted single malts for the very first few times the whiskies I tasted were Laphroaig, Talisker and Lagavulin – they were the favourites of my Dad and my Uncle.

I still find these whiskies recognisable on the palate but with education and familiarity your palate comes to see whiskies in a different light. Of course distillery character alters through the years just as we do ourselves.

Occasionally I come across a bottle – usually an older bottling – of one of these whiskies and the flavour just makes me feel like I’m a kid again. Those are the sort of whiskies I would probably want with me for the long haul on a Desert Island. An old 1980s Laphroaig 15 year old, or a White Horse era Lagavulin 16. Or one of the early Talisker 10 year olds from around 1990.

These are the sort of whiskies which are simply pure pleasure to drink, a warm, smouldering hug in a glass.

Or, then again, perhaps the most honest answer is: I wouldn’t want any whisky at all. If I were legitimately stranded on an Island with no obvious route to salvation I would fear a bottle of whisky. I’d fear the day it might be finished, I’d fear growing bored with it. I rarely actually drink a whole bottle of whisky over the course of a few weeks or months. All the pleasure of whisky for me comes from opening new bottles and sharing around their contents. Discovering new whiskies, comparing and enjoying. I fear solitary confinement with just one bottle might shatter many of those joys.

But that’s a bit miserable so lets just say an old Laphroaig bottled in the 1970s, provided it’s at least 43%.

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