Wednesday, 5 December 2018

My Holiday Wishlist: Scotch Edition

Oh the weather outside is frightful,
Scotch whisky's so delightful
And since we've no place to go
Let if flow, let it flow, let it flow

So I'm not a songwriter. But the holiday season is upon us, and "wish lists" are all the rage. Amazon wish lists, Chapters-Indigo wish lists, Canadian Tire wish lists, Starbucks wish lists, Lululemon wish lists, and so on. I've had friends ask me for whisky recommendations more times than I can count. Of course, it stokes my ego just a little bit, so I really don't mind. In fact, if I weren't so long-winded, I'm sure I'd be asked for advice more often. I know people aren't really interested in still shapes, worm tubs, fermentation times, and peat levels, but my inner Cliff Clavin refuses to be silenced.
Actually, Springbank's two-and-a-half times distillation is quite simple
It's hard to recommend a whisky for someone's gift purchasing needs when you don't know the recipient's taste preferences. It's also difficult to recommend a whisky when someone doesn't know how much they want to spend. So I'll share some of the whiskies I'm wishing for this year, and I'll include some bottles for every budget (Ontario prices). I'll start with scotch whisky, since that's the one I'm asked about the most.

Gift Bottles for $40 or less

The Famous Grouse Smoky Black ($34.95)

The Famous Grouse is one of my favourite inexpensive blended scotch whiskies. Smoky Black adds peated malt whisky to the blend, giving the fruity whisky a smoky punch. Whiskies like Smoky Black are also ideal for introducing someone to peated whisky without breaking the bank. The Famous Grouse is owned by the Edrington Group, which also owns The Macallan, Highland Park, Glenrothes, and Glenturret, so you're getting something from those distilleries in this blend.

Té Bheag ($39.95)

It's pronounced "chey-vek" not "Tea Bag." This independently-produced blended whisky contains about 40% malt whisky, much higher than most other blends. There's a bit of sherry, a bit of peat, a little brine, and some nice toffee in the mix too. It's unchill-filtered which is a plus for any whisky nerd, but know that it may get a little cloudy if you add water or ice. This is normal, and there's nothing wrong with it. This whisky remains criminally under-appreciated in the whisky-verse. Buy with confidence.

Gift Bottles for $70 or less

Isle of Arran The Robert Burns Single Malt ($52.95)

Isle of Arran is a relatively new distillery, but how can any Scotch-o-phile NOT yearn for a single malt named after the Bard of Ayrshire? This whisky is officially endorsed by The World Robert Burns Federation. Get this one as a gift for a loved one, and maybe they'll enjoy it with you at New Year's while singing "Auld Lang Syne" or during a Burns' Supper. Haggis optional. This offering from Arran is bottled at 43% abv, natural colour, this whisky is light and sweet, with honey, apple, and pecans being the most prominent flavours. I'd tak' a cup o'Arran yet, for auld lang syne.

Timorous Beastie 10 Year Old Blended Malt ($59.90)

Staying with the Rabbie Burns theme, this whisky by independent bottlers Douglas Laing is named after Burn's poem "To a Mouse". This 10 year old whisky is bottled at a very respectable 46.8% abv with no added colouring. It is unchill-filtered, and features Highland malt whiskies from Dalmore, Glengoyne, and Glen Garioch. There's nothing timorous about the rich flavours of almonds, honey, apricots, and oranges. A perfect dessert whisky at a diminutive price.

Ledaig 10 Year Old Single Malt ($69.70)

This peated, smoky beauty is markedly different from peated Islay whiskies. Ledaig (pronounced "led-CHIG" or "led-CHAG") is produced at the Tobermory distillery on the Isle of Mull, whose peat gives a different character to the malt. Ledaig is smoky, yet floral, nutty and fruity. This one often flies under the radar. If you've got a peat lover on your list, this one may just surprise them. Ask them to tell you if "terroir" is really a thing when it comes to peated whisky. Then sit back and allow the Cliff Clavins of the world to do their thing. Bonus points if you actually listen. If the enthusiast on your list fancies themselves a connoisseur, let them know that the venerable Ralfy awarded this one a malt mark of 87/100 points. That's high praise from very tough critic.

Gift Bottles for $100 or less

Glendronach 12 Year Old Single Malt ($79.95)

This is probably my number one pick for a "can't miss" whisky. I've yet to meet a person who didn't enjoy this Highland classic. Beautifully sherried, but not too sweet. There's nuttiness, fruitiness, and maybe just a hint of smoke. It's bottled at 43% abv, and to my knowledge Glendronach never uses any added colouring. If you don't like smoky whiskies, you'll still enjoy Glendronach. You really have to search to find the smoke.

