Archive for December, 2011


This year, I’m going to do something different for my gift guide post. It’s too late to have anything shipped in time for Christmas, but there’s plenty of time to stop by your local liquor store. I’m going to take a stab at answering a question I often get by email, or from friends:

My spouse/friend/relative likes Scotch, and I want to buy them something nice for Christmas. I know they really like [“Whisky X”], what do you recommend?

Ok, I’m not an expert, but I’ve tried enough whisky expressions in the last 3+ years to have an opinion on this. I’ll focus on whiskies I think will be available in many big box and/or specialty retailers in the U.S.

A little something for Santa...

If their go-to whisky is…

Johnnie Walker Black, try:

  • Johnnie Walker Double Black ($40+): A new “limited” release that I’m curious about myself. It costs twice as much as standard Black Label, so they might hesitate to purchase it themselves. A great reason to gift it!
  • The Glenlivet 18 ($50-$70): If you can get it in this price range, like I can here in AZ, it’s a great bargain. This is the first single malt I tried after tasting and liking JW Black, and it hooked me, so I figured I should mention it here. The new packaging makes it an even better gift.
  • Talisker 10 ($50) or 18 ($80): One of the components of JW Black, Talisker is a fantastic single malt. If the peat smoke is what draws them to Black Label over other blends, this will take it to the next level for them. Pretty bold flavors, so a moderate risk, but potentially high reward!
  • Highland Park 18 ($90-$100): If this is the price-point you’re looking for, forget Johnnie Walker Gold. This is one of the best all around single malts out there.

Chivas Regal 12, try:

  • Aberlour 12 ($30-$40) or 16 ($45-$55): My personal favorite “entry level” single malt from the Speyside region. I use this to hook whisky newbies. 🙂
  • Chivas Regal 18 ($55+): Much more flavorful than the 12 year, but certainly not a departure from the profile. Comes in a nice box, too.
  • Scapa 16 ($60+): Also owned by Chivas Bros, this is pure buttery smooth elegance in a bottle. Some balk at the price since it’s not the boldest whisky in the world, but that’s just another reason to give it to them as a gift. No guilt.
  • Longmorn 16 ($70+): Longmorn is one of the components of Chivas Regal, bringing a sharp intensity that the blends shy away from.

Balvenie DoubleWood, try:

  • Yamazaki 12 ($45): Ok, it’s not “Scotch”, as it’s from Japan, but now that they’ve familiarized themselves with American and European oak with the DoubleWood, introduce them to Japanese Mizunara Oak. Great stuff!
  • Bunnahabhain 12 (the newer 46.3% version; $45): As long as we’re talking about introducing them to something new…they may have tried other whiskies from the island of Islay and gotten scared off of the region. Surprise them with this minimally-peated bouquet of warm apple cobbler, cinnamon and malt.
  • Any of the 17 Year Balvenie special releases ($110-$120): Taking what they love about the entry-level Balvenie to the next level. Very high quality.

Macallan 12 (not the Fine Oak line), try:

  • Aberlour a’bunadh [a-boon-ah] ($50+): One of my favorites. This is, as they say in whisky circles, a “sherry bomb”. Sounds scary, but that’s ok, as your Macallan-drinking friend is already a fan of sherry cask matured Scotch. This is a very high proof cask-strength whisky, but if it’s too much for them, it holds up great when adding water. If they smoke cigars, have them try one with this as well.
  • Any Glendronach (12 $50, 15 $70, 18 $100+): Glendronach is special because it’s one of the few remaining independent distilleries. Find a local specialty shop and grab one of these expressions as a special treat.

