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7:00am Saturday 1st December 2012 in ShuttleXtra
Fancy a drink? Our drinks columnist Sam Wylie-Harris goes on a whisky trail for St Andrew's Day.
Scotland's rich flavour map
With St Andrew's Day falling on a Friday, the long weekend to celebrate Scotland's patron saint promises parties aplenty, bagpipes, traditional food and whisky galore.
Indeed, with a growing number of followers across the world seduced by Scotland's most famous export, the celebrations will extend far beyond the rolling green Borders and River Spey.
To appreciate the distiller's art of crafting a malt out of grain, water and yeast, the characteristics from this beguiling golden liquid can be grouped into four flavour camps: delicate, smoky, light and rich.
Whisky must be matured for a minimum of three years and the different aromas and tastes are achieved by small variations in the process, such as where the distillery draws its water, and the length of maturation in oak or sherry casks.
If nosing isn't your day job, a dash of water in a tulip-shaped glass will increase the aromas, mellow the depth of flavour and heighten the drinking pleasure.
The Arthur Bell & Sons distillery was one of many to settle in Speyside and tap into the quality of the water from the mountain springs in the Scottish Highlands.
A blend of malt and grain whiskies, Britain's favourite whisky has released a Limited Edition Bell's Whisky (£16.29, 70cl, Morrisons) to raise money for Help for Heroes, with a donation from each bottle going to the charity. Rich, nutty and lightly spiced, drinking for a good cause has never tasted so good.
Supplier of malt for the Bell's blend, Dufftown has only recently produced its own single malt. Dry and biscuity, try The Singleton of Dufftown 12 Year Old (£29.99, 70cl, Sainsbury's) with its sweet marmalade nose, rich candied fruit flavours and long, warm finish with a trace of brown sugar.
The first licensed distiller on Speyside in 1824, Glenlivet is renowned for its smooth and gentle single malts. Nosing with the best, it's hard to resist the honeyed taste and dry, clean finish of The Glenlivet 12 Year Old (£24, 70cl, Waitrose). Made from unpeated malted barley, it's delicate floral nose, exotic fruits and subtle spice on the nutty finish makes this expression extremely appealing.
The world's best-selling brand, Johnnie Walker recently launched Johnnie Walker Platinum Label 18 Year Old (£70, 75cl, Waitrose), a Speyside blend of malt and grain whiskies matured for 18 years. The bottle is dressed in a trendy platinum banner to attract younger, affluent drinkers and has a signature smokiness to rival the Blue Label range. It's soft and peaty with slow-baked apples, malty cereal and notes of vanilla and sweet almond, with a whiff of smoke on the lingering finish.
Beyond the Speyside whisky trail, on the west bank of the Spey, The Macallan was the first distillery to fashion the trend for aged whisky when it started releasing vintage bottlings in the 1980s. Ironically, its latest release, The Macallan Gold (£34.97, 70cl, Asda), is an ageless single malt defined by its colour rather than how long it spends in oak and sherry casks. The first expression in the 1824 Series, it has a dense, fruitcake character with raisins, sultanas and orange peel as well as oaky notes of vanilla and a toffee-scented nose.
Relatively new to the flavour map, The Arran 14 Year Old Single Malt (£41.99, 70cl, www.arranwhisky.com) hails from the Isle of Arran, across the water from Alloway, Robert Burns's birthplace. The distillery produces a Burns Collection of blended whiskies and malts to celebrate Scotland's most famous poet, but for St Andrew's Day the rich and weighty 14 YO with vanilla, almonds, cinnamon and spice wrapped in caramel is a memorable dram.
With the current mode for peaty malts with the pungent smell of medicinal TCP, the Isle of Islay is the place to head for these distinctive whiskies which taste like they've been blessed with a healing quality.
From Port Ellen on the south coast, try Laphroaig Quarter Cask (£26.50, 70cl, Tesco) for a sweet, woody Scotch with a rush of peaty smoke, wafts of sea spray, ripe bananas and some spicy nuttiness on the long, smoky finish.
A must for whisky lovers with a penchant for pale spirits, try Ardbeg 10 years Old (£38.99, 70cl, Sainsbury's). Full bodied and complex with bursts of peaty smoke, a citrus element and even a hint of iodine with a savoury, smoky aftertaste, it's the perfect starting ground before moving on to some of Ardbeg's heavyweights.
:: Best buy
Baking with brandy... With Stir-up Sunday falling on November 25, home bakers should be reaching for a quality brandy such as Three Barrels VSOP (£16.19, 70cl, major supermarkets nationwide). As well as feeding your Christmas cake, spooning Three Barrels into gravy sauce and traditional mulled wine will improve the core flavours and reward tipplers with its smooth, velvety taste and gorgeous mouthfeel.
:: Liquid news
Sussex vines signal success... Bolney Wine Estate has been named UK Wine Producer of the Year in the International Wine and Spirit Competition (IWSC) 2012.
Sam Linter, head winemaker and MD at Bolney Wine Estate, says: "We appreciate the rigour that goes into judging at the IWSC which makes this award all the more significant.
"Award wins are great news for the business and open many doors. They're regarded as an independent endorsement of high quality and help our customers and consumers decide which wines to choose."
For more information on Bolney Wine Estate, visit www.bolneywineestate.co.uk