Don Kavanagh: Spirit revival a blessing

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Don Kavanagh tries three new whiskies and is converted.

Despite the pedigree of many whiskies, distilleries are also launching new versions all the time.
Despite the pedigree of many whiskies, distilleries are also launching new versions all the time.

I'd better make a confession at the start of this column.

I'm going to be talking about whisky, so anyone fed up to the back teeth of hearing me bang on about the king of spirits should probably just turn the page and check out which restaurant Peter Calder has eviscerated this week.

Still here? Right, then let us begin.

The thing I love most about whisky (apart from the taste, obviously) is the sheer breadth of styles and flavours you can get. Coming close behind that is its heritage and tradition. Of all the major spirits, whisky has the thickest web of lore, legend and lies spun around it.

Did you know that whisky (or whiskey, if you prefer) can cure worms? Neither did I and neither does medical science, but it's just one of the legends that have grown up around this sovereign liquor. It's all rubbish, of course. Anyone who tells you a legend about whisky is not to be believed, unless it's the one that says "what can't be cured by butter or whisky, there is no cure for", which is something we can all live by.

But amid all the antiquity and artifice around whisky, remember that whisky is an ever-changing spirit. While distilleries trumpet their age and pedigree on their labels, they are also furiously bringing out new versions of their product. With about 100 single malt distilleries in Scotland alone and more in the US, Canada, Japan, India, Australia and Ireland, it's a wonder anyone can bring out a new whisky at all. However, they do and they're always interesting, and often exceptional. I've tried a few recently and I've been impressed by the quality.

The first of these is the most unlikely. Amrut Fusion is an Indian whisky of some polish and style, which is quite an improvement on previous incarnations. I've never been sold on the quality of Indian whisky, ever since I was once served a glass of something called King Anne (the label boasted that it was made with "genuine Scottish berries"). But the Fusion, made from Indian and Scottish barley, has a sense of style about it and shows a promising future for the Amrut label.

On a more traditional note, Abhainn Dearg, from Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, is a lovely wee dram and one I was lucky to try, thanks to the good offices of someone who is now a very special friend. It was a 3-year-old cask-strength malt and while it had all the fire of youth, it also had an unexpected maturity.

The third - and, if I'm honest , most enjoyable - whisky I've tried recently is the oddly named Norval's Sensible Scotch. It's a blended whisky - a mixture of malt whisky with unmalted grain spirit - and has a character and style all of its own. It's from Kirkcaldy, a Fife town more famous for the aphrodisiac qualities of its sea wall than its fields of golden barley. It's available from www.thewhiskyboutique.co.nz and you'll be pleasantly surprised by the cost; I've bought bottles of wine that cost more and haven't given half as much pleasure as this little gem.

- Herald on Sunday

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