Five of the best: single malts

Cragganmore 12 Year Old (Speyside, 40%)

Finding the perfect Speyside malt is curiously complex: the best-known (Glenfiddich and The Glenlivet) flirt with blandness; while a second leading group (The Macallan and its kind) can be over-reliant on wood for their character. Few Speyside peers, however, can better Cragganmore for elegance, completeness and complexity. This is a poised, urbane and restorative malt for both summer and winter drinking alike.

Around £31; for stockists see

Dalwhinnie 15 Year Old (Highland, 43%)

The chill solitude of the distillery and its warehouses, dumped like glacial debris amid loch and mountain, is one reason for the slow-ageing profile of this Highland malt. The wait is worth it, though: Dalwhinnie is nimble, pure and sweet-tempered, yet intricate and beguiling, too, tumbling about the palate in a flurry of heather, broom and pollen, and melting into the tongue with honeyed grace. Few malts are less brutal, less testing, more drinkable.

Around £31; for stockists see

Highland Park 18 Year Old (Orkney, 43%)

Many malts strive ostentatiously for completeness and density of flavour, usually via the use of young or reconditioned casks and the squandering of long years in them. This quietly spoken Orcadian outdoes them all with a portfolio of nuances. Smoke, spice, moorland flowers, a gentle inner fire, dried fruit, a touch of toffee: whatever you could hope to find in a malt is here somewhere.


Laphroaig 10 Year Old cask strength version (Islay, 55.3%)

Savage, uncompromising, crack o’doom malt for those curious to see how far a glass of whisky can mimic the forces of nature. The smokiness is ubiquitous, boisterous, savoury and nourishing. There’s an iodine edge to the spirit, and an engine-oil reek, too, while its bourbon-cask ageing provides a counterbalancing sweet solace at the finish, and a flurry of dark spices.


Springbank 10 Year Old (Campbeltown, 46%)

Everything about this Campbeltown survivor offers a contrast to the herd, notably its “partial triple distillation” system, and its ageing period spent in an almost equal mixture of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks. The seaside character of this remote fishing town is evident in the softly tarry, marine scents, yet on the palate it’s much harder to pin down, with malt, spice, fruit and vanilla sweetness in string-quartet harmony.

£34.50;, 01586 551710

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