It’s Chrimbus Time! A WhiskyParty Holiday Gift Guide

It’s that time of year, and while many others around the blogosphere have pioneered the art of the Holiday Season Gift Giving Guide, such as our friends and colleagues at Whisky For EveryoneScotch Hobbyist, and Master of Malt, we’ve decided to follow suit and recommend some special, gift worthy options in three different price ranges.  We’ve also each chosen a non-liquid but whisky-related gift idea to help make you the complete consumer.

Exceptional Value @ $0-60:

[Mike F.]: Balvenie 14 year old Carribean Cask

This newly released Balvenie, much like its 17 year old Rum Cask predecessor, is finished in casks that previously held Carribean rum; unlike the old 17 year-aged version, this one is available now and costs somewhere in the range of $50-60.  The result is a delicious explosion of flavours including big fruits such as pineapple and papaya, the expected Balvenie vanilla, and a dark-rum spiciness. It’s an especially appropriate gift for all those who long for warmer-weather vacations rather than staying snowbound this winter.

Other Opinions: Malt Advocate (John Hansell)Gear Patrol; Liquor Snob (press release)

[Mike C.]: McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt Whisky

The American micro/craft distilling movement continues to gain speed, and whether you are a naysayer or ardent enthusiast, everyone agrees that this seasonally released dram from Clear Creek Distilling company is one of the best American single malts on the market.  An incredibly smooth, peated dram with notes of chocolate and the sherry character of the casks just beginning to shine through.  A bright, Americanized version of Lagavulin.  See our review here.

Other Opinions: American Craft Whisky; Drink Hacker; Whisky Intelligence

[Dan]: Balvenie 15 year old Single Cask

Balvenie 15 is somewhat of an anomaly in the official bottlings released by distilleries. It’s aged 15 years, released at cask strength, and always from a single cask. David Stewart, the master distiller at Balvenie, handpicks all the casks, and makes certain that though they will all be unique, that they represent the honey, vanilla and oak that make Balvenie what it is. Not only a serious value for under $60, but a serious value that whisky geeks can appreciate for the flavor, the uniqueness, and for the official cask strength bottling.

Other Opinions: Malt Advocate (John Hansell); Aqua Vitae Scotch

Rare Quality @ $60-100:

[Mike F.]: Sazerac Rye 18 year old

Winter is a great time to pour you and yours a nice dram of Scotch, but don’t overlook the marvelous decadence of this 18 year old straight rye. The 2009 release improved upon the divisive 2008, and brings spices, sweetness, herbs, and leathery tobacco together in a fantastically aged melange— a much better aged rye than Michter’s, for example. The color, in a crystal clear presentation bottle, is a stunning crimson that is a wonder of its own. Various releases have won “Best of the Year” awards, including Jim Murray’s 2010 Whiskey of the Year, so you know the recipient will be proud of their gift.

Other Opinions: Bourbon Enthusiast/Malt Advocate; Master of Malt

[Mike C.]: Laphroaig 15 year old

Yes, this is a discontinued dram and it’s damn hard to find.   But I know for a fact that it’s still lurking out there - usually in bodegas and discount liquor shops where the “connoisseurs” would ne’er deign go.  Just last week a buddy of mine found a bottle on the shelf of just such a disreputable venue.  The heat and campfire of Laphroaig, finished with a nutty sweetness that rounds out the rougher edges, the 15 year old remains a superior dram to its more expensive older cousin the 18 year, and its more brash younger sibling the Quarter Cask.  If you can dig a bottle up for your loved one, it’s worth twice the price tag.  See our review of the 15 year old and Quater Cask here.

Other Opinions: Whisky for Everyone; Scotch Hobbyist; Whisky Fun

[Dan]: Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist

Ardbeg no longer produces this whisky, lovingly called “The Beast.”  It’s been replaced by the extremely well received (though no age statement and younger) Corryvreckan. The Beast is everything you want out of an Ardbeg - it’s sweet, spicy, heavily peated, and the finish just does not ever want to let you go. It’s outstanding.  As the whisky is no longer being produced, it’s getting a bit harder to come by, but it’s a whisky that will be appreciated by all for whom you buy it. Though it originally cost $125, you can pick it up online for under $70 here.

