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 Whisky Gift Ideas for the 2011 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 whisky drinker will be very happy with anything you pick out… just don’t get a cheap 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 – ($40) Great King Street – Artist’s Blend For the “Single-Malt Snob”
Great King Street, a brand of Compass Box, is innovative blender John Glaser’s answer to the question “Why are inexpensive blends bad?” This blended Scotch, drinkable straight or perfect for cocktails, ought to show any stuck-in-the-mud single-malt snob (including me) that blends can be awesome. Lemony and malty, with great balance and grain whisky that actually TASTES good. The price isn’t half bad, either.
#6 – ($40) Redbreast 12-year, For your favorite Celtic-phile
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. Pure (or Single) Pot-Still is a growing segment of the whisky industry, and consumers are waking up to the possibilities. Redbreast 12-year ($40) is an Irish pure pot still whiskey with a unique oily/heavy body and delicious grain notes. 15-year and cask-strength versions will soon be available in the States, although I suggest avoiding the 15, as its pricetag does not reflect better flavor. Another option 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 – ($42) Angel’s Envy Bourbon, For The Sweet-Tooth
Bourbon is already sweet. So imagine what happens if you take a well-made, corn-heavy bourbon and age it in ex-Port barrels! Angel’s Envy by whiskeymaker Lincoln Henderson is certainly not traditional, but it’s flavorful and surprising. And sweet.
#4 – ($46) GlenDronach 12-year, for the Traditionalist
Last year, this spot was reserved for The Macallan 12-year. Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of sampling several GlenDronachs and I have to declare that GlenDronach blows The Macallan out of the water at its own game: heavily sherried single malt. While The Macallan 18 (although clichéd) is still one of my favorite splurges, GlenDronach’s 12 year is a fantastic whisky with meaty, condensed fruit and big, robust flavor. If you know someone who likes “old style” whisky, this one is spot-on.
Pricey ($46 – $55)
#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 – ($60) Lagavulin 16-year, For the discerning Scotch drinker
Costco in Northern California recently carried this superb peated malt from Islay for $52. While its popularity means you’re more likely to see inflated prices in the $70 range, you may uncover some deals with a little hunting. Lagavulin is known for unequaled balance in peat smoke and sweet malt, with elegant wood aging to top it off. If you know someone who likes smoky peated whiskies from Islay, then you know someone who loves Lagavulin.
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. If you’re gifting bourbon, I like to gift a bottle with a pair of simple, inexpensive rocks (double or old fashioned) glasses since that’s how I drink rye and bourbon.
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!