You take the milk and cookies, and I’ll have a nip of whatever made your nose that color!
I see that my 2009 gift guide has been getting a bunch of hits the past few days, so perhaps it’s time to do another one. Not that I’m an expert on such things, but I am a whisky enthusiast. Perhaps some of the things that I’ve enjoyed in the past year, or want for Christmas, will apply to the the whisky lover in your life.
I think most of the items in my 2009 gift guide would still apply, so rather than repeat those, I’ll supplement with some new whisky expressions, and some that are just new to me. There are also some new books, and additional accessories that I’ve discovered in the past year. I’ll include prices, with a link, where I can find good online deals…
Whiskies under $40
- AnCnoc 12 – New to the U.S., both the 12 and 16 year have started hitting store shelves. A great alternative to the ‘livets, at $35 locally, the 12 year is a bargain!
- Maker’s 46 – The first new expression from Maker’s Mark (in the U.S.) in 52 years, it’s got a beautiful bottle to add to the gift presentation. Less than $30 at my local Total Wine & More.
- Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2010 – A special annual release, with a nose to die for. This one is for the “woody” whiskey lover. I got it for $32 at a local Total Wine.
- Redbreast 12 – I got a sample of Redbreast 15 this year, which is finally available in the U.S., but I’m sticking with the 12 year. If your whisk(e)y lover is new to Irish whiskies, or has only tried Jameson/Bushmills, introduce them to this beauty.
Whiskies under $60
- The Balvenie Caribbean Rum Cask 14 year – I’ll post a review of this in a couple of days. For someone lamenting the disappearance of The Balvenie Founder’s Reserve 10 year, a bottle of this new U.S.-only release will cheer them up. ($53 online)
- Dalwhinnie 15 – I got to sample this, but would love to have a bottle. This isn’t an “exciting” bottling, but it’s very approachable and a great whisky to share with the occasional drinker.
- Tomatin 18 – I love this bottling, and for an 18 year, the price is right. A fantastic speyside with sherry influence and enough spice to make it interesting. One of my favorite discoveries this year. ($59.99 online)
- Hibiki 12 – I haven’t tried it, but I’ve read so many good reviews, this Japanese blend is on my own Christmas list. The bottle is really cool looking, too. ($55 online)
- The Dalmore Gran Reserva – I reviewed this recently, and while it’s a subtle whisky not likely to wow some single-malt aficionados, it’s another great one to share with friends who don’t drink much scotch. Good presentation, too. ($56 online)
Whiskies under $100
- Glenmorangie Sonnalta PX – For the Glenmorangie lover in your life, this new release is a must buy. ($67 online)
- Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist 1990 – Make sure they like peat, but this one is more approachable than the rest of the Ardbeg line, and it’s going away for good, so it’s a great gift. The price is right, too. It’s going for half of what it sold for when it was in production! ($62 online)
- Laphroaig 18 – Another peaty whisky, but also more approachable than the rest of the current Laphroaig line. Released last year, but slow to hit U.S. shelves, this will make your Islay-lover happy. ($70-90 online)
- Compass Box Flaming Heart – A special release celebrating the Compass Box 10th Anniversary. I overlooked it initially, because i seem to generally like, but not love Compass Box (Hedonism being the exception). I’ve heard great things about this one, though, from others who feel the same way about Compass Box. Seems like a perfect gift whisky. ($80 online)
- Compass Box Hedonism – Another one on my personal Christmas list. I tried it in a vertical Compass Box tasting, and this was easily my favorite of their expressions. It’s a vatting of older grain whiskies, and was quite the revelation for me. There’s more to grain whisky than you might gather from an inexpensive blend!
- Pappy Van Winkle 15 year bourbon – Released in small batches, the latest bottling is probably already disappearing from your store shelves. This one seems to be the sweet spot in the PVW line. One of my favorite bourbons.
- Parker’s Heritage 4th Edition bourbon – A limited release, the 3rd Edition “Golden Anniversary” is probably my favorite bourbon to date, and this one, just released this Fall, has gotten solid reviews, so a great gift. ($70 online)
The expensive stuff
- The Glenlivet Archive 21 year ($130) – This was my Father’s Day whisky this year. Fantastic presentation in wooden box, and oh so drinkable.