Other Opinions: Whisky For Everyone; The Casks; JSMWS

Affordable Luxury @ $100-200:

[Mike F.]: BenRiach 21 year old Authenticus

A steal of a deal at $125, this well-peated, non-chillfiltered 21 year old should appeal to both Islay-philes, due to the 55 ppm phenol content, and Speysider fans, due to its provenance and pedigree.  Furthermore, it will show each something entirely new and is not likely to be given to them by anyone else— a rare, delicious, and special bottle for a very reasonable price.  See our review here.

Other Opinions: Whisky For Everyone; Whisky Magazine

[Mike C.]: The Macallan 18 year old Sherry Oak

The big, creamy taste that The Macallan is famous for, with an added layer of complexity of delicate, charred smokiness.  I love smoky whiskies, and I love the big creaminess of the Macallan.  This is a perfect marriage of the two, and any whisky enthusiast will be thrilled to see a bottle of this beauty show up in their stocking.  See our review here.

Other Opinions: Serge at Whisky Fun; Edinburgh Whisky

[Dan]: Amrut “Intermediate Sherry” Indian Single Malt Whiskey

For the over $100 whiskey category, I think that quality and taste, availability, uniqueness factor, and presentation should all play a part.  Quality: Amrut knows how to make whisky. I tried this at WhiskyFest and it was outstanding.  Sweetness and spice in a gentle, balanced dram.  Availability: Amrut Intermediate Sherry is rare. There are only 510 bottles allocated for the US, and the US got a large allotment overall.  Uniqueness: The barrel aging is incredibly unique. Amrut Peated Cask Strength, after being aged in bourbon barrels, was then transferred to sherry butts for a few months before being brought back into bourbon barrels. It’s a unique aging and part of the reason for the limited availability. Presentation: A beautiful large red box with a satin lining, nice graphic design, information on the bottle, and a ribbon tying it all together. It looks extremely luxurious, and if you’re giving it as a gift, it will impress the heck out of someone.  At $125, it will make a great gift.  See our review here.

Other Opinions: La Whiskey SocietyConnosrWhisky Israel

Non-Liquid, Whisky-Related Gifts:

[Mike F.]: Whiskey: The Definitive World Guide by Michael Jackson ($45)

More than just an exhaustive compendium of distillery descriptions from all over the world (including Scotland, the US, Ireland, and Japan), this coffee table book delves deeply into all aspects of whisk/e/y, including its origins, how it’s made, terrior distinctions, cocktail recipes, and tasting notes from the master. It will captivate and educate all who are interested in the water of life, from those about to take their first sip to the seasoned enthusiast.

[Mike C.]: Bottega Del Vino Whisky Tots ($85 for a pair)

Almost as important as the quality of spirit you drink is the quality of the glassware you drink it out of.  While I’ve got nothing against slinging $4 wee drams out of your average double shot whisky glasses at a local bar, if I’m going to blow $150 on a bottle of whisky I need a quality glass to drink it out of.  A friend gave me two Bottega Whisky Tots as a wedding gift, and they are now my go-to glass for tasting quality drams.  The deep bowl and tulip edges make for a perfect sip, and the measuring lines cut into the glass help me pour the perfect wee dram, or the more obscene “gill.”

[Dan]: Malt Advocate Magazine Subscription

There are two main whisky magazines one can subscribe to: Malt Advocate and Whisky Magazine. I think Malt Advocate is more approachable, and it’s editor, John Hansell does a phenomenal job of fostering a community amongst his readers. At $18 a year, it’s well cheaper than a Whisky Magazine subscription, and it provides some amazing content - from fascinating stories about the burgeoning American Whisky market to reviews that make or break whisky.

Other great gift bottles:Old Parr ($35), Glenlivet 15 yo French Oak ($40)Connemara Peated Irish Single Malt ($45), Jura Superstition ($45), Longrow CV ($60), Glenlivet Nadurra ($60), St. George Single Malt ($60)Aberlour A’bunadh ($60), George T. Stagg bourbon ($65)Talisker Distiller’s Edition 1998 12 yo ($70), Jura Prophecy ($70)Ardbeg Corryvreckan ($85), Glenmorangie Astar ($85), Highland Park 18 ($90)Ardbeg Supernova ($130), Hibiki 21 yo ($170)Caol Ila 25 yo ($205), Highland Park 25 yo ($250), Port Ellen 30 yo 9th Release ($370), The Last Drop ($2000)

- Thanks, WinterMan!  Merry Chrimbus, Everybody.

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