I’ve had a number of people ask me about good gifts for the whisky enthusiast in their lives. I’m no expert, but I AM enthusiastic about whisky, so I can certainly share some ideas that appeal to me. A bunch of these whiskies and whisky accessories are ones I already own or have experience with, but I’ll also include some things that I’m interested but don’t have yet. I’ll mark those with an * so that my wife can use this as my wish list as well.
Before I get into recommending full bottles of whisky, I’m going to touch on a number of accessories such as books, glassware, and whisky samples. It’s much more difficult to recommend a bottle of whisky with confidence without knowing the recipient’s preferences and boundaries. I’ll take a shot at that as well, though.
Update: Check out the comments for some additional gift ideas. I also posted a 2010 Gift Guide here.
Here are some books I own that are current, and would make excellent gifts:
- World Whiskey – Edited by Charles Maclean, with contributions by well known experts/authors such as Dave Broom, Hans Offringa, Ian Buxton and Charles himself. At first, this hardback book looks like potentially a “fluff” coffee table book (albeit one with great, current pictures of over 700 whisky bottles). However, dig in and there are tasting notes for all of those whiskies, plus behind-the-scenes secrets of a bunch of the distilleries. They also offer “whisky tours”, with recommended itineraries for visiting the different whisky-producing regions, including the Scottish regions and world whiskies from Ireland, Japan and the United States. Only $16.50 from Amazon right now, this one is a no-brainer.
- Whisky & Jazz by Hans Offringa – Something a little different, for the whisky and jazz lover in your life. I’ve REALLY enjoyed this book. You can see my full review here. $40.
- Malt Whisky Yearbook 2010 – Another book with contributions by multiple, well respected whisky authors, this one is updated yearly. The primary focus is on distilleries from all over the world, providing history, profiles, interesting facts and tasting notes. There’s also a section at the end on the year in whisky, with all of the latest interesting news from the whisky world, and lists of whisky-related resources. This is a very well respected publication with something for all levels of whisky enthusiast. Approximately $20.
- Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2010 – Jim Murray is probably the most recognized whisky ambassador in the world since the passing of Michael Jackson in 2007. In his bible, he provides notes and ratings on nearly 4,000 whiskies! The book is printed on very fine paper with tiny print, though, so it’s small enough to easily carry around (almost pocketable). There seems to be some minor controversy around some of his ratings, as he has a hand in a number of whisky expressions as a consultant, but overall, he seems to offer unbiased opinions, and provides concise, entertaining notes. Highly recommended as an additional opinion source to go along with the myriad of whisky web sites. $20.
- Update: Penderyn Whisky is offering 25% off of a SIGNED copy of the Whisky Bible. Details on Facebook.
- Malt Advocate (magazine subscription) – I got my money’s worth out of this subscription just with the one article on sherry and oak interaction in whisky barrels in the Winter 2009 issue. The link I provided is to a blog post on the current offer to get 2 years for the price of 1 for new subscribers (good through December). $18.
- The Glencairn Whisky Glass – Specially designed for nosing and tasting whisky, this glass has become quite popular, and is fairly readily available (at least online). This is a great all-around whisk(e)y glass. It’s my favorite in terms of hand feel and drinking. It does a good job of forcing the aromas up to the top of the glass for nosing, although I have another glass that I think is slightly better in this department. $8 to $14 per glass depending on source. Macy’s currently has a 6-pack for under $50. I’ve had good luck ordering from bkblankenshipon eBay.
- Along with the Glencairn glasses, you can also order watchglass covers to keep the flavors in if the glass is going to be sitting out for a while (like during a multi-whisky tasting session). If you look at the bkblankenship auctions in my link above, you’ll see that some of the glasses come with the covers, and you can also order the covers individually for $2.
Nosing copita – This seems to be a very common whisky glass style, specially designed for nosing the whisky. I do find it slightly better than the whisky glass for nosing, but not as good for drinking. Still, it’s kind of a fun little glass, and looks great. Note that it has a smaller opening than the whisky glass, so the watchglass cover that comes with this glass is smaller as well. Similar price to the whisky glass, and also available from bkblankenship on eBay.
- Water Jug – I don’t put water in my whisky all that much, and when I do, it’s usually a few drops using a straw. However, I do like to put water out with the whisky when I have people over, and this is certainly an elegant way to do that. $35, or $60 as a gift pack with two whisky glasses. Once again, you can get this on eBay from bkblankenship.
Whisky Gift Packs
- The Glenmorangie Collection – Pictured above. This range of Glenmorangie expressions is sweet and smooth. See my full review here. $30-$50.
- Glenmorangie Original Gift Pack – This one is a full-size bottle of Glenmo 10, along with two tumblers. I usually go with whisky glasses, but as tumblers go, these are really nice. Heavy bases and a tapered opening to capture some of the aroma. $35-$50.