- The Dalmore Mackenzie ($150) – 90 points in my rating system, and my favorite Dalmore so far. This was to be a limited release only in the UK, but you can actually get it at Binny’s right now! ($150 online)
- Parker’s Heritage Golden Anniversary ($135) – My favorite bourbon, made from a vatting of casks from 5 decades. If you’re going to spend more than $100 on a bourbon gift, it’s hard to do better than this. ($135 online)
- Glenfarclas 1974 31 Year – I almost forgot about this one. I was lucky enough to get a sample of this (thanks Sean!), and if you like big, thick sherry bombs, this is absolutely incredible! It’s a U.S.-only release. For a heavily sherried Glenfarclas fan, this will be very well received. I want a bottle. Bad. ($190 – $230 online)
- The Last Drop – Ok, who’s going to get this for me? I’ll share. 🙂 I only got to try a few ml of this, but it was amazing! ($2,000)
- Germain-Robin XO Brandy – It’s made here in the U.S., but it’s made with an imported, antique cognac still by a guy with a cognac family background, and it’ll give more expensive cognacs a run for their money. I got it last Christmas and it’s amazing.
- Remy Martin XO Cognac – Remy Martin XO is good stuff, too, with a really cool bottle. I mention it here because the price seems to have dropped recently. You might be able to get it for under $100.
- 101 Whiskies to try before you die – Not intended to be the “best” 101 whiskies, but rather, a sampling of expressions to educate you (and your palate) on what the whisk(e)y world has to offer.
- Whisky Bible 2011 – Worth picking up yearly for Jim Murray’s entertaining tasting notes, whether you agree with his scores or not. Thousands of whiskies reviewed, it’s great to have so many expressions discussed in a single source.
- Malt Whisky Yearbook 2011 – I’ve got the previous two books, but for some reason, haven’t gotten around to ordering the latest version of this one yet. It’s definitely on my Christmas list, though. Another one worth buying yearly. Some of the best whisk(e)y writers in the world team up to share information about all of the major whisk(e)y distilleries, talk about the year in whisky, and point you to useful whisky resources.
- Whisky glasses – Always a good gift. You COULD buy these Riedel Vinum glasses, but I think they’re over priced and don’t funnel the aromas very well. Get some Glencairns or copitas that work better and cost less.
- Bottle Tote – Now that I’m regularly taking whisky to friend’s houses and attending whisky society meetings, I need something to tote my bottles around in. I think this one looks pretty cool. Although, this rolling wine luggage would be pretty handy (don’t know anything about that retailer, though)!
- The gift of peat smoke! – You’ve tasted peaty whisky. Ever wondered what actual peat smoke smells like? These Ardbeg Peat Cones from the Ardbeg online store just cost a few bucks plus shipping. Light them up and take in the smoky aroma. Anybody know if they smell like the real deal or not?
- SMWSA Membership – I’d enjoy getting a membership to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society of America for the new member kit alone. Even better, being a member gives you access to an exciting assortment of single-cask bottlings from various distilleries. Follow the link to find out about additional benefits. It’s pretty cool.
- Tickets to a whisky event – What a treat this would be! Give your whisky loving friend/relative a chance to sample whisky, attend seminars, and meet some of the giants in the industry. [WhiskyFest; SMWSA Extravaganza]
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I got an email from Tom in Toronto, asking if I have a Windows version of the Easy ABVs Calculator that I wrote for the iPhone. He wants to compare varying strength whiskies at the same ABV. I don’t have a Windows version of the program, but it sounded like a good idea. Instead of writing an actual stand-alone Windows program, I decided to create a quickie Excel spreadsheet.
With this spreadsheet, you can enter up to 10 whisky expressions with their out-of-the-bottle ABV and have the spreadsheet calculate how much water to add in order to reach a desired final ABV. You can also use it to just manually enter the whisky and water volumes and have it tell you what the final ABV will be. Finally, the spreadsheet will keep track of drink units so you know your total alcohol intake for the tasting session.
Preview and download
I’ve uploaded the Excel spreadsheet to Google Docs. Click this link to view it.
You’ll see that I’ve entered a number of Laphroaig expressions and requested that they all be converted to 40%, using 25ml of whisky as the starting point. For Batch 001 I entered an exeption, starting with 20ml of whisky. The spreadsheet is telling me to add 9 ml of water to the Batch 001, 5ml to the QC and 18, and no water needed for the Laph 10, which is already at 40%.
Downloading: From the Google Docs preview above, you should be able to click “File | Download as…” in the menu and save the spreadsheet in Excel or a number of other formats. If you don’t have Excel, you can save it as an OpenOffice spreadsheet and use something like NeoOffice (free) to use it.
