In response to the number of questions that we at ScotchBlog.ca have been receiving of late regarding which single malts to give as gifts this season to the experienced Scotch drinker, we present our 2009 Gift Buyer's Guide. In addition to drawing on the collective experience of the ScotchBlog.ca authors, we have taken the time to include the recommendations of Ian Millar, Global Brand Ambassador & Master Distiller at Glenfiddch and James Robertson, International Sales Manager at Tullibardine.
So yet again, despite all attempts to stop it, Christmas looms large on the calendar. One thing that I've always found helpful to maintaining some semblance of sanity throughout the jarring string of parties, family gatherings, and once a year drink meetups is a regimen of well-timed doses of great whisky.
A sound method to ensure that you will be able to enjoy a brilliant single malt is to get someone else exactly that. If they are anyone worth giving such a gift, they will at least offer you some, and even if you don't like whisky, you will at least have the satisfaction of getting that person something they don't usually have.
So with that in mind it is time to get to the matter at hand: How do you buy a scotch for someone who likes whisky when you don't know anything about it yourself?
Ian Millar, Global Brand Ambassador & Master Distiller at Glenfiddich provides a great starting point: "look for single malts between 12 and 18 years old that come in at $50 to $80." This way there is some measure of quality as you aren't ending up with something made for the sake of being inexpensive.
But then what? In speaking with James Robertson, International Sales Manager at Tullibardine he added that it is worth while to "seek out something unique" in terms of flavours and the nose, as this is what really makes single malt whisky so enjoyable.
So with those pieces of sound advice from interviews past, I present you with a list to help you give single malt scotch as a gift this season, and to make it look like you knew exactly what you were doing the entire time. To keep it simple, we'll break things out into three price ranges, all in Canadian dollars. Lastly, everything here is currently in stock at the LCBO, after all what good is a list if you can't find anything on it.
Scapa 14 Year Old Priced at $56.95 and providing remarkable notes of green apple, cereal, and clover honey, this single malt is sure to surprise and delight without breaking the bank. It is not every day one is able to buy a 14 year old single malt for less than $60.
Isle of Jura Superstition Coming in at $57.95 with expertly balanced elements of dark caramel, peat, and smoke and a refreshing finish of honey and citrus, this one is a must give and/or buy for any collection.
Glenfiddich 15 The $62.95 tag on this bottle renders it the best buy in the Glenfiddich series, but don't just take my word for it. Ian Millar refers to this one as his "daily bread", and with its dark cocoa, hints of orange zest, and smooth finish, it's incredibly hard to argue against such an assertion.
Tullibardine 1993 Vintage Edition A bargain at $67.95, the star of this price range delivers vanilla, cocoa, honey, and oatmeal in equal measure while finishing smooth and dry on the palate. It's low heat levels combine with its impressive flavour profile to make this one a perfect gift for both the novice and the experienced single malt fan.
$70 to $100
Balvenie Signature 12 Year Old Although more expensive than the standard 12 year old, the cost of $72.95 is certainly well worth it. A nutty caramel sweetness leads off before deploying more citrus notes and finishing with excellent smoothness. This is the consensus favourite Balvenie expression at ScotchBlog.ca.
Edradour 10 Year Old Coming from the smallest distillery in Scotland, I am of the opinion that this one should be purchased any time you get the chance. Especially at $74.95. The Oloroso cask finishing and notes of roasted almonds and brown sugar often has me feeling like I'm drinking a butter tart. Given its frequent scarcity and current availability, give this one with a sense of achievement to any whisky afficiando.
Macallan 12 While $89.95 is certainly the low-end of the price scale for anything from Macallan, it is without hesitation that I declare this one to be my favourite expression of theirs (barring the 25 year old which you pay through the nose for). Rich and fruit filled at the opening, this single malt finishes long on the palate with faint notes of spice. A perfect Christmas season whisky.
Dalwhinnie 1991 Distillers Edition While some may be concerned by its $99.95 price tag, the added richness in flavour and more mellow heat profile make this a worthy upgrade from the standard Dalwhinnie 15 year old expression. It's a gift after all! Sweet sherry with a light oakiness give way to faint elements of peat and smoke, making this a fine treat after any heavy Christmas meal.
Oban 14 Year Old This classic malt is well priced at $114.95. Well rounded with leather, salt air, and smoke on the nose, it quickly transitions into heather and peat on the palate before a lingering finish with hints of dried apricots. Perfect for those that enjoy bold flavours, there is no question as to why it has been a mainstay on my whisky shelf for several years now.
Lagavulin 16 Year Old Clocking in at $124.95, this is one of those single malts that is worth every penny, even if those pennies go to Diageo. Long a favourite of mine, and typically my go to single malt at a less than well stocked pub, it immediately opens up with a strong medicinal/iodine scent combined with strong notes of peat, smoke, and sea side air. It is no less forgiving on the palate as it commands attention at every sip. Perfect with a cigar, remarkable on its own, and at its best with a Macanudo cigar after a smoked Christmas ham.
Rosebank 19 Year Old Bottled by Douglas Laing & Co. and available for $195.95, I would strongly recommend checking the LCBO website and calling your nearest store to have it shipped over if they don't have it there. This one is truly a treat worth hunting as it is nothing short of a chameleon in the glass. Opening with notes of pear, black pepper, and cnadied cherrries, it moves into a sweet and sour apple mouthfeel before transitioning into dark chocolate. Coming out of the bottle at 50% ABV, be sure to have a little distilled water around to give it a splash to help it open up.
So that wraps it up for this lesson. I hope that with this roster of single malts you will be able to go forth and confidently buy a gift for that whisky lover you know without too much trepidation. After all, this is the season for mirth and merriment, and there are few spirits that provide both in such ample doses as great single malt Scotch whisky.