[Editor's note] First publishes in 2012, this article still gets a huge amount of traffic but we noticed that some of the recommendations were out of dates so we've updated the list for 2014.
Buying a Christmas present for the whisky lover in your life? Youve perused their whisky collection and read Stu's excellent Christmas Whisky Gifts: Buying Guide. But you want to buy them something other than, or perhaps in addition to, a bottle of whisky.
Where to start? Here are some suggestions...
Mature your own whisky kit
A mini cask, some new make spirit and the chance to mature whisky at home. The higher ratio of wood to spirit contact with a small barrel like this will affect the liquid much faster than the large casks used to mature whisky for large scale production. In a matter of weeks and months you'll notice dramatic changes in the spirit. Not only will this be fun but you're sure to learn a lot about the effects of wood on spirit as you sample it at different stages of maturation.
Great Whisky Reads
The whisky landscape shifts and evolves year on year. All that whisky slowly maturing in dark warehouses around the globe reaches its optimum age and gets released. New brands come into the market. So while its a slow evolution, it is relentless hence the number of annually released whisky guides. Arguably the two most indispensable are Ingvar Rondes Malt Whisky Yearbook and the always controversial Jim Murray's Whisky Bible, the 2015 edition of these essential reads are available now. Another book we thoroughly enjoyed is Ian Buxton's 101 World Whiskies to Try Before You Die. All three titles are available here on the Master of Malt book list.
In some countries - the UK for one - whisky is seen as an after dinner drink. If however you go to France youÕll notice that on most menus itÕs listed as an aperitif with many digestifs having a much sweeter profile. Even the most dedicated malt aficionado gets a sweet tooth from time to time so what better way to satisfy that than with whisky liqueur? Master of Malt make a range of whisky liqueurs based on 10, 15, 21, 30 and even 40 year old Speyside whiskies. At over £500 a bottle the 40 year old is for those with deep pockets but this page on their site has a whisky liqueur to suit most budgets.
Set of tasting glasses
For those 'Mad Men' whisky moments you can't beat the style and glamour of a good tumbler to hold your dram, but is it the best type of glass for tasting whisky? After all you don't see many professional whisky tasters using them. In truth, for full appreciation of the complex flavours and aromas of whisky, you need glass where the opening is narrower than the widest part of the glass. For durability you can't beat the solid and dependable Glencairn glass - perfect for the job and robust enough to survive regular visits to the dishwasher. For something a little more delicate and, dare we say it, elegant take a look at the Whisky Exchange's own 'tulip' shaped nosing glass.
A quartet of fabulous Scotches this month with two old favourites, a superb indie and a new release from old distillery that doesn’t usually bottle its own whisky. For a detailed look at the Bunnahabhain watch the video tasting notes here
Staff Picks - our choices for this month
Featured in a WMTV video this month, Abbey Whisky have bottled another terrific single cask malt. This is part of their Rare Casks series and they really do seem to know a thing or two about cask selection. This has that special quality, that spark of personality which distinguishes truly great whisky from just good whisky. For more detailed tasting notes check the podcast in the link above.
£72.95 at www.abbeywhisky.com
If you haven’t sampled any Glenrothes, this expression is a fantastic introduction to the distillery’s style. Plenty of zesty fruit on the nose and palate of this full flavoured whisky, with some white pepper spice on the finish, make this an appealing and very accessible Speyside scotch from a much loved distillery.
£29.50 at www.thegreenwellystop.co.uk
Apart from a release under the Flora and Fauna range when the distillery was owned by Diageo, Craigellachie haven’t issued any own bottlings until now. The new owners obviously realised they have some gems in the warehouse and have released 13, 17, 19 and 23 year old expressions - all of which are superb. For us the standout expression is the 19 year old but sadly it’s travel retail only. This 17 year old however is almost as much of a delight and rather good value at the price. More info in an upcoming blog post.