Laphroaig 10 Year, try:

  • Laphroaig Triple Wood ($55+): New to the U.S., there’s a good chance they haven’t  tried it yet. They might also be conflicted about buying this vs. one they KNOW they love, like the Laphroaig Quarter Cask. Save them the trouble of choosing and buy them a bottle.
  • Laphroaig 10 Cask Strength ($50+): They might have avoided this one because of the high proof, figuring it was just a stronger version of the standard 10 year, but it’s much more flavorful.
  • Lagavulin 16 ($65-$95): Mmm…Lagavulin. We already know they like peat, smoke and medicinal qualities in their whisky. If they don’t love this amazing Islay classic, they should. Maybe they just need to drink more of it, so get them a bottle.
  • Lagavulin 12 ($70-$150): As great as the 16 is, it’s readily available. The 12 year is amazing in a bigger, bolder way, and is a limited release. If you see it on the shelf, grab it! [Unless they’re charging $150 like BevMo in AZ]

Premium whiskies

Looking to spend $125 plus? Try one of these:

  • Macallan 18 Sherry Cask ($125 – $150): Considered overpriced by some, it’s still a great whisky. A nice gift because they can enjoy it without feeling the guilt of over paying. I’m due for a new bottle of this myself. Any volunteers?
  • Balvenie Port Wood 21 Year ($150-$170): The definition of “dangerously drinkable”?  Even fans of “big” whiskies should be able to appreciate this sweet, juicy malt. An “occasional” drinker might think it’s the best thing ever.
  • Mackinlay’s “Shackleton” Rare Old Highland Whisky ($150+): Ok, this is only available in limited markets, but if you see it, it’s an amazing gift…a taste of what whisky was like over 100 years ago.
  • Glenlivet 25 Year ($250-$300): Great whisky, great bottle presentation, great gift.
  • Highland Park or Talisker 30 Year Olds ($300-$400): For a true Scotch lover. In return, you’ll have good karma for life.
  • Johnny Walker Blue ($150-$225): Sure, why not? If they’re just a sometimes scotch drinker, they’ll love how smooth it is, and they probably associate this expression with high quality. A whisky aficionado might be less impressed with the liquid inside (at least when their whisky club friends are looking), but would still appreciate the thought and have fun sharing it with you.

Happy Holidays, Jeff

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I’m really lucky to have gotten a bottle of the new Redbreast 12 Cask Strength from Irish Distilers Limited a while back. Thanks, James! It should be coming to the U.S. in early 2012. Now that I’m over half way through the bottle, I should probably write up some notes. 🙂

This Redbreast is a “Pure Pot Still” Irish whiskey, matured in a combination of sherry and bourbon casks (probably more bourbon than sherry). Fortunately, rather than explain this term myself, I can just point you to the new post on The Whisky Exchange Blog that tells you all you ever wanted to know (and possibly more) about pure pot still whiskey: Midleton Distillery Trip: Single Pot Still Irish Whiskeys Pt.1. Enjoy!

Tasting Notes

Redbreast 12 Cask Strength; Batch B1/11; 57.7%

The “official” tasting notes for this whiskey talk of a fruit explosion on the nose, and I’ve read others describe it similarly. I must say, I have a different impression. To me, it’s more of a wood explosion. Yes, the nose offers up dried fruits, apple, and a hint of banana. However, to me at least, it’s wood-based scents that really hit you over the head. Cedar wood chips and heavy vanilla, primarily. The higher alcohol content seems to thrust the woody notes right down your nostrils. Add a little water and the vanilla turns more to butterscotch, reminding me of Ponderosa Pine sap.

The nose is very nice, but the palate is where Redbreast 12 CS really shines. It starts out sweet and juicy, then those wood spices hit, gripping your tongue, aided by a drying sensation. What an amazing feeling in the mouth! The 57.5% isn’t overwhelming, either. It’s strong, but it feels right. Even more amazing, you can water it down a little and the spice and tingling stay there, further enforcing that it’s not just the alcohol content doing all of the work.

The finish brings back some of the dried fruit, which is nice, while introducing a combination of malt and grain. The grain lingers on the tongue as an after-taste.


This is NOT just the standard Redbreast 12 year (which I often recommend to newbies as an “accessible” whisk(e)y”) cranked up to 11. At first, I was a little disappointed by the 12 CS, as I braced myself for the aforementioned fruit explosion. I tried it side-by-side with a number of Speyside whiskies, and the Redbreast paled by fruity comparison to all of them.

Once I got over that pre-set expectation, though, I came back again and again for the unique, gripping experience experience on the palate. Also, if you’re in the mood for vanilla and wood on the nose, few will top this one. A very good nose, GREAT palate, and good finish, the whole is well above average for me, and definitely worth a spot in the cupboard. B+ (88 Points).

Cheers, Jeff

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