The 2011 Gift Buyer's Guide to Single Malt Scotch Whisky

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No matter what holiday you celebrate, there is no denying the fact that we are now in the middle of the gift buying season once again. So whether it be for a friend, family member, co-worker, or yourself, if you are anything like me then you could probably use a helping hand in selecting a couple gifts. Well, if you are looking at giving whisky as a gift, then let us help you with that task. 

As always, I'll lay it out into 3 price ranges (based on LCBO pricing) of Under $70, $70 to $100, and Over $100, and this year there are some real treats out there, both rare and wonderful, and many with dwindling supplies. So read on and don't forget, if you provide yourself enough time, inter-store transfers are free in Ontario.

This is your 2011 holiday edition of the Gift Buyer's Guide.
When reading this guide, please remember that at the time of writing these whiskies are available, but supplies can change rapidly. Also, wherever possible, I've linked back to a larger review should you care to dig deeper on a specific whisky.

Now let's get into it!

Under $70

Sweet with hints of raisins, almonds, spices and chocolate, this is an easy one to give away for $44.75. It is also an easy one to locate as it's virtually available everywhere. Well balanced and accessible it will work well if given to the novice or the veteran whisky fan, especially if you notice other sherried Speysides on their shelf such as Macallan 12 or Tomintoul. 

Another one for the whisky fan with a sweet tooth, this too is widely available but also widely accepted and easily gifted at $49.70. Extremely smooth with elements of vanilla, apple, oatmeal and toffee, if your recipient is a dessert fan you cannot go wrong here. This may just be the most accessible whisky you can give as a gift as it truly has something for almost every palate.

Alright, I know. It's not Scotch. It's made in India. But according to the Scotch Whisky Association's definitions, it is a single malt. Beyond that, it's about as adventurous as you can get with a gift whisky as it is sure to stir up the conversation just as much as it is certain to entertain and exercise taste buds. The flavour profile is both diverse and dramatic with its oily mouthfeel (if you don't drink whisky, that's not a bad thing) that takes a long time to unwind and reveal the flavour components carried within. Bananas, spices (such as nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice), hints of sweet and sour, and even a touch of smoke are delivered with every sip. Is there a more interesting whisky you can give for $68.90 or less? I doubt it.

$70 to $100 

Wow. It's not every day that I take the time to order 3 bottles of a whisky to hoard it. In fact, it's the first time I've ever done that, and this is the whisky that forced my hand as it is a limited run. Now don't let the big red lettered "Product Discontinued" on the LCBO's website scare you off (and if you're not in Ontario, just find it!), as there are still roughly 50 bottles left in the province. But that's it! Delivering that classic smoky, peaty Islay core, the Tempest brings equal parts sweet toffee, candied fruit, and salt to perfectly round out the flavour experience, and it does it all at cask strength (56% ABV to be exact). So how much will it set you back? $73.95 and it's worth every penny. 

Created out of a whisky maker's disaster last winter when heavy snow caused multiple warehouses to collapse, this whisky from Master Blender Brian Kinsman was one of the stars of this year's Whisky Live in Toronto. Complex with elements of fresh pepper, cloves, vanilla, pear, and just a hint of citrus, it takes the recipient on a journey in every glass. Most importantly, this truly is a once in a lifetime creation. Oh, and guess what? The last shipment ever was sent into the LCBO about a month ago. Priced at $89.50 it is an absolute must buy for every Glenfiddich fan, and almost any whisky fan.

Banana nut bread and coconut. I'm not kidding. It's unique. It's inspired. It's delicious. Finished in Caribbean rum casks, there is a beautiful richness at play here which delivers that nuttiness along with vanilla and honey. Reasonably well stocked right now, it is absolutely worth being a gift as it will provide your recipient the requisite time to purchase another bottle, and at $99.95 they most likely will. I know I shall.

Over $100

Warm buttered toasted oat bread with vanilla, orange chocolate (a Tullibardine trademark it seems), and hints of apricot. This profile renders this bottle perfect for after dinner or perhaps breakfast on Christmas morning. Simply delicious. There are only 48 bottles in the province right now and they aren't easy to find thanks to the LCBO mislabeling this whisky in their system. When you are looking for it (and you really should be) you will need to look for "Tullibardine Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky" and/or use the Vintages product code 695205, and then be prepared to spend $104.95 to acquire it. 

Littlemill 19 Year Old from Hart Brothers
Thanks to independent bottlers Hart Brothers, this gem of a whisky is still available despite the fact that the distillery that made it is almost falling over and at the heart of a debate over whether to restore it or turn it into a museum. Robust, rich, and chocolaty with hints of ginger, light citrus, and roses (yes, roses!) this dream dram is smooth, complex, and brilliantly balanced. It can also never be made again. As it stands right now, there are 53 bottles available in Ontario for $149.95 a piece. This is one of those rare whiskies that a Scotch lover would simply love to add to their collection. 

Once again we whisky lovers must extend our thanks to an independent bottler. This time it's Gordon and MacPhail who have stepped up and made this original distillery bottling available to the world. Leathery with spikes of peaches, apricots, and hints of walnuts it deserves to star in any collection, and the way it stole the show at this year's Spirit of Toronto there is little wonder why it is so scarce. There are only 30 bottles left in Ontario right now, and at $159.95 I cannot see them lasting too much longer. So if it fits your budget, do pick one up for the whisky lover on your list. (And if you have money left over, I'd love one too.)

Well folks, there are my recommendations for this year's gift buying season. Once again, store transfers are free in Ontario, so do make use of that service, and to those outside of Toronto, definitely give a call to your best available shop. I primarily focus on Ontario because that's where I live, but I do travel elsewhere.

For our friends in Chicago I recommend contacting Binny's Beverage Depot and for those in Boston I strongly recommend contacting Joe at Federal Wine and Spirits

Lastly, if you need help while you're standing in front of a wall of whisky bottles and you have a smartphone, you can always reach us on Twitter @scotchblog where we'll be only too happy to help you in real time to the best of our abilities. 

Thanks again for reading, and all the best to you and yours for the remainder of this year and long into the next.

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