- Fill in the “Desired final ABV” that you would like all entered drinks to end up at.
- If you’d like to have the same total volume in each glass, then enter the “Desired total volume”. The spreadsheet will then tell you how much whisky and how much water to use for each expression.
- If you’d like to pour the same amount of spirit into each glass, then add water to reach the desired ABV, then enter “Desired spirit volume”, but make sure you clear out “Desired total volume” first.
- The Drink Unit size is used to determine how many drink units are in each pour. The standard UK and US drink sizes, as well as recommended maximum intake, are listed at the bottom of the spreadsheet. The default drink unit size is based on the U.S. recommendations.
- Now enter each whisky expression in the Drink Details area. The description is optional, but you need to at least enter the ABV as indicated on the bottle. If the alcohol content is listed in Proof, divide by 2.
- You can ignore/override the “desired” ABV and volume values by entering the Spirit and Water Volume in the Manual Calculation section. If you enter Spirit Volume here, this will override the “Desired total volume” or “Desired spirit volume” at the top of the spreadsheet.
- Read the Spirit and Water volume (in ml) in the Calculated Values area, as well as the number of drink units per expression. Total pure alcohol and drink units, as well as overall average ABV are in the “Totals” at the bottom.
So…what do you think? Is this something you can use? Any suggestions for modifications? You can use the links in the Scribd previews above to download the spreadsheets and use/modify them as you see fit. Like I said above, I personally prefer the second one. I just created the taller/narrower one so that it would divide things up more logically in the Scribd preview.
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Have you ever seen these nosing/tasting kits? I think it looks like a great idea, but they’re a little more expensive than I would like.
Nosing and tasting kit
Now The Balvenie is offering up a chance to get one for free. I got an email from them today with the following info:
Just in time for the holidays, The Balvenie is offering the chance to win a one-of-a-kind prize: An exclusive Scotch Whisky nosing and tasting kit. This unique kit contains 24 separate aromas and a dedicated nosing guide, as well as other essential whisky tasting tools. The lucky winner will also receive an exquisite Balvenie hipflask.
Visit this link to enter:
It’s really easy to enter. Just provide your name and email address. No long surveys to fill out or anything.
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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
- 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.
Glenmo Original Gift Pack
- 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.
The Islay Collection
- 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?
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Knob Creek barrel bung
Knob Creek has apparently closed out their Drought of 2009 marketing campaign, and they’ve done it in style. A bunch of Stillhouse members have reported receiving a package in the mail with a commemorative barrel bung to celebrate the resumption of Knob Creek bourbon bottling. I just got mine today.
It comes in a box with the following text:
Dear Knob Creek Lover,
Thanks for being patient. After 9 long, rewarding years, your batch of 2000 Knob Creek Bourbon is ready to enjoy. In honor of this occasion, we’d like to share a commemorative 2000-2009 Knob Creek barrel bung.
Cheers! Your friends at Knob Creek
Now, I never actually saw any difference in availability on the shelves here in AZ, but it was still a fun campaign, and now i have my own barrel bung. That’s a pretty cool chotski for the ‘ol liquor cabinet. Perhaps they’ll send out the bourbon barrel that it goes with for Christmas, so hurry and get your Stillhouse membership. 🙂
The drought is over.
I survived the drought of 2009 and all I got was this bunghole.
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Mm, I love scotch. I love scotch. Scotchy scotch scotch. Here it goes down. Down into my belly. Mm-mm-mm.
– Ron Burgundy, “Anchorman”
That’s the ringtone I have on my phone right now. I downloaded it from moviewaves.com. Or did I? If it’s illegal, then I didn’t. Anyway, I thought some of my fellow scotch lovers might find it amusing.
We were at my parents’ house, and my phone rang. “…I love scotch. I love scotch…” My mom scrunched up her face and queried “who is Scott?” 🙂
As long as I’m sharing random, mildly amusing anecdotes…we were having dinner this weekend with some friends. We took dessert and a 20 cl bottle of Caol Ila 18 with us. They had a bottle of Laphroaig QC that had been given to them as a gift. They don’t like it (too smoky), and jokingly said that they keep it around to give to people they don’t like.
Anyway…I left the remaining 5 or so cl of Caol Ila with them and came home with two-thirds of a bottle of QC. Pretty good deal, I’d say!
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