Winter is undoubtedly a time of year when whisky takes an even greater place on centre stage. The crisp air, the wood smoke coming from stoking the fireplaces, the darker nights – it all makes me want to curl up under a soft wool blanket (purchased from Scotland, naturally) and have a large dram. Outside of this regular enjoyment of whisky, is a rather indulgent drink that I only partake in around this time of year. Specifically, the time we are approaching – as the store shelves stocked with decorations seem to indicate – Christmas.
The indulgent thing I refer to? Sipping on a Bailey’s and coffee. In my normal day to day life as a Whisky Specialist, I wouldn’t count this as a go-to drink in any capacity. It’s sweet, whereas I prefer dryer, more savoury tastes. It’s not particularly refined, unlike my many favoured whisky malts or blends. It’s certainly not going to be found in any trendy bars. But for as long as I can remember a coffee and Bailey’s, accompanied by Christmas, have always gone hand-in-hand. Even if it wasn’t mine, it would have been a sip of it from my mother’s drink when I was young, so began my adoration of this combination of flavours.
The only time in recent memory when I’ve missed out on this tradition, was when I found myself on a boat in Halong Bay, Vietnam last Christmas. It was rather disappointing, not only because I missed my Christmas bevvie, but also because the crew were convinced it was actually called ‘Chrismats’ and that the only way to celebrate was with 18 hours of the same Christmas CD played on repeat. I nearly jumped overboard.
This year, I intend to be in Sri Lanka, but having learnt my lesson, I’m planning to take some miniatures to see me through. So, what’s this all about? It’s really, in truth, about tradition. It is the tradition, almost certainly more than the taste that I love. The feeling that another year is coming to a close and this is one way to mark it.
One industry that has bags and bags of tradition is of course whisky. Whether it’s the Irish whiskey that goes into making Bailey’s, or the Scotch that goes in your tumbler, the spirit is high on tradition. Now, this is of course changing and I’d be a hypocrite to suggest that I am not a vocal commentator on the fact that whisky should embrace new ways of thinking. I love the ever-growing use of it in cocktails or food pairings, for instance. Similarly more and more whisky producing nations are on the scene, all beginning to claim their own stake in this fair industry and find a slice of tradition for themselves.
If you had a chance to catch the three-part documentary series on the BBC called ‘Scotch: The Story of Whisky’ you’ll know what I mean. It’s something explored in depth in the show, and I encourage you to pour yourself a double and watch it on catch up while you can. Regardless of the changes, you can’t take away hundreds of years of history that the Scottish and Irish (especially) have in this space. So as the nights draw in closer, as the mist descends on the fields, as the chimney smoke permeates the air – I encourage you all to take a moment to think about your own drinking traditions.
Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, what better way to do so than with a large dram in hand – it can only help the in-depth examination, surely. Me? You’ll find me with a Bailey’s and coffee, wishing everyone a Merry ‘Chrismats’ and if you don’t want to indulge in quite the same way, I’ve made a list of my top drams to see you through!