Being a food writer obsessed by seasonality and fresh produce, my criteria for selecting whiskies for my collections is that they should complement the foods, moods and weather of the season. So, being an incurable Polyanna and believing passionately that the sun will shine warmly for more than two consecutive days, here is my whisky collection for the longed-for summer of 2016.
Asyla from boutique blenders Compass Box is my first choice, and was indeed the first whisky that I reviewed on this website (I hope that I have learned a lot since then!). This vatted blend of Highland single malt and Fife grain whiskies draws soft vanilla, seasoned with pepper notes, from first-fill American oak barrels. It is a dram to say Hello Whisky, I think I might like you! to. A great aperitif, the discussion simply revolves around Yes or No to water - and/or real ice or a frozen ice rock to chill the whisky but not melt into the spirit. It is soft and elegant, a pre-theatre rather than an after tennis dram. If you find the first sip peppery above all else, persevere to the second and the elegance of the whisky will reveal itself to you.
Nikka (not pronounced Knicker as in my video...no offence intended) has become an iconic distillery in the line-up of world whiskies. A Coffey is a continuous still often used for the making of grain whiskies, and this particular grain spirit is made from corn. The corn brings a big, round softness to the palette and an oiliness in the mouth which instantly indicates to me that the whisky will match well with foods. When I first tasted this Coffey Grain I scribbled down brill fillets and taboulleh. Some spiralised courgetti added to the pan juices with a squeeze of lemon - yes, this soft, slightly spicy whisky would complement that beautifully. It is also a great whisky for summer reflections and thinking - and that is not a typo which should read drinking!
The Tobermory Distillery made us so welcome when we visited them last year. Nestled into the hillside overlooking the colourful harbour, the distillery has the feel of a Dickensian workhouse with steps up and down and dark black stone block work. Our hostess was married to the distillery manager - not a family business but a family in the business of coping with the challenges of island life. Getting their child to a national league sporting event on the mainland and then being faced with cancelled ferries back to Mull due to winter storms meant that they were only just back in time to greet us at the distillery! Hopefully this summer will be kinder to distillery visitors and staff!
The 10yo from Tobermory Distillery is definitely a maritime dram with salt running through it and hints of smoke from the water source. The latter appears simply a seasoning in the warmer weather, pulling out the salted caramel notes from the bourbon-barrel aged spirit. You can watch my initial tasting of the 10yo, on a cold winter's day, here: whiskies do change with the weather and temperature. Alison, our distillery guide, suggested a Greek salad pairing with salty feta and how right she is. Mind you, sweet Romano peppers stuffed with almost anything and topped with feta is a tasty match too. Could this be the ultimate whisky to match with tomato salads? I think so.
Is it cheating to go back to an old friend for a whisky collection? Of course not! If it ain't broke, don't mend it but then again, we all need a spirit of adventure and Old Pulteney's Navigator was certainly created with adventure in mind. Old Pulteney claims the moniker of The Maritime Distillery and is situated in Wick, way up towards John O'Groats on the north east coast of Scotland. There is no way that you can describe the distillery as scenic but it is producing wonderful whiskies. This no-age statement bottling is mainly matured in American oak but is finished in sherry casks - I would guess Olorosso - which adds a rich warmth and raisin fruitiness to an otherwise zesty, salty and bright spirit. There is a sense of adventure about it, which is very clever as it was released in 2013 for the distillery's sponsorship of the Clipper Round the World yacht race. I am not surprised that it remains part of their range.
My final whisky choice for drinking in the sunshine for this summer needs an 'e' added - it is Writer's Tears from Ireland. This blended whiskey is something of a mystery - who makes it? I asked Siri, the voice-activated search assistant on my iPhone about a whiskey distillery in Carlow, Ireland and he told me there were no matching restaurants! The family-run, independent spirits producer creating Writer's Tears is expanding quite rapidly at present and I am sure that we shall hear much more about them. The whiskey is up to 10 years old (there's no age statement on the bottle) and it is soft, full and fruity. Vanilla is apparent, then ginger and a little pepper follow as you swallow. It is the finish that is alluring: butterscotch, maybe some creaminess like too-sweet milk chocolate, and a hint of toasted nibbled almonds. Whatever you find, I hope there is warmth and a chance to reflect on a happy summer's day. I think this is definitely a whiskey for the evening as the sun goes down and the temperature drops. It is said to have been created in celebration of the great Irish writers of yesteryear: James Joyce, W B Yates et al, and in the style of whiskey that they would have known. It is also said that the tears of Irish writers struggling for inspiration were tears of whiskey - hence the name. I must stop now and put out some food for the Little People.