- The Islay Collection – An amazing Diageo gift pack, containing 5 200ml bottles, including Port Ellen, which would cost $400 as a full bottle. Note that these are all big, smoky, peaty whiskies, so make sure the person you’re buying this for likes this style. See my full review here. $125.
- Other Diageo gift packs – Diageo sells a bunch of other gift packs with 200ml bottles, typically with three bottles per box. If you can find these locally, they’re usually well worth buying. You can also find them online at The Whisky Exchange and Loch Fyne Whiskies. $40 – $70.
I’ll go ahead and throw out a few whisk(e)y ideas, including some that are on my wish list (for my wife to check out). It’s definitely easier to buy for somebody if you already have an idea what their preferences are, and if there are certain expressions/styles that they flat-out don’t like, or that they love.
- The Macallan 18 – If you’re looking to spend a good chunk of change on somebody, it’s hard to go wrong with this one. It’s a very safe purchase. I think the worst I’ve seen written about it is that it’s too expensive for an 18 year old. I suppose a few negative Nancies will call it overrated, but they’re probably just upset about the price, too. However, any whisky lover is going to appreciate the effort to acquire a bottle of Mac 18 for them. Even if it’s not their favorite, it’s a very nice bottle to bring out for company. $100 – $140.
- Lagavulin 16 – This is a little more risky, as it’s a strong, peaty Islay whisky. However, Lagavulin has a fantastic reputation, and deservedly so. If the backing of a pop culture icon would help, do a page search for Lagavulin in this interview with Johnny Depp. Laga 16 is one of my favorite whiskies, and for the quality, it’s reasonably priced at $60 – $80.
- Highland Park 18 – Voted “best spirit in the world” by Paul Pacult. This is one of the most balanced whiskies you’ll find. Like the Mac 18 and Laga 16, HP 18 is very widely acclaimed, and will be very appreciated as a gift by any whisky connoisseur. $85 – $100.
- The Glenlivet Nadurra Triumph 1991 * – I’m specifically recommending the “Triumph” version of the Nadurra for my fellow Americans. It’s a limited bottling exclusive to the United States. I’m a sucker for that kind of thing. Plus, it got a great review by John Hansell (link). $85.
- Diageo Special Releases – Each year, Diageo puts out a highly anticipated set of special release single malt whiskies. ANY of these would make fantastic gifts. At $60, I highly recommend Caol Ila Unpeated 10 year for something different. With a little water, this is like drinking lemon cream pie.
- A few less expensive, easy drinking single-malt scotch whiskies to consider: Highland Park 12 ($40); The Balvenie 15 year single barrel ($55); Glendronach 12 year ($40); The Macallan 12 ($40); The Glenlivet 18 * ($50-$60)
- Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey * – This one is on my wish list. It’s from a micro-distillery in Colorado, which is cool. Plus, I’ve heard it tastes pretty good, and the shot glass cap is interesting. $50 – $60.
- Wild Turkey Rare Breed * – Jim Murray went crazy over this inexpensive bourbon, calling it “one of the wonders of the whisky and whiskey world.” At $36 for a bottle, consider my curiosity piqued. I’ve also seen this in a wood box gift pack with two tumblers for the same price as the stand-alone bottle.
- Evan Williams Single Barrel (2000 vintage) * – John Hansell gave the 2000 vintage a great review, and it’s quite inexpensive, so I want to try it. $26.
- Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC) – For the bourbon and rye whiskey lover in your life, any of the five BTAC releases will be a slam dunk. These are limited bottlings released each Fall, and usually sold out by Spring. William Larue Weller is one of the top two bourbons I’ve tried. $65 – $85.
- Johnnie Walker Blue (200ml) * – Now THIS is one that whisky connoisseurs often call overrated. On the other hand, to the uninitiated, JW Blue seems to often be considered the pinnacle of whisky excellence. While I’m sure there are plenty of single-malts that can best JW Blue for the price, I need to try it for myself and see what the fuss is about. I’ve seen 200 ml bottles in my local Total Wine & More for $60. That’s still pretty expensive per oz, but not an outrageous sum of money relative to the $180 – $220 full bottle price.
- Johnnie Walker Gold – If the person you’re buying for is a blend drinker, and you know they drink a lot of Johnnie Walker Black, they’ll most likely consider a bottle of JW Gold a special treat. I’ve tried it and thought it was very nice. $60-$80.
For a more in-depth look at whisky gifts by flavor profile, check out this blog post over at Whisky for Everyone: Which whisky should I buy for Christmas?
Any other whisky gift ideas out there? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Obviously, there are tons of great whiskies to choose from. Are there unique ones that make especially good gifts – maybe because of special packaging or a good story? What about other accessories?Thanks, Jeff