Scotch enthusiasts are easy to buy for. Most of us are happy to try a new and unfamiliar Scotch, and will be enthused to drain the bottle even if it doesn’t become a new favorite. We also can’t have “too many” bottles, so duplicates are no problem. With a little thought behind the choice, a gift of Scotch will be very well-received. Just be careful buying it for a non-Scotch-drinker. Feel them out with a friendly dram or two from your own collection before presenting them with their own bottle.
Here are my top ten Scotch Gift Ideas for the 2010 Holiday Season. I broke them out into categories based on price range. Just don’t get too stressed out while buying a bottle – a true Scotch drinker will be very happy with anything you pick out… just don’t get a blend!
Inexpensive ($17 – $35)
#10 – ($17) Finlaggan Old Reserve, A Surprise for the Scotch Lover who has Everything
Found at Trader Joe’s in the US, and a few other venues, this is a Single-Malt Scotch which is bottled from surplus stocks of younger Islay malts from an unknown distiller. Debate rages on the Internet about the true source of Finlaggan, but few complain about its rich malty tones, intense peat smokiness, and insanely low price. Whether it’s a 5-year-old Lagavulin, or a Sherry-finished Caol Ila, chances are that the Scotch Snob in your life hasn’t ever tried it, and will be pleasantly surprised, especially if you don’t reveal how much it cost!
#9 – ($24) Glenlivet 12-year, For the Scotch Newbie (Noob!) in your life
This bottle is a very gentle introduction to the world of Single-Malt Scotch. It’s also an excellent value. There is nothing cheap about this well-balanced floral malt with hints of vanilla, citrus, and honeysuckle. A perennial favorite among American Scotch lovers, and another bottle that is often “kept on hand.” Maybe not the best choice for a hardened Scotch Professional, however, since he or she will know exactly what you paid for it.
#8 – ($35) Laphroaig 10-year, For the Smoke-lover in your life
This malt is a very good deal for the money. You get a properly aged, intensely peated Scotch with a lot of history and a big following. If the recipient of your gift is a Scotch drinker and has never tried Laphroaig, this will become an instant favorite. Otherwise, a backup bottle will be very appreciated. I know several Scotch drinkers who keep this one stocked at all times.
Midrange ($36 – $45)
#7 – ($36) Glenmorangie The Original 10-year, or ($66) Glenmorangie Nectar D’Or, For the “Stop and Smell The Roses” Person
Glenmorangie has a range of carefully crafted Scotches, many of which are favorites in Scotland itself, and focus on wood finishes. Noted for its large range of detectable scents, a Glenmorangie will go over big with anyone who appreciates the dynamic aromas of good Scotch. The Nectar D’Or especially, finished in Sauternes casks, is sure to please the most ardent of Nose devotees. The Original is also an excellent buy as an introduction to the range. Be sure to bum a dram off of your recipient, you don’t want to miss a taste (or sniff) of this!
#6 – ($45) Connemara Irish Peated, For the Person Who Wears That “Erin Go Bragh!” Shirt
Ok, I know this isn’t Scotch, but even though most Irish whiskey is blended, a few Irish distillers are beginning to go back to their pre-1920s roots and the way they used to make whiskey, releasing Pure Pot Still (an old, but not widely-known tradition) whiskeys that can be compared, favorably, with Single-Malt Scotch. Some Irish distillers are also making Single-Malt Irish Whiskey. Connemara Peated is an excellent example of this style. Redbreast 12-year ($40), an Irish pure pot still whiskey, is also a good choice. If you can find or import it, Greenspot (no age designation) is highly sought-after by enthusiasts (~43 euros, plus shipping from the EU).
#5 – ($40) Highland Park 12-year, For Someone Who Doesn’t Know What He/She Wants
Highland Park is a distillery in the Orkney islands, off the remote northeast coast of Scotland’s mainland. This quite reasonably-priced malt is a great jack-of-all-trades with malty sweetness balanced by moderate smokiness and a dash of floral/herbal notes too. For the Scotch drinker who doesn’t have a favorite style, this is a great dram.
#4 – ($45) The Macallan 12-year, for the Traditionalist
The Macallan is one of the biggest names in the business. Producing Scottish whisky since 1824, many of the highest-priced “collector” bottles of Scotch in the auction circuit are from this distiller. For a lot of people, The Macallan is synonymous with Single-Malt Scotch. If someone on your list is a traditional Scotch drinker, The Macallan 12-year-old is likely a staple. Or, spring the $120 to $150 for a decadent bottle of 18-year-old!
Pricey ($46 – $55)
#3 – ($55) The Balvenie 15-year Single-Barrel, or ($38) The Balvenie DoubleWood, For the Gourmet in your life
The Balvenie is known for its heather-honey floral notes and intricate, delicate flavor profile. A very easy-to-drink malt, the gourmet on your gift list will appreciate its wine-like flavors and gentleness on the palate. The DoubleWood is a good, inexpensive alternative to the more delicate 15-year, and adds woody flavors of butterscotch and vanilla. Both also pair very well with chocolate, in my opinion.
#2 – ($50) Talisker 10-year, For the Masculine James Bond Type
Ian Fleming’s James Bond character (in the books) didn’t drink martinis, shaken or otherwise. He drank Talisker. This hard-edged, hard-water, rocky malt is heavy on the testosterone and not for the fainthearted. Plus, who doesn’t want to feel like 007? As one of Diageo’s Classic Malts series, it’s also gaining in International exposure.
#1 – ($47) Aberlour a’bunadh, For the Discerning Boozehound in your life
If there is a Total Wine (http://www.totalwine.com/) Retail Store in your area, run (don’t walk) and pick up a bottle or two of Aberlour a’bunadh, which is currently listed at $46.99. This super rich, super potent (59.8% ABV) cask strength expression of Aberlour is a super buy for anyone on your gift list who likes to breathe fire. You know the person I’m talking about – likes to swish shots of 151 around his mouth before swallowing to show how impervious he is to the taste of alcohol? A dram of a’bunadh will complete his (or her) existence, guaranteed, and for $47 a bottle, this one is a STEAL.
A Scotch book such as Michael Jackson’s (no, not that one) seminal Michael Jackson’s Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch is another great gift, as is a set of Glencairn Whisky Glasses. Personally, I like to gift a bottle of Scotch with a pair of simple, inexpensive rocks (double or old fashioned) glasses since that’s how I drink mine.
I’m sure I left out some excellent gift ideas from this list, but remember that a gift of almost any Single Malt will be very appreciated. Another tip if you can’t decide: Take your gift recipient to a well-stocked bar and hold a small tasting (or host one at your home from your own collection), and talk about the Scotches. Your friend is sure to have a favorite, and now you know the perfect gift! Happy Holidays from The Scotch Noob!