£80.95 at www.thewhiskyexchange.com
David Beckham is without doubt incredibly handsome, an advertisers dream, so you might well have seen him staring from the pages of the colour supplements clutching a blue bottle of Haig Club. Might well have seen him? If you haven’t seen him and his hipster ‘friends’ then you’ve obviously been on Mars for the last month. Many years before David thought about releasing grain whisky in a blue bottle John Glaser thought about releasing it in a brown bottle. It still tastes rather good.
£53.41 at www.masterofmalt.com
This month we pick four blended whiskies from Scotland. None of these are household names but all are worthy of a place in your cabinet.
Staff Picks - our choices for this month
One of those whiskies that makes you confront your prejudices. After all, any bottle with a grouse on the label may not set your pulse racing. But this is different. First there’s no label on the bottle, second its content is quite different to that of its more famous sibling. This is a good quality blended malt - no grain whisky here - much of it distilled by The Macallan and Highland Park. An entirely different bird.
£25.07 at www.masterofmalt.com
Recently repackaged in a beautiful vintage style, this is a superb blended whisky. Complex and spicy, the new recipe is lighter on the peat than previous incarnations. Complex, elegant and sophisticated, it’s quite a surprise when you see the cost. A very good blend at a very affordable price.
£16.50 at www.thegreenwellystop.co.uk
Big Peat lives up to its name with a combination of malts from Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Bowmore and Port Ellen - yes, you read that correctly, Port Ellen! This blended malt from Douglas Laing is created in small batches, isn’t chill filtered and is bottled at 46% ABV. Full flavoured, complex and, of course, peaty.
£34.06 at www.masterofmalt.com
The lightest and most subtle of John Glaser’s creations, this quiet, soft whisky is often overlooked amongst some of his bolder blends. The term ‘whispering whisky’ could have been coined to describe Asyla and the man himself remains justifiably proud of this whisky.
£33.75 at www.abbeywhisky.com
We are having some pretty extreme weather here in the UK. Last night we had the fiercest thunder storms I can remember. This morning there was a hail storm and now it’s brilliantly sunny, about 84 degrees and very humid. Why am I giving you a weather report? Put simply this hot, humid climate makes me think of bourbon. So, without further ado, let me introduce four bourbons every whiskey drinker must try.
Staff Picks - our choices for this month
An iconic bourbon, as much for the striking red wax sealed packaging as for the excellent whiskey in the bottle. Great bourbon for sure but there’s also an important lesson in flavour here. The mash bill is rye free. So this is a perfect whiskey to educate your palate about wheated whiskey. That is, heavily wheat based bourbons which avoid the rye spice kick in favour of softer, sweeter wheat flavours.
£26.95 at www.masterofmalt.com
At the opposite end of the spectrum from the Maker’s Mark wheat rich mash bill is this rye heavy recipe. Bulleit has all the spicy kick that a high rye content mash bill creates. Taken side by side with a wheated whiskey this will not only delight but will also educate your nose and taste buds concerning rye’s contribution to bourbon flavour.
£27.95 at www.masterofmalt.com
Produced in Versailles, Kentucky, Woodford Reserve has a decent level of rye in the mash bill. Not as extreme as the Bulleit, this adds a spicy kick without going to the extremes. Accessibly priced and very drinkable, this occupies the middle ground in our opening trio and, once again, you can approach this from an educational and scientific stance. Can you see how I’m making learning fun here?
£28.75 at www.thewhiskyexchange.com
A great value premium bourbon from the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Kentucky. The Kentucky climate makes the bourbon distilled there mature pretty quickly and in three years much of it is ready to drink. So you can imagine what happens after 10 years, not only is this ready it to drink but it is something else entirely. An essential whiskey.
£34.95 at www.masterofmalt.com
Now then, we realise that this is a slightly tenuous link but every man and his wife are jumping on the World Cup band wagon so why not join in the fun. The big news ahead of the tournament is that Scotland and Ireland – the great celtic whisky producing nations – both failed to qualify for the finals in Brazil, so we sent our talent scouts a little further afield to pick four exotic Whisky World Cup choices for your tastebuds to tackle this summer.
