The 6 Best Bottles to Gift a Whiskey Lover
A warming present at every price point.
Winter has arrived!
With it comes sweater weather, roaring fires, twinkling lights and a switch to warm, bracing beverages of browner hues. Whisk(e)y, bourbon, rye and scotch— served neat or warmed up in a toddy—are the perfect drinks (and gifts) for the season.
First, a quick primer.
Whisk(e)y can be spelled two ways. Scotch whisky (it may only be called Scotch if it is made in Scotland) and scotch-inspired liquors are spelled without the “e.” Whiskey made in Ireland or America is spelled with an “e.”
Whisk(e)y is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain mash. This mash is typically aged in wooden casks, which may or may not be charred. Frequently, the casks have already been used to age port or wine, which gives the liquor that distinct brown color and taste.
Then there are the variants of bourbon and rye. Rye whiskey is distilled from at least 51 percent rye. Bourbon whiskey is a bit more complex. It needs to be produced in America, stored in a new charred oak barrel, distilled from at least 51 percent corn and no more than 160 proof.
Picking the right bottle can be a daunting task with so many choices, but by breaking down the distinct personalities of each bottle, you can find the right match for everyone. Here are my picks to keep holidays merry and bright for everyone on your list.
This classic single malt scotch is also the best value bottle on the list. Highland Park is one of two distilleries located on the Orkney Islands on the northeastern coast of Scotland. This lightly-peated whisky is the best possible introduction to the heavily aromatic peat smoke which infuses the barley and gives Highland Park its smoky essence. Aged in ex-sherry casks, this bottle has a nice light flavor of dried fruit and a nuttiness along with a little spice and peppery finish.
Gift List: The most coveted item at this year's Yankee Swap. Perfect gift for the beginner, a great addition to any home bar.
Japanese whisky is gaining popularity with good reason, winning many top honors and awards worldwide. Japanese whisky is closer to scotch than any other whisky. The founder of the Nikka Distillery, Matsuzaka Taketsuru, studied organic chemistry in Glasgow and worked at multiple distilleries in Scotland in the 1920s. He made whisky in Japan extremely similar to how it's made in Scotland. Bottles are getting rarer, but this excellent example of grain whisky (as apposed to single malts) is still readily available. There are no coffee notes here; the Coffey in its name has nothing to do with the drink, but the name of the still. This bottle has a great graininess and a pleasant vanilla with some hints of coconut.
Gift List: For the trendy, hip, fun-loving urbanite on your list. Be prepared to hear “I’ve been wanting to try this!” from your recipient.
A newer brand in the market, every batch of Barrell Bourbon is a limited release, bottled at cask strength and made in limited quantities. The founder and producer, Joe Beatrice, travels through Kentucky and Tennessee sampling and buying barrels and then blending them together in new inventive and creative ways. Each has an intentionally distinct flavor profile, which is the essence of the Barrell brand. The current batch, number 005, is one of the nuttiest bourbons available and their spiciest batch to date, with notes of cinnamon and pepper along with cherries, stone fruit and chocolate.
Gift List: For those who favor the small batch, craft bottles and appreciate the artistry of a “maker.” It’s the the right choice for an outdoorsman, an artist or craftsman.
Complex and fascinating, Whistle Pig is 100 percent rye aged in premium European casks for several years and then bottled in Vermont. The blend of several different cask finishes (63 percent Madeira finish, 30 percent Sauternes, 7 percent Port) is evident in every sip, as you can really taste the different components of the cask finishes. There is a spicy, grainy rye character with hay, menthol and tobacco flavors, but you also get splendid dry fruits and a lot more spice. The Sauternes cask imparts a creamy vanilla character, the Madeira finish brightens the whiskey and the Port dries it out. It’s a complex and refined rye.
Gift List: For the amusing and interesting intellectuals on on your list. Booklovers, scientists and foodies alike will appreciate the complex flavor profile.
Compared to peated smoky scotch, Irish whiskey’s light, fruity aromatics and smooth taste make it a popular choice. A perennial classic, this bottle is the epitome of high-end Irish whiskey. Only 50 casks of Midleton are released every year, making it rare indeed. It is a blended Irish whiskey made in the classic single pot still fashion, where a portion of malted barley and a portion of raw barley are included. This creates the grainy, malty character distinctive of Irish whiskey. This is the Irish style at its very best. The flavor is malty, floral and spicy, with great dried red fruits. This elegant and creamy beverage is ideal for both collectors and connoisseurs.
Gift List: For the well-traveled, classic types who are always in style. Refined, quietly elegant and smooth.
There are many excellent expressions of Glenfiddich, but for the ultimate in high-end luxury gift giving, nothing beats Glenfiddich Excellence 26-year single malt scotch. Straightforwardly aged in American oak, ex-bourbon casks, this rare and special release is steeped in history and quality. It is very bright, tasting of fruits, rich green and red apples, vanilla and pears. Some nuttiness and gentle baking spices finish out the taste. Understated and delicate, but stunningly complex.
Gift List: This special occasion gift is perfect for the person who has impeccable taste. Straightforward, quietly powerful and graceful.
Where to buy:
At the time of this publication, all listed bottles are currently available at the following Gordon’s Fine Wine and Liquors locations:
894 Main Street
Waltham, MA 02451
599 Moody Street
Waltham, MA 02451
51 Watertown Street
Watertown, MA 02472
31 Austin Street
Newton, MA 02460