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January 2014 / Food & Drink / by Liz Skone James

Feel the Burn

Blues schmooze, there’s so much to celebrate in January we’re amazed that anybody finds the time for feeling down. And with two very different cultural knees ups coming this weekend and next, we think you’ll find the month is rounded off in one cheery Chinese Burn – now bear with us, it’s much more fun than it sounds.

We’ll save Chinese New Year for next week, and focus now on Burns Night, that annual Scottish celebration of all things Robert Burns. In fact, it’s much less about the poetry (Address to the Haggis aside), and much more about the haggis and whisky, both of which we know very little about. But when it comes to raising a dram to the great bard, it just wouldn’t do to get it wrong – so we deferred to somebody who does know his single malt from his cask strength, Boisdale’s Ranald Macdonald (no tittering at the back now please!).

His first tip? “Enjoy slowly, with unassuming reverence.” To really get a feel for the complex flavours, he recommends, “assessing the colour and the aroma and then taking a small sip (a little water may be added), allowing the whisky to remain in the mouth for a while, taking it above and below the tongue a few times and then washing it around the cheeks before gently swallowing.”

In Ranald’s eye, this is the only way to truly appreciate the “extraordinary complexity and lingering flavours”. He goes on to add that, “despite the beauty of the English language, words do not yet exist to describe the extraordinary pleasure of a magnificent dram.” Do you get the feeling he’s a fan of the amber nectar? In the name of planning the perfect party, we asked him to pick his top five whiskies, and do you know what? We’re starting to think he might have a point.

  • Macallan 1824 Series Ruby: Like a rich wedding cake on the nose, with a little clove, chocolate and walnut.
  • Glenlivet 25 years: Sublime, intense and dramatically complex with overtones of orange, crème brulee, pineapple and ginger developing into deep chocolate and cinnamon.
  • Glenfarclas Family Cask 1969: Now very rare, but once tasted, never forgotten. Flavours of dark, dense rich sherried fruit with countless layers that linger on the palate.
  • Johnny Walker Blue Label: Please be warned, it is so delicious that it is seriously dangerous easy drinking.
  • Dalmore King Alexander III: So complex it defies description – utterly delightful. Six different barrels are used for the maturation process namely, French wine casks, Sherry butts, Maderira drums, Marsala barrels, Port pipes and Kentucky bourbon barrels.

And that’s as much fun as you can have with your kilt on, as far as we’re concerned. Here’s to Rabbie Burns, thanks for giving us an excuse to party!