Whisky writer shares his tips to keep out the cold
It's the time of year when we push the boat out and when it comes to that Christmas spirit a good whisky is hard to beat.
Whether it's Scotch or Bourbon, Japanese or Irish, the world of the water of life is complex and varied - and it can be daunting for the novice tippler.
But help is at hand in the form of a book published by whisky expert Ian Buxton. 101 Whiskies to Try Before you Die is a distillation of years of his research into the spirit, and Buxton was in Canary Wharf recently to dispense his knowledge to lovers of a wee dram or two.
He said: "The book is about making whisky accessible for real people. Whisky has got very fashionable now, but I wanted to take some of the mystery out of it for people, to help them open their eyes to the things they might want to try.
"A lot of books are about whiskies that are no longer available, or are very expensive. £1,000 for a bottle is nothing these days, while £10,000 is commonplace. There's even a Highland Park that's available for £100,000. But what's the point of that? Most people would never be able to afford it.
"I've tried to be irreverent. The marketing of whisky is often a lot of nonsense. Whisky is simple stuff. It's for drinking and enjoying, not investing in or showing off.
"And a bottle of whisky is good value. People think nothing of paying £30 for a bottle of wine, but that's gone in an evening. A bottle of whisky will last a lot longer than that."
There is a serious side to the book. Whisky production plays a major part in the Scottish economy. And while many whisky drinkers are sniffy about blended brands, Buxton feels single malt snobs should be grateful for them.
He said: "That wonderful single malt would not have survived but for blending. 90 per cent of whisky produced is blended and then sold around the world. That's what keeps the industry going.
"It's a vital industry for Britain, a real success story. Distilling supports jobs in fragile rural economies, and brings in money through tourism. It should be celebrated."
Buxton's top tip for finding a whisky you like is to think small.
"There's no point buying a £30 bottle and finding you don't like it after a couple of glasses," he said.
"The best thing is buy some miniatures to try. You get to learn about several different whiskies for less than the price of a whole bottle, and when you find one you like, go to your local retailer and talk to them about it. They'll be able to guide you towards the perfect whisky for your palate.
"But one thing I would stress is you should always enjoy it responsibly."
Ian Buxton's top tips for enjoying a dram:
-Take time to sample different types of whisky to find the one you like. The variety is huge.
-Add water slowly and carefully to the glass to bring out the full flavour of the spirit. It will also give you a longer drink.
-Try different whiskies at different times of the day. A Talisker is good if you're out for a walk, while a more mature malt is better after a meal.
-Whisky is made by distilling fermented grain. Scotch is made from malted barley, while Bourbon is made from maize.
-The distillation process has been traced back to 2,000BC, although whisky production is a bit more modern than that, with the first Irish distilleries appearing in the 12th Century.
-Scotch is matured for at least three years, usually in oak casks.
-The first blended Scotch whisky was made by Glenlivet in 1853. Blends now account for 90 per cent of Scotch production.
-Whisky (or whiskey) is made all over the world, with distilleries as far afield as Sweden, Australia and India.
Five to try:
1. Highland Park 18-year-old (£60.59). Smooth and balanced single malt with a smoked finish.
2. Johnnie Walker Blue Label (£170). Old and rare whiskies blended for a complex finish.
3. Yamazaki 12-year-old single malt (£30.99). Sweet, delicate Japanese whisky with hints of vanilla and butterscotch.
4. Woodford Reserve Bourbon (£26.99) Triple distilled and aged for nine years for a full, rich flavour.
5. Bushmills Original (£18.95). Oldest Irish whiskey, smooth and light.
All available at Waitrose, Canary Wharf.