It’s not just about the dram in your glass. It’s also about where you are when you enjoy it, and with whom.
Sipping rare whisky in the Icelandic wilderness while gazing up at the Northern Lights is something everybody should do.
Imagine it, the most amazing light show on earth, while keeping the arctic chill at bay with a rich, and deeply warming Highland single malt.
At times the country looks like the Scottish Highlands, but then a distant plume of geothermal steam quickly puts an end to the similarity.
We’re at Hotel Ranga, a four-star wooden clad hotel about an hour’s drive from Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik.
Sitting in the middle of a flat, grassy plane, and an award winning salmon fishing river winding past, the view from the windows is like something out of a John Ford western.
Icelanders have a familiar saying: “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.” A truer thing is rarely said.
Nature had conspired against us. Wild wind and rain forcing us indoors, so the only Aurora we have is the one resplendent in its blown glass decanter, The Dalmore Aurora.
Put to cask in 1964 and aged for 45 years, only 200 bottles of Aurora were released last December, priced at £3000 each. Matured in American White Oak and a Gonzalez Byass sherry cask, then spending its final 18 months of maturation in a 30 year old sherry cask, the air of anticipation was almost palpable.
Hotel owner Fridrik Palsson joins us on the plush leather sofas in the cosy wood panelled lounge, as does his sommelier and whisky expert Stefan Olafsson.
Quiet descends over the table as the seal on the bottle is carefully broken, I no longer notice the sound of the outside elements trying to find their way in. We’re all excited, especially Stefan I think, because despite the bar stocking some of the biggest and best names in drinks from around the world, there’s nothing quite like this one.
I’m pretty sure I even lick my lips like a man seeing an oasis the desert as the ruby liquid is poured into my glass.
We lucky few around the table know that after 45 years this going to be complex and intense tasting experience, and what better way to make new friends?
Rolling it over in the glass leaves an enticingly rich, glistening sheen.
My heart beat quickens as I close my eyes and nose the glass. It’s sumptuous, weighty, smooth, and delightfully rich.
It kicks off with sweet pears, and tropical notes of bananas, and a touch of pineapple and passion fruit. Spicy blood oranges come right through the middle, with dark chocolate, caramelised peanuts, red apples, bright lemony citrus, and sweet notes of lavender.
Whisky has the ability to spark the imagination, invoking vivid and beautiful images. I feel like I’ve walk into the warm drawing room of an ancient castle where there’s a soft, worn leather arm chair next to a smouldering wood fire and the scent of a freshly polished ancient mantle piece.
The palate is incredibly smooth, with sweet and dark berries, cinnamon, and fresh strong coffee before the dark chocolate comes back for an intense finish.
Water added a fresh sweetness and brought out an aftertaste of caramelised orange slices and ice cold sea spray on the wild Icelandic coast.
You have to take all the time in the world with this whisky, then wait even longer. The flavours are so deep and well integrated, they will come out when they’re good and ready, but when they do eventually show themselves it is absolutely well worth the wait.
We had Aurora by name, but this time nature held back, but that’s ok.
Brilliant whisky, in unique surroundings, with great company – truly unforgettable.