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