Staff Picks - our choices for this month
Netherlands: Like the great Dutch football teams of yesteryear, famous exponents of the 'Total Football' philosophy, this whisky is also very pure and could even be called 'Total Rye'. Millstone 100 Rye whisky is produced by Zuidam and it's all about the number one hundred. It's distilled from 100% rye. It's matured for 100 months. It's then bottled at 100 Proof – which works out at 50% ABV.
£62.45 at www.thewhiskyexchange.com
Australia: Not famed for their football or their whisky, Australia are rank outsiders to return down under with the World Cup trophy. The budding whisky scene in Tasmania, however, could one day produce a world champion of its own. Good luck to the 'Socceroos' all the same!
£95.35 at www.thewhiskyexchange.com
France: World Cup winners in 1998, France are more famous for Cognac than whisky but a number of distilleries operate in the North of the country, which has a strong celtic connection. Guillon Cuvée, however, is produced in the heart of the Champagne region and is matured in three types of white Burgundy casks for around four years.
£42.58 at www.thewhiskyexchange.com
Japan: Ichiro Akuto is the star player of Japan's phenomenal whisky industry. This is a blend of whiskies from Chichibu and other Japanese distilleries - possibly including Hanyu and Karuizawa. Interestingly, it's labeled as a 'worldwide blended whisky' which indicates that it could even contain spirits produced elsewhere in the world. A whisky worthy of the World Cup? We think so.
£87.95 at www.thewhiskyexchange.com
For this month’s staff picks we’ve gone for a loose theme of “great bottles from less well known Scottish distilleries”. Although the four distilleries in question aren’t obscure if you’re a Scotch fan, they certainly aren’t household names. What they have in common is that they all produce wonderful whisky.
Staff Picks - our choices for this month
The Arran distillery was opened in 1995 so it’s still regarded as something of a newcomer in the world of Scotch. Arran is growing in reputation and popularity - a taste of this cask strength malt will tell you why. Bursting with fruit and spice, this whisky is highly recommended.
£43.36 at www.masterofmalt.com
This gem of a whisky is something of an old favourite of ours. Subtle coastal notes mingle with clean, fruity malt. There’s something quiet about Oban Distillery, it doesn’t release many expressions and owners Diageo don’t really shout about it. Which means you might have missed this whisky. Now may be the time to put that right.
£37.55 at www.masterofmalt.com
The releases from Balblair have been of a consistently high standard over the last few years. This whisky is no exception but what is unusual about this expression is that it has been further matured in a cask which previously held peated malt. The peated cask adds a new layer of flavour to the typical Balblair character.
£124.95 at www.masterofmalt.com
Continuing the theme of peated whiskies from distilleries that aren’t known for the style, Tomatin Cu Bocan appears to be the result of an accidentally produced batch of peated malt. An unusual back story for an unusual, and quite delicious, whisky.
£199.00 at www.thewhiskyexchange.com
The revival of Glenglassaugh continues under new owners the Benriach Distillery Company who have announced the release of a number of small batch, single cask whiskies.
The distillery was silent between 1986 - 2009 and these releases are of whisky produced pre-1986. In fact some of them are from quite a while before 1986, the oldest being a 45 year old whisky from 1968 and the youngest a mere whipper-snapper aged just 28!
We don’t have any details regarding price at the time of publishing, however these releases are sure to cause a stir. Sales director Alistair Walker comments:
We took over Glenglassaugh last year and were thrilled to discover a treasure trove of old and rare spirits slumbering in the warehouses. Revived from the dark, selected by Billy Walker for their excellence and personality and bottled last month, this is an extraordinary collection of rare casks which will be warmly welcomed by connoisseurs worldwide. Taken together, they are stunning examples of Glenglassaugh at its finest.
