Malt whisky is often seen as a winter drink. This is evident in its annual sales ‘spike’ – we certainly buy a lot more malt in the winter.

Naturally, this trend is ‘shored up’ around Christmas and New Year, when it is traditional to leave a wee nip out for ‘Santa’ on Christmas Eve, or to see in the bells with a dram.

I wrote about gin last week, as the G&T is a popular summer drink. However, I’d like to challenge whisky’s wintry traditions – every time of year is good for whisky! Perhaps we should look upon it as we do wine. You see, we tend to buy more red wine in the winter, and more white and rosé in the summer. The point is that we buy different types of wine at different times of year, but we still buy wine all year round!

It might not seem instantly apparent, but in the world of malt whisky, there are parallels to be made here. For those of you who know whisky well already, you will understand that the range of styles available out there these days is spellbinding, but if you are a relative newcomer to whisky, it might be harder to see this.

The market is dominated by a few giant brands that, while not similar to each other per se, do not fully represent the variety available to the budding enthusiast. In particular, I’m thinking of the ‘Big Glens’ (Glenfiddich, Glenlivet and Glenmorangie) and some of the peaty/smoky giants like Laphroaig and Talisker.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying anything bad about these whisky brands – just that they are huge players in the market. I’ve said before that I’ve never had a ‘terrible’ single malt whisky, and these big brands all produce very, very nice whiskies. However, I also always say that variety is the spice of life…

We have around a hundred active malt distilleries in this country, all producing a range of whiskies of different styles, finishes and ages. How many have you tried?

So, if you fancy trying a ‘Summer Malt’, I’d advise avoiding whiskies that are particularly rich and heavy in style. Richer whiskies tend to be ‘finished’ by ageing in casks that formerly held something with a sweet character in itself, like a fortified or dessert wine. Most often, richer finishes can come from Sherry casks, but they can also come from finishes in Port casks, Sauternes casks, etc.

A very tentative rule of thumb is that the darker the whisky, the more likely it will be ‘wintry’ in style; rich, spiced and with flavours of things like dried fruit and toffee. There are – of course – exceptions to this, but very often the particular cask finish of a given whisky will be described on the packaging.

To keep it ‘Summery’, I’d advise whiskies with a slightly lighter finish that can still lend a touch of sweetness and spice. Malts that were finished in sherry oak can still fit in to this style (sorry to complicate the matter, but there are lots of different types of sherry out there…), but bourbon casks or ‘new oak’ casks are good too. Here are a few recommendations…

For a nice, light and very floral whisky, you should look no further than Balblair 2002 Vintage (£36.75, down from £39.75, Oddbins). Bottled in 2012, this is a ten-year-old whisky, but Balblair don’t blend to a ‘house style’, rather letting the vintage speak for itself, so there are slight variances between vintages. Its delicate sweetness comes from a Bourbon finish, and it has a very intense palate of spicy vanilla and citrus. Loads of character, but gentle enough that you could sit and drink it all day…

Next up, a curve-ball: Glengoyne Cask Strength (£47, Good Spirits Company). Yes, it’s sherry-finished, and yes, it has 58.7% alcohol by volume, but it is packed with tropical and zesty fruit character, alongside the lovely cedar-spice and fiery depth you would expect. Adding a couple of drops of water really softens the whisky, drawing out the fruit, but not at the expense of intensity.

Finally, I’d recommend one of Islay’s gentler malts; Bruichladdich ‘Laddie Classic’ (£34, ASDA). When they aren’t making gin (yes, Bruichladdich are at it too…), they make some lovely unpeated and peated malts. This is the former; another bourbon finish, and non-age specified (but younger than ten years old), so what you get is a very up-front, uncomplicated whisky with a very pleasing, oily mouth-feel. It’s bursting with youthful energy, and has honeysuckle on the nose, and vanilla cake on the finish - just lovely.

Try it out - I promise you’ll be surprised at how refreshing you’ll find a wee summer dram!

Reading Between the Wines: why Gin is the new tonic

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