Scotland on Sunday's wine columnist Brian Elliot talks to whisky's finest guru, Charlie MacLean, about dream drams, wood finishes and why all roads lead to Scotch.

With the weaker pound helping exports and industry insiders better versed than many on international trade deals, some consider the next few years could be good for our whisky trade.

What better time, then, to gather the thoughts of another Scottish national treasure – writer, taster and major authority Charlie MacLean. Here is a Q&A session with the man often described as “whisky’s finest guru”.

Writer, taster and major authority Charlie MacLean. Picture: contributed for Brian Elliot wine SOS 13th NOV

Writer, taster and major authority Charlie MacLean. Picture: contributed

What is your view about new arrivals on the whisky scene like those from Japan and from Wales?

All are welcome – especially Kavalan from Taiwan. In the end all roads lead to Scotch.

What about supermarket whiskies then? Which have impressed you?

Lidl’s range is astonishingly good value and has won many prizes.

Whisky production has also seen plenty of changes recently, what will technology or other initiatives bring us next?

Many of the new initiatives are “green” – associated with energy saving, re-using residues such as draff (the leftover grain debris after fermentation).

Getting on to drinking it, what is the expert advice about adding water or ice?

Enjoy whisky as you like – even with Coke (heaven forfend!) – but for appreciation a little water is a good thing: it opens up the aroma and makes it easier to hold the spirit in the mouth. Tap water is fine, so long as it has no odour or taste. Ice, however, closes down the aroma and limits appreciation.

Underlining whisky’s versatility, what would you suggest for anyone seeking whisky as an aperitif?

Lowland malts such as Glenkinchie or Auchentoshan.

Each whisky region has its advocates, but what would be good “crossover” whiskies that might entice drinkers to try something from a different region?

Fans of Lowland styles might find a North Highland malt (Clynelish, Balblair, Glenmorangie, for example) encourages them towards Speyside. Equally, one of the recent peated Speysides (such as Benromach Peat Smoke, Benriach Curiositas) could provide a “road to Islay”.

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What is your view about wood finishes?

I am not a fan: they can make for pleasant, easy-drinking drams, but they disguise the inherent character of the whisky.

Finally, which whisky would you pick for a celebratory dram?

Highland Park 40YO, Brora 38YO, Port Ellen 37YO – in my dreams!

 

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Brian Elliott

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