Sunday, September 28, 2008

Great places to drink whisky ... The Red Lion & Sun, London

the red lion and sun, highgate The Red Lion & Sun pub can be found in Highgate village in north London. Highgate village is a leafy suburb that has been swallowed up by London sprawling outwards, but still retains a unique character and charm. It was an excellent surprise on a recent visit there to discover that the Red Lion & Sun has had a major revamp. Previously a dusty old place serving up warm real ales with funny names and microwaved food, the place has now been sympathetically modernised. Part of this modernisation includes introducing the residents of Highgate to one of the larger selections of whiskies that we have seen in a pub. There is a whisky menu with around 25 different Scottish malts, about a dozen bourbons, 6 or 7 Japanese whiskies and various others from around the world, all of which are decently priced. The staff are passionate about whisky and they also run a whisky club and tastings (you can sign up for this at We decided to try a few different things that we had not had before.

Glenlivet 12 years old
Glenlivet is one of the most popular whiskies in the world. The distillery is located in Speyside and they produce a light and easy drinking spirit. This 12 years old is light but quite complex and refreshing with lots of fruit and floral notes on the nose and palate. There are apples and pears (a classic Speyside characteristic), some citrus (imagine lemon zest), lots of malted barley and cereals and a distinctive heather element. The finish is light, crisp, dry and good!

Aberlour A'bunadh
Another Speyside distillery, Aberlour is less well known in the UK but very popular in mainland Europe especially France and Spain. Famous for their use of sherry casks for maturation, the A'bunadh (pronounced a-boona) has a massive sherry cask influence and is released as cask strength (over 60% ABV in this case). They release limited batches of this every so often with each batch being slightly different. This is rich and creamy with loads of intense dried fruit, butterscotch, concerntrated citrus flavours (think of orange marmalade) and honey. Adding some water takes away the strength of the alcohol and reveals a gorgeous spiciness (imagine cinnamon and nutmeg). The finish is long, creamy, rich and spicy. Lovely.

W. L. Weller Special Reserve
The Weller distillery closed in 1991. This American bourbon is now made at the Buffalo Trace distillery in Kentucky using the traditional recipe and grain mix. This special reserve is released at seven years of age and is light and refreshing. The nose and palate are full of woodiness and vanilla. There is a very nice creaminess in the mouth with a note of honey coming through with something spicy at the end (think of cinnamon and nutmeg again). The finish is crisp with lots of wood and sweet vanilla with an interesting bitterness, that reminded me of a dark chocolate or black coffee. Very drinkable but you would really have to like that woody taste to enjoy it fully.

Nikka 'Straight from the barrel'
This Japanese whisky is cask strength vatting made up of whisky from Nikka's two distilleries - Miyagikyo and Yoichi. It is rich with strong elements of vanilla and fresh fruits (imagine apples and pears). There is also something nutty (reminding me of hazelnuts and almonds, i think), some caramel/butterscotch and just a hint of some smokiness. The finish is sweet, spicy (think of something warm like ginger) and refreshing.

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