Sukhinder Singh, Director at the Whisky Exchange, shares his top 3 whiskies under £100
The Whisky Exchange is a very popular place to buy whisky. It’s a specialist whisky and spirits retailer based at Vinopolis in central London and they also sell direct via their website.
Their prices are competitive, service is consistently great and their well-constructed website allows you to browse in an organic fashion. Their range is certainly enviable and helps you to learn a bit more about whisky every time you visit.
So what better person to ask for their 3 favourite whiskies under £100 than the Whisky Exchange’s Director, Sukhinder Singh, one of the most respected and well-liked people in the whisky industry.
His immediate reaction to the “top 3” question was “I wish you’d said top 10 – it’s hard to narrow it down to so few!”
First off the starting blocks was the Clynelish 17 Year Old, distilled in1995.
“Clynelish is one of my favourite distilleries in Scotland. I’ve got a big soft spot for it. The bottling that we did recently and launched at the Whisky show at the end of 2013 was a single cask Clynelish 1995, 17 year old from a sherry cask, produced by Signatory” he said.
“It’s getting harder to find single casks of it so when I found this Sherry butt, that yielded 622 bottles, I was very happy. I love the classic Clynelish character – waxy, fruity, it’s a traditional highland dram and for me, that’s something special. I also love the standard Clynelish 14 year old distiller’s bottling”.
Clynelish 17 year old tasting notes
Nose: Cooked apple with cinnamon, warm leather, and stewed plums and raisins. Floating above are lighter fruity flavours, with fresh cut Braeburns, gummi chews and tinned pineapple.
Palate: Classic Clynelish wax, quickly pushed aside by spice and fruit – more apples and chews from the nose, along with plump raisins and grape skin tartness. Water brings out more sweetness, with dark black liquorice and sherbert.
Finish: Fragrant wood resins, tingling cinnamon and lingering medium-sweet apples.
Comment: A well-balanced Clynelish, with the classic waxy spirit character bolstered but not hidden by sherry cask spiciness.
Sukhinder waxed lyrical on the Highland Park 18 year old which retails at around the £100 mark. “The 18 year old is a classic, an amazing whisky. To be fair, I like the whole range, I like the 25 year old, the 30 year old, but for me the 18 is the benchmark for Highland Park. It’s been one of my favourites since the day it was launched.”
He talked about the recent sharp increase in price of the Highland Park 18 following a re-launch in modernised bottles and packaging and a marketing campaign to get it into the hands of consumers.
“The price increase is predominantly due to demand – it’s in the same stable as Macallan – and the price now reflects the quality” said Sukhinder.
Highland Park 18 year old tasting notes
Colour: Natural colour, burnished gold, clear and bright.
Aroma: Rich, mature oak, top note of aromatic smoke.
Taste: Rich, full flavour; honey and peat.
Finish: Soft, round and long
Sukhinder’s next choice was a Lagavulin 16 year old. “It seems to get overlooked, maybe because it’s in front of you all the time” he mused. “It’s the perfect example of an Islay whisky. For the age, it’s very good value for money at around the £50 mark. Sometimes you can try a bottle that costs £100 that’s not as good. It’s often on a restaurant list; it keeps evolving with each sip and every time I come back to it, it just gets better and better. It’s a classic malt, I absolutely love it.”
Lagavulin 16 year old tasting notes:
Appearance: Deep amber
Nose: Lapsang Souchong and fruity sherry. A sophisticated mixture of sweeter aromas followed by lemon and white pepper notes with a roasted nutty quality.
Palate: The dryness is at first offset by the sweetness of the sherry character. As the palate develops, oily, grassy, and, in particular, salty notes emerge in a long, sustained, aggressive, attack.
Finish: Long and fragrantly smoky. Water brings out Indian spices (roasted cumin).
Whilst I had Sukhinder’s ear I thought: shall we do one more for luck? So we pushed on. He said:
“I’m a big fan of Glenfarclas, Longmorn, Ardbeg – one brand that is still very unknown is Glengoyne. For me it’s a whisky that’s very classic in its style. As a Highland whisky it’s very clean, very easy drinking. I like the 18 a lot. It’s in the middle – it’s from re-filled sherry casks and first fill, so it’s on the sherried side.
“It lends itself better to cooler weather – I drink it less in the summer, when the weather’s too hot, but also not when it’s bitterly cold – it’s a really good everyday dram for me.”
Glengoyne 18 year old tasting notes
Appearance: Medium gold with a rich glow.
Nose: Awash with red apple, ripe melon and fresh banana. Heavenly and well rounded, it drifts into hot porridge topped with brown sugar.
Palate: Full bodied, round and rich. At first macerated fruits, marzipan and walnuts; then warm spices, dry cocoa and lingering Seville marmalade.
Finish: Long, warm and dry.
A final dram?
“Here’s another one a lot of people don’t talk about: standard very affordable malt: Aberfeldy 12. I really like that, I think it’s lovely, it’s so easy drinking, fruity, very clean, classic Speyside style. It’s a lovely introduction malt for beginners, very approachable, Aberlour is another personal favourite – going more towards the sherry style. In terms of affordability it’s fantastic: £33! A lot of people don’t know it – and it’s such a nice easy drinking whisky. It’s owned by global giant Bacardi and I think they don’t really know what they have with Aberfeldy, they’re too focussed on their white spirits. It’s a lovely clean fruity whisky.”
Aberfeldy 12 tasting notes
Colour: Full, golden yellow.
Nose: Almost incense-like, heather honey with a fruity softness, notes of pineapple, toast and cereal. Syrupy, lingering on the tongue like a liqueur.
Body: Full bodied.
Finish: Full flavour, the perfume characteristics become more spicy, with a bitter hint of Seville oranges in a decidedly dry finish.
And you can progress from the 12 year old to the 21 year old. The 21 is a great upgrade, it’s literally the elder brother/sister of the 12 year old. It’s the same style just a lot more complex and concentrated. It’s still got the element of waxyness to it that I really like, like the Clynelish style, little bit of oak, honey, hint of sherry. I really love them both, seriously they’re both are very, very good.”
Sukhinder also gave an insight into the whisky market: “I feel that the quality of standard single malts up to the £100 mark has got a lot better in the last 2-3 years. I remember 5-10 years ago, I was finding that some of the standard malts on the market weren’t as good as they should have been.
What changed it? When they were being entered into competitions – I was doing a lot of judging in those days – there was a lot of disappointment in the standard malts. Some were really boring, and what happened was that other categories, like Japanese whisky, were blowing away Scotch whisky. They were winning everything and the Scotch industry thought: we’d better pull our socks up! A lot went away and many went back to the drawing boards.
10-12 year old whiskies today there’s very little disappointment – that’s what I personally feel. Glenlivet, Glenmoray, Glenfarclas, Glenfiddich, Balvenie – they were good – and now they’re getting great. A lot of people are still getting in to whisky and as a whole, the industry is in a really good position.
Aberfeldy 12 and 21 ©Colin Hampden-White