“I love drinking Scotch around the holidays,” says bartender Nigal Vann. “Chicago can get very cold and sipping on a Scotch can warm me right up.”
And this year, there’s one whisky that Vann has set his sights on: Aberlour A’bunadh, a cask-strength single malt aged exclusively in used sherry casks. It was originally introduced in the 1990s and has since developed a cult-like following of whisky drinkers and bartenders. The first time Vann tried the Scotch he says, “it couldn’t have been more perfect.”
“It was at a dinner during the winter holiday season and it was extremely frigid,” says Vann. “I sometimes have a sweet tooth, so I was drawn to the aroma from the sherry finish and gingerbread came into my mind on my first sip.”
The Scotch continued to evolve on his palate and as a result A’bunadh remains a perennial favorite. “I still get something new with every bottle I crack open,” he says.
While Vann does enjoy Scotch in cocktails, you’re likely to find him sipping a glass of the whisky over a large cube of ice. “Scotch is so complex on the palate,” he says. “It’s a quality that I respect, so I savor it as long as I can.”
One technique that helps him taste Scotch, which he often recommends to guests, is to add just a splash of water. It helps open up the whisky and release its flavors and aromas. He particularly enjoys doing that with a complex expression like the Aberlour 16 Year Old.
As the holidays approach, Vann is also looking to Aberlour 12 Year Old, thanks to how easily it pairs with rich foods and works in Highballs and Hot Toddies.
And, when he’s feeling like a Scotch cocktail, Vann likes to mix up his A’bunadh-based Deed No. 22, which highlights the whisky’s floral and sherry notes. (It calls for A’bunadh, golden raisin demerara syrup, Yellow Chartreuse and chocolate bitters.) The cocktail is inspired by the Penny Bridge that crosses the River Spey, whose construction was funded by Aberlour’s founder James Fleming.
There are lots of ways to appreciate the complexities of Scotch and many times it depends on your mood, ambiance and company. So choose what works best for you. And if you’re just getting started on your Scotch journey, but still want to dive in like a pro, Vann suggests you have a few essential items on hand. “Scotch is so powerful on the nose you want to get yourself a nice Glencairn glass, so you can enjoy those aromas,” he says. If you want to see how a Scotch can change with temperature fluctuations and dilution, pick up a rocks glass like Cocktail Kindom’s Kiruto Glass and also a large ice mold, which will produce a cube that “won’t melt as fast.”
Glencairn Whisky Glass
Ice Cube Tray