Malt of the earth
A Connemara-like country, Scotland invokes images of raw mountain landscapes where the brutish weather has gnawed away the excesses of the scenery and pared the topography down to its rock foundation.
It is often cloaked with blanket bog, and the air is almost coloured with the reflected shades of purple from the heather's blossom.
Scotch whisky, following the Irish tradition, is a spirit distilled from a beery brew of cereals and aged in Scotland for a minimum of three years.
"Single" refers to a unique whisky produced by a single distillery. Of all cereals, barley is the undisputed best. Malt means using only barley that has been malted/toasted.
The number of years ageing specified on the label refers to the minimum number spent in barrels, slowly acquiring a spicy character and amber colour from the oak.
Scotland's regions each impart their own character on their whisky. The heathery Highlands give a feminine, floral note; the coastal regions such as Campbeltown give a distinct seaweed and iodine tang.
The Lowlands represent welcoming accessibility while the islands, notably Islay (pronounced eye-luh), express an assertive and smoky, peaty distinction from the peatland water source and the turf burned to smoke and malt the barley in the kilns.
Nikka Japanese whisky (nikka.com/eng) has its origins in Scotland nearly 100 years ago. Its founder, Masataka Taketsuru, studied whisky-making in Scotland and returned to Japan with that expertise -- and a Scottish bride.
Celebrate St Andrew's Day today with our Scottish cousins and savour a wee dram. Slainte.
1) The Ben Riach 'Authenticus' Peated Single Malt, aged 25 years, Speyside, 46pc
Floral, heather and feminine bouquet. Sweet, honeyed and caramel richness. Nutty mellow and spiced. Alcohol tamed by the caramel and nutty finish.
€149.99 at the Celtic Whiskey Shop, Dawson Street, Dublin.
2) J.A. Mitchell Springbank Single Malt, aged 10 years, Campbeltown, 46pc
Iodine, briny and salty aromas. Spicy flavours with a hint of peaty richness. Alcohol in check and a smoky finish.
€49.99 in Dublin at the Celtic Whiskey Shop, Dawson Street; McHugh's, Kilbarrack and Malahide Road; McCabe's, Mount Merrion; and McCambridge's, Galway.
3) J.A. Mitchell Springbank Single Malt, aged 15 years, Campbeltown, 46pc
Very refined aromas. Mellow with the alcohol in balance and delivering an oily texture with spice and dried orange peel on the finish.
€69.99 at Celtic Whiskey Shop, Dawson Street, Dublin; and select independents.
4) Auchentoshan Single Malt, aged 18 years, Lowlands, 43pc
Warm and earthy notes. Rich caramel and nuts on the palate. Spicy and very smooth alcohol with a satisfying rounded finish.
€76.99 at Celtic Whiskey Shop, Dawson Street, Dublin; and select independents.
5) Bowmore Single Malt, aged 18 years, Islay, 43pc
Subtle and refined peaty bouquet. Delicious with spice, wood and a delicate peaty and smoky refinement on the finish.
€84.99 McHugh's, Kilbarrack and Malahide Road; McCabe's, Blackrock; Celtic Whiskey Shop, Dawson Street; Drinkstore and Redmond's, Ranelagh.
6) Yoichi 12 Years Old Single Malt, Nikka, Japan, 45pc
Gentle peaty character, exceptionally rich and refined with plum and sandalwood -- a Japanese trademark.
€107 in Dublin at Redmond's, Ranelagh; Deveney's, Rathmines and Dundrum; Celtic Whiskey Shop, Dawson Street; Fresh, Grand Canal; Blackrock Cellar; Baggot Street Wines; Kavangh's, Dorset Street; and Bradley's, Cork.