Few spirits typify winter like a single malt whisky. It's often lauded for its medicinal properties and versatility, while being tipped as the trendiest of cocktail bases.
For the uninitiated, June marks a particularly significant month in the whisky calendar, with Ardbeg Day scheduled to kick off on Saturday, June 3. Perched on the southern coast of Islay, Ardbeg Distillery has long-held a deep connection to the sea and to the people of Scotland.
This Ardbeg Day, whisky drinkers will plunge deep in to the history of this spectacularly curated drink, and celebrate at Ardbeg Embassies in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.
Ahead of the event, we touch base with whisky expert Michael Fraser-Milne, who briefs us on what makes the humble whisky so unique.
Tell us what you love most about whisky?
"The dram aside, I most like the people at both ends of the spectrum, those who make it and sell it and the consumer. Both are so diverse and I don’t think there is any other industry where you can meet more interesting folk. Scotch Single Malt such as Ardbeg has really hit it straps, I also love it honesty, integrity, artisan nature and purity, it is the ultimate drink and people really get that."
Whisky has a rich history in Scotland – do you think Kiwis fully appreciate this?
"Aye I do, it is amazing how many Kiwis have a connection to Scotland, lived there, have got a Scottish parent or grandparent and so they know that Scotland and good whisky is synonymous."
What’s your favourite way to enjoy whisky?
"With friends at the end of the day or in the evening is always a great way to go, however when at sea in a bay for the night is hard to beat or on the top of a hill. A robust dram in the outdoors, a good single malt with a drop or three of good water, you cannot get better than that. Ultimately though I think they most ordinary whisky can be exceptional in good company."
For the uninitiated, tell us a little bit about Ardbeg Day?
"Ardbeg Day has now been running for six years which takes place on the last Saturday of the annual Islay Whisky Festival Feis Ile in Scotland. On Ardbeg Day, Ardbeg Embassies around the globe throw open their doors in celebration of all things whisky.
"The Master Blender or director of Whisky Creation, Doctor Bill Lumsden along with his right hand woman Gillian MacDonald, begin working on Ardbeg Day two or three years in advance when they begin producing a one-off limited release bottling for the day. In the past few years, these special release bottlings have been called Ardbog, Auriverdes, Perpetuum and Dark Cove.
This year they are set to release Ardbeg Kelpie, which is possibly the one causing the most stir of them all. It’s a wonderful idea to give fans of Ardbeg a special release to look forward to each year and also have a day to celebrate, the only issue is there is never enough of these limited edition bottlings and so they are in hot demand."
As a whisky ambassador, what’s the most interesting part of your role?
"Oh, well, I love a dram of course and in whisky terms, times have never been better with so much quality whisky to choose from. That aside, I get to go to some wonderful places, whisky has taken me around the world and through that I have met the most diverse range of people in New Zealand and elsewhere.
Whisky is all about the folk that drink it and it is the most people-centric of drinks. I am also very proud to be associated with my home country through fine Scotch."
What’s something interesting that many Kiwis might not know about whisky?
"Scotch Whisky has an act of Parliament the 1909 Scotch Whisky Act which controls “what is Scotch."
Scotch is the only drink that has a comprehensive list of rules that defines what it is and this list in fact very comprehensive and very restrictive, a great protection for the consumer."
What typifies a truly special whisky?
"The palate, it is really hard to explain, however every now and again, especially now due to the ever-increasing depth and quality of Scotch, you have a eureka moment.
I think it is a combination of mouth feel, taste and eventual the lovely finish you are left with, incredible to behold but hard to define, it is a ‘ultimate’ sort of moment, it is a search every serious whisky person is on, also it happens usually by surprise with a whisky you possibly were not expecting this from."
To learn more about Ardbeg Day or secure your tickets to this year's event, see here.
"Whisky is all about the folk that drink it and it is the most people-centric of drinks." – Michael Fraser-Milne.