Glencadam 10 Year Old Single Malt ($94.20)

Glencadam is still flying under many people's radars. That's a shame, because this is a fantastic family-owned Highland distillery. Their whiskies are all bottled with no added colour, unchill-filtered, and this one is bottled at a very respectable 46%. It's fruity, with some citrus notes, some floral and herbal notes, along with a touch of banana and toffee that you often find in ex-bourbon cask matured malt whisky. There's also some spiciness and a touch of raw almonds. This isn't a big, bold whisky, but it's far from boring. If a whisky can conjure up the feeling of a season, Glencadam 10 Year Old is a dream of spring.

Lagavulin 8 Year Old Single Malt ($98.15)

No wish list of mine would be complete without a nod to Lagavulin. This malt proves that age isn't everything, especially when it comes to peated Islay whiskies. It's bottled at a punchy 48% abv and under the peat and smoke you'll find some lovely citrus notes of lemon and oranges. There's also some classic Lagavulin brine and tobacco.

Edradour 12 Caledonia Single Malt ($99.25)

Ok, so for some crazy reason this one isn't available in Ontario, but the SAQ (Québec's liquor overlord) has it, and I have many friends who travel to La belle province often enough. Edradour is Scotland's smallest working (legal) distillery and they make terrific whisky. This one is presented at natural colour, unchill-filtered, and bottled at 46% abv. It's got rich flavours of honeyed dates, raisins, christmas fruitcake (which I personally love, by the way), some oak spices and a little dark chocolate. This is wonderful stuff. If you can find it, buy it.

Gift Bottles for over $100

High roller, are you? Nothing wrong with that. Want to impress your boss, your best friend, or your favourite whisky blogger? Try these.

Tomatin 14 Year Old Portwood ($110.05)

Tomatin has flown under a lot of radars. Don't let it pass you by. This is excellent whisky. The Port influence is a bit more subtle here than it is in Glenmorangie's Quinta Ruban, but the Tomatin holds its own. There are figs, dates, and walnuts o'plenty in this lovely malt that's bottled at a respectable 46% abv. Maybe distilleries are finally getting the message that a slightly higher abv means more flavour for the consumer. Well done, Tomatin, well done.

Balblair 1999 Single Malt ($169.95)

Balblair makes terrific Highland malt whisky. They're frequently overlooked by many because their whisky isn't what James Bond drinks. They don't produce expensive television ad campaigns. They aren't trying to appeal to the "look at me" Instagram types. Forget product placement and hype; Balblair is proof that skillful craftspeople who take pride in their trade are worth more than marketing fluff. This whisky is rich with flavours of raisins, walnuts, fruitcake, orange, and a bit of leather (it works, trust me). It's creamy and sweet, and it's bottled at 46% without added colour, and it's not chill-filtered. Balblair uses a vintage rather than an age statement. It's different, but it works. This one was distilled in 1999 and bottled in 2014, so it's 14 or 15 years old, depending on the months of distillation and bottling. Either way, it's impressive.

Bowmore Vault Edition First Release Single Malt ($196.05)

This edition from "Islay's oldest distillery" is sub-titled "Atlantic Sea Salt". Matured in Bowmore's No.1 Vault, this one has plenty of brine (d'uh!), spice, leather, caramel, and floral honey. It's a belter, bottled at 51.5% abv, so you get the full, stormy, hit of the whisky's maritime character. It's matured exclusively in ex-bourbon casks, which I enjoy. Ex-sherry or ex-port casks produce a whisky imbued with a rich fruitiness, but ex-bourbon casks allow the distillery's spirit to take center stage. It's not a choice we're forced to make, as we are allowed to have several types of whisky in our cabinets, and I'd like to have this Bowmore in mine. 

Laphroaig Lore Single Malt ($195.75)

My wish list could not be complete without Laphroaig. This whisky is a vatting of whiskies aged between 7 and 21 years in a combination of casks including first fill Sherry butts and quarter casks. This is bottled at 48% and is redolent with nuts, dark chocolate, toffee, smoke, brine, and has a rich, creamy mouthfeel. The top of my personal wish (dream?) list.

There you have it: Scotch whiskies for every budget and palate. What's at the top of your wish list this year?

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