Heathrow’s resident whisky expert Nigel Sandals, shares his thoughts on the recent surge in the spirit’s popularity, as well as his favourite whisky tipples.
What are some of the most popular brands available at Heathrow’s Whisky Experience?
There are over 300 whiskies in the range, including airport exclusives produced by famous distillers, all with their own unique flavours. From Scotch and bourbon to single malts, there’s something for everyone. The current bestselling whiskies at Heathrow are Johnnie Walker, Glenlivet, Balvenie, Chivas Regal, Glenmorangie, Lagavulin, Aberlour, Jack Daniels, Talisker and Jameson.
What qualities do luxury shoppers look for in a high-end whisky?
Everyone has their own individual appreciation of whisky, so the qualities differ hugely depending on the palate. Each whisky drinker will likely have a preference of four distinct flavour profiles:
- Light & Floral: delicate on the palate, but can still deliver plenty of powerful flavour on the finish
- Fruity & Spicy: ranges from sharp citrusy notes and softer berry flavours to punchier spice notes like pepper or gentler ones such as cinnamon and mace
- Rich & Rounded: these get their full flavours from long maturation in oak casks
- Full Bodied & Smoky: more complex, smoky and peaty flavours
Nearly 1.1 bottles of whisky are sold at Heathrow each year. Why is the spirit so popular?
In recent years, I’ve seen a real growth in interest amongst both younger and female drinkers. It was traditionally seen as something drunk by older men that you had to acquire a taste for, but people are discovering that there are many exciting flavours and malts available, which is helping to boost interest amongst drinkers of all ages. Whisky’s status has also grown within bars and clubs in the UK.
What would you recommend to someone new to whisky?
Whisky cocktails are a great way to introduce yourself to the spirit. My two current favourites are a Whiskey Sour (bourbon, fresh lemon juice and super-fine sugar in a long glass) and a Manhattan (rye whiskey, Italian vermouth and bitters served in a cocktail glass). Alternatively, try Laphroaig single malt whisky straight up, and let your taste buds enjoy its medicinal, smoky flavour.
And what about whisky experts? Are there any niche or new brands to expand a palate with?
We have various travel-exclusive whiskies available that would appeal. Mortlach has a warming special strength and is best enjoyed straight, while 28-year-aged Girvan has notes of vanilla, caramelised fruit and a mellow honeyed finish. There’s also the complex Bruichladdich Port Charlotte 2007, a smoky, peaty whisky with an unusually high bottle strength of 57.8%.
What are some of your top whisky tasting tips?
I always follow these three simple guidelines:
- Always have a jug of water available to blend with the whisky and experience the different characteristics. Start with a straight serve and then add water, depending on taste preference.
- Have crackers or bread in-between drams to help cleanse the palate.
- Pace yourself; start with the lower ABV whiskies and work your way up the ladder.
How do you enjoy whisky yourself?
With food, in the evening. I’m a big fan of pairing Japanese whiskies with big, bold Asian food. The smooth flavours partner perfectly with flavour notes in the dishes, such as ginger, coconut and soy. I also recommend trying cheese or chocolate – whisky is perfect for after dinner and is a great alternative to dessert wine.