Winter is undoubtedly dram season. Harsh temperatures, partly frozen slush on the pavement and the halogen glare from street lamps at four in the afternoon all cultivate the desire for warmth, whether that be open fires, central heating or the comforting burn of a single malt as it slides down the oesophagus. Even for those of us who consider every season to be dram season, the comforting synthesis of spirit and the cold season can only be enjoyed.
As this crazy year heads toward its conclusion, it is interesting to look at how lockdown has changed the way in which we buy and consume spirits. For many, it does seem that Spring and Summer have become dram seasons, complementing Autumn as Transitional Dram Period, leading into the Traditional Dram Season, Winter. Single Malt Whisky still rules, but the diversity of spirits that can and have been appreciated neat – the de facto dram criteria, although on the rocks is allowed – has really been a source of interest to many. Agave spirits, and Mezcal in particular, have soared in popularity as the joys of a neat one, or even long one with tonic, have become clear. Rum, too, either lusciously silky and sweet, dry and funky, or clear, herbal and vibrant, offers such a diversity of styles, flavours and ways of drinking. Look out for Hampden Estate Rum, whose intensity will knock your socks off .
While for many others, joy has been found in creating classic cocktails at home, with Negroni the tonic of choice. This is particularly pleasing for me as it has inadvertently introduced the pleasures of vermouth to new palates. Long, short, over ice or used as a base for a Negroni or a Manhattan, this versatile, relatively low ABV spirit brims with warming spice, delicate sweetness and often notes of stewed raspberry and orange peel. It sounds festive, but this is another candidate for 365 day (non-consecutive) consumption: every season is Vermouth Season. Try Cocchi’s Vermouth di Torino or Dopo di Teatro over ice and you will forever be a convert.
Yet, after touring round all these new spirits, it is always Single Malt to which we return. Scotland for the purists, but there is a world of different options to explore: the terroir-driven whiskies of Waterford in Ireland, the single grain Nikka Coffey grain or, for those who want to experience richness and spice in equal measures, Rye whiskies from the USA and Canada (more on this another time). Much to discover, and many to enjoy, for all the strain brought about by our current situation, it seems that many have found pleasure in the ever growing world of spirits