In celebration of Chinese New Year, Keeper of the Quaich Steve Notman, one of Greater China's leading independent voices on whisky, lists his top 10 IWSC winning whiskies to enjoy during the festivities
As we experience the final crows of the Year of the Rooster, the world prepares for the largest human migration to warmly welcome in the powerful bark of the Dog. Chinese New Year is a period of family, celebration and plenty of eating and gifting – drawing similarities to Christmas, different provinces and regions have different traditions and dishes to welcome in the New Year. Whether it’s ginger duck, nian gao, dumplings or Sichuan hot pot, here are THE whiskies to gift, pair or enjoy during the New Year festivities.
Johnnie Walker Blue Label (CNY Limited Edition Design)
From San Francisco to Shanghai, airports across the world will be bustling with trade, with travellers seeking to find the fitting gift for CNY celebrations. Johnnie Walker Blue Label is a stalwart in travel retail, and their Chinese New Year limited edition design is always eloquently presented. Milk chocolate coated walnuts wrapped in silky smooth smoke.
Where to buy: Master of Malt, £228.50
Sichuan is renowned for its natural beauty, pandas and its spicy hot pot (nothing like a Yorkshire hot pot, I must add!) This is a very fun, engaging experience where you place vegetables and meats in a simmering soup stock, usually split in two styles (spicy and non-spicy), and allow your food to cook through. This is one of my favourite Chinese cuisines to pair Islay whisky with – especially Laphroaig 10 Year Old. Sichuan dry numbing spice paired with signature Laphroaig smokiness, sweetness and medicinal notes is perfect for a cold February night in Chengdu.
Where to buy: The Whisky Exchange, £38.95
If you are single and heading into your thirties, CNY dinner can be like your annual work performance review with your manager. Questions such as when are you going to getting married? Why are you still single? Why haven’t you had a baby? And that’s just speaking to your grandmother, uncle or aunt! Having experienced this myself, I would recommend pouring yourself a large glass of Aberlour A’bundah, add a drop of Nongfu springwater, sit back and fasten your seat belt located in the first class cabin before you experience severe turbulence!
Where to buy: Amazon, £49.99
If you’re meeting your partner’s family for the very first time at CNY, first impressions count! A single malt that is worthy of such occasion, or as a gift to your partner’s family, is The Glenlivet 18 Year Old. It’s a classic Speysider that is extremely difficult not to get on well with, even if it’s the first time you meet.
Where to buy: The Whisky Exchange, £89.95
The IWSC Silver Outstanding awarded Dalmore 15 Year Old is a great whisky to have by your side when you catch up with your home town friends over dinner. The structure, style, and texture are the attributes that lend itself to duck in particular. The classic Peking duck pancakes with the essential plumb sauce acting as a bridge is a classic many people can try the world over.
Where to buy: Master of Malt, £52.33
Wealth and good fortune are always at the heart of Chinese New Year, where one signature dish is Nian Gao (Sweet Rice Cake) which is deemed as lucky due to its double meaning – Nian meaning either ‘sticky’ or ‘year’ and Gao meaning either ‘tall’ or ‘cake’. A challenging pairing, but nonetheless turn to the Valley of Tranquillity (Glenmorangie) served over ice for enjoyment.
Where to buy: Master of Malt, £29.95
Dumplings are at the heart of any Chinese New Year feast. It’s considered that if you eat dumplings on the first day of the festivities, it’s like eating money to prepare you for a prosperous new year! Try the crisp floral delicate style of Glen Grant 10 Year Old accompanied with pork and vegetable dumplings, usually dipped in vinegar or soy sauce, to ensure you don’t get full too easily.
Where to buy: Master of Malt, £30.83
A bold but balanced sherry cask matured whisky is the perfect digestif after your banquet. Closer to a savoury mid-autumn festival mooncake in texture with plenty of dried fruits, fudge, demerara sugar and thick cut marmalade.
Where to buy: Master of Malt, £76.96
Macallan 25 Year Old
Day five of CNY celebrations marks the visit from the God of Wealth. The preparations are very similar to that of Christmas Eve in the UK, leaving a mince pie, carrot and a glass of sherry out for Santa. For families with children, replace the mince pie and carrot with fruit, and the sherry with a Macallan 25 Year Old to ensure the God of Wealth stops at your home to provide you good fortune the next day. For adults, in the evening, sit back and relax with the Rolls Royce of single malts and watch the fireworks to officially welcome the God of Wealth.
Where to buy: Master of Malt, £1,095
Day 15 is the final day of the CNY festivities. It marks the first night of the first full moon of the New Year. Tangyuan is the name of the sweet round dumpling served that symbolise the shape of the full moon. Made of glutinous rice flour stuffed with sugar filling, they also represent family reunion. The honey, butterscotch and vanilla notes in a Chivas Regal 12 Year Old would be the dram to pair for this occasion.