Whisky is a complex drink and not for the feint hearted. And there are some whiskies not for beginners. But that’s why we love it.
You can really sink your teeth into it, seeking out the many and diverse flavours. Tasting a dram is what draws so many people to Whisky. It takes time and patience to train your taste buds, but in the end, it’s worth it.
The complexity means that some Whiskies can be hard to decipher and let’s face it, are just not for people new to the drink. It’s not uncommon to find some Whiskies not for beginners.
We’ve lined up some drams that are difficult to taste, but well worth the effort. These are some of the finest drams around, but don’t think you’ll crack them first go!
Peat, peat, peat. This is all about the peat. But within that, there are myriad other flavours abounding. It is packed with oak wood, fruit, earthy richness and lots of sweetness. At every turn you’ll find something new. What can be hard to get over is the immense amount of peat smoke. Ardbeg is adored for their peated drams and this is no exception. The big plume of bog smoke can be off-putting to those who don’t have a refined enough palate, but once you do, it’s incredible.
Made using corn, rye wheat and barley, as the name would suggest, this dram was selected by Jim Murray to be World Whisky of Year 2018. It is inviting and rich, with thick notes of caramel and oak wood. While it does not have the overwhelming effect of the peat in Ardbeg, this dram brims with flavour. The multiple grains bring in several different notes that bounce of one another. Appreciating all of the different notes can be difficult if you can’t taste what you’re appreciating.
Matured in both American and European oak, before being finished in oloroso casks from the Bodegas Lustau. The mix of sweet and spicy is excellent, with lots of Sherry flavours and big notes of oak. Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, caramel, chocolate, sweet nuts, winter berries; there’s a lot. The addition of the Sherry on top of the already intense oak flavours means this dram has a lot going on. It has so much to offer that it’s worth waiting to hone your skills before taking a deep dive into it. This is definitely one of those whiskies not for beginners.
The Yamazaki 12 Year Old was probably the first Japanese malt to make it big outside of Japan. And for good reason; it is one of the best Whiskies on the market. The flavour and the body work in perfect harmony. It is packed with rich nutty flavours and a lovely aroma of blossom, spice and citrus notes. It’s complexity comes from having been matured in Mizunara casks, a soft Japanese oak that impart a gentle floral note. Japanese malt is incredibly complex because of the different casks used and it takes a lot to crack into those floral flavours.
One of Lagavulin’s signature drams, this 16 Year Old malt is really rich. The peat is mouth wateringly good and has multiple layers of flavour. Accompanied with big seaside flavours of iodine and brine, with more notes of Sherry spice and sweetness, this malt has a lot going on. Once you are able to get under the peat, the other flavours are amazing as well. They are well developed, and when you get there, they are well worth the effort.
An Irish Whiskey beloved by critics and consumers alike, Green Spot is elegant and boasts lots of flavour. Menthol, vanilla, floral, orchard notes and a lovely oak flavour all mix to create a beautiful profile, alongside a smooth mouth feel. The flavours are not intense but they are multiple. This is the perfect dram to appreciate once you know your way round a Whisky, especially an Irish Whisky.
A remarkable malt from Suntory, the Hibiki 17 Year Old is abundant with flavour. Again, like the Yamazaki 12 Year Old, the art of Japanese distillation means there is a lot going on in this malt and you really have to work at it to open it up fully. It has a gentle smoke throughout, with notes of oak, honey, citrus fruits, chocolate and wax. It is deeply complex and tastes phenomenal, you will not regret getting stuck into it once you do. This is an excellent whiskies, but also part of the whiskies not for beginners category.
Talking about phenomenal Whiskies, let’s look at Compass Box’s Phenomenology. This is a blend made up of malts that should not go together on paper, but on the palate, they are incredible. It brings together malts from various distilleries including Talisker, Glenlossie, Tamdhu, Highland Park and Caol Ila. The seaside malt combine perfectly with the more floral flavours to create a real work of art. It helps if you have a bit of experience in tasting a multitude of flavour profiles, so you know exactly what you’re looking for.
A really rare malt, the Laphroaig Lore is crafted by the distillery’s Master Distiller and harks back to traditions passed down through generations. The seaside malt, with big notes of brine, salt and peat is matured in Sherry butts that introduce spice and sweetness. The variety of flavours is amazing and takes time to seek out and pursue, but you won’t taste anything else like it.
Wonderfully complex, this malt is full of floral, honeyed notes and baskets of fruit. It is slightly spicy as well, bringing in a little bit of warmth to round everything up. Highland Park are well known for their complex malts and digging into this one will make you a life long fan. It takes a bit of time to get into the gentler notes but the flavours are exquisite.
What’s your favourite complex whisky to enjoy? Tell us in the comments!