The range is elegantly packaged in simple bottles with an attractive golden box. Full details of the releases as follows:
1968 cask # 1601 / 45 years old / Finished a Sherry Hogshead / 44.3% vol
1972 cask # 2114 / 41 years old / Matured a Sherry Butt / 50.6% vol
1973 cask # 6801 / 40 years old / Finished a Manzanilla Sherry Puncheon / 52.1% vol
1975 cask # 7301 / 38 years old / Finished a Oloroso Sherry Hogshead / 40.7% vol
1975 cask # 7801 / 38 years old / Finished a Moscatel Hogshead / 42.4% vol
1978 cask # 1803 / 35 years old / Finished a Sherry Hogshead / 41.6% vol
1978 cask # 1810 / 35 years old / Finished a Port Hogshead / 42.9% vol1986 cask # 2101 / 28 years old / Finished a Hogshead / 43.7% vol
anCnoc - distilled at the Knockdhu Distillery - is a brand that has won many friends in recent years with its elegant, well made, and delicately flavoured whiskies. One thing it isn’t known for is rich, peated whisky. But that is about to change with the release of three, limited edition, peated expressions.
Here at Whisky Marketplace we’re fans of good graphic design and we’re always struck by the beauty of anCnoc’s packaging. These expressions are no exception. Each carries an illustration of, and is named after, a traditional peat cutting tool.
The three expressions are called Rutter, Flaughter and Tushkar. They range in peating levels from 11ppm to 15ppm which stops some way short of what one might describe as “heavily peated”. To put that in context, Ardbeg typically has a ppm of 54 and Laphroaig a level of 40ppm. So it seems likely that the peat in these expressions will be an added dimension to the fruit and spice notes we associate with anCnoc rather than completely dominant.
At the time of publishing two of the expressions are available through our regular retailers, prices for anCnoc Rutter can be found here. For up to date prices and availability of anCnoc Flaughter, see this page.
Another year, another Ardbeg Day, another Ardbeg Limited Edition. If I make that sound humdrum I don’t mean too, any new Ardbeg release is greeted with excitement around here!
This year’s release - Auriverdes - was matured in american oak casks fitted with custom cask lids. The lids are specially toasted to add distinctive additional flavours to the profile.
The name Auriverdes - an amalgamation of “auri” (gold) and verde (green) - is a nod to this year’s World Cup as the Brazilian team are nicknamed the Auriverdes. Of course Ardbeg bottle their liquid gold in green bottles so it’s self referential too!
Dr Bill Lumsden, who created the expression, explains:
“When creating Auriverdes I had a distinct flavour profile in mind that I wanted to achieve, so I specifically created the heart of the recipe to bring that to life. It is an expression of Ardbeg which has exceeded all my expectations – it has the trademark Ardbeg undertones with a distinct new taste experience.
Ardbeg Auriverdes has an explosive mouthfeel which gives way to complex flavours of coffee grounds, liquorice, maple smoked ham, malty/biscuit notes, white pepper and a good sweet/salty balance.”
I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to try it.
Those of you keeping a close eye on the Irish whiskey scene may have spotted “The Irishman” brand. A relative newcomer, it’s been highly rated at various international awards and by whiskey critics such as Jim Murray. Unfortunately, so far, it’s been fairly hard to come by outside of Ireland.
That’s all about to change as The Irishman gets its official UK launch.
There will be four expressions available in the core range - The Irishman Founder’s Reserve, The Irishman Single Malt, The Irishman 12 year old & The Irishman Cask Strength.
The Irishman Irish whiskey is being imported by UK distributor Emporia Brands. The whiskey will be available through all the main online retailers and, as usual, you’ll be able to find who stocks it via the product search here on Whisky Marketplace. We’ll be publishing detailed reviews of the range soon but we can already tell you that this is excellent Irish whiskey and a very promising addition to the category.