With less than a week remaining for the pre-Christmas shopping season we've got plenty of price conscious last minute whisky and whisky-related gift ideas for the drammers on your list. Ranging from under $30 to $120 any of these gifts will inspire both delight and admiration in your recipient.
Prior to embarking on your shopping trip, there are a couple of steps one should take in advance whenever possible:
- Examine your intended recipient's existing collection as I will do my best to provide you with some flavour profiles to provide a frame of reference in determining which palates a particular whisky will likely appeal to.
- For Ontario readers, make use of the embedded links to check stock before heading out to your local store. It is important to remember that the LCBO does provide for free inter-store transfers of bottles, though delivery times will vary from 3 to 7 days depending on distance between your store and the store of origin. Lastly, for any locations showing one bottle of something, be sure to phone the store confirm availability.
Before we get going, please allow me to offer some advice on what not to buy:
fucking whisky stones. Every year whisky drinkers the world over are gifted these cubes of soapstone meant to provide cooling effects to glasses of whisky without diluting them. While the intent of the product is admirable, their usefulness is highly suspect as we have written about before; and to top it all off, if your intended recipient has been drinking whisky for more than a year or two, the odds are quite high that they already have several sets from previous well wishers. In fact, spend the money on anything else. For the $15-$30 you spend on whisky stones, I guarantee your recipient would prefer that you took him/her out to a nice whisky bar and bought them a dram or two of "the good stuff" from the whisky list and then sat there and spent time with each other.
$30 and under
Without question, this is the international standard for discerning palates when nosing any type of whisky. The Glencairn glass has a unique tulip-shaped design based on the nosing copitas used by Master Blenders in the whisky industry. Unlike the oft-used tumbler, the Glencairn glass provides a more focused olfactory experience allowing for a more nuanced appreciation of all the aromas in the whisky. Designed with the input of Master Blenders in the Scotch whisky industry, the Glencairn glass was the first - and for many - the best glass with which to appreciate a dram.
The NEAT Glass - Available online: www.theneatglass.com 1 Glass/$14.95
However if your recipient is already turned on to the Glencairn and has a few, it's time to help them dive deeper with the NEAT glass. Designed by Arsilica Inc. in Las Vegas, the NEAT (an acronym for Naturally Engineered Aroma Technology) glass employs a divergent rim as opposed to the convergent style of most glasses. The goal of this being to diffuse the volatile alcohol vapours, thereby reducing the numbing effect on the nose and subsequently making it easier to pick out the other elements and aromas in the whisky or other such spirits. Short, squat, and reminiscent of a votive candle holder, it is also designed to maximize the surface area of the whisky to further accentuate the non-alcohol components of the nosing experience. In brief, the NEAT glass brings out the best in cask strength whiskies, e.g. whisky that's over 47% ABV, and makes them much more approachable without the addition of water. Read our comparison review of the Glencairn and the NEAT glass here.
2oz Sample Bottles - Available online: SKS Bottle & Packaging Inc., SaffireBlue Inc. and Amazon.com. NOTE: on some sites you need to buy the caps seperately from the bottles!
Yes, you read that correctly, for the ultra-enthusiastic connoisseur the gift of 12, 24, or 48 amber glass round bottles with black phenolic cone lined caps might just be the BEST on-the-cheap gift money can buy. Let's break it down: your recipient likely has several bottles on the go at varying fill levels and a number of bottles on their last legs. Step in like a hero and help de-clutter their life by giving them amber glass round bottles with black phenolic cone lined caps. Now they can pour off the bottoms of all those bottles they have laying around that they just can't bear the thought of finishing "right now;" trust, the anxiety about finishing a treasured, rare or exclusive bottle is a real thing. In addition to helping to clear the shelves for new whisky, your recipient can now trade samples with their other whisky geek friends without resorting to carrying around clunky glass, or worse, plastic bottles. Should you decide to go this route it's critically important to remember that you need to buy these specific sample bottles: amber glass round bottles with black phenolic cone lined caps. Amber will prevent damaging UV rays from oxidizing the whisky while the black phenolic cone lined caps will ensure that none of the precious liquid seeps out. In our experience, 2oz is a good size for most applications though sizes vary from 1/2oz all the way up to a guargantuan 32oz bottle.
This Canadian whisky containing 90% rye was elevated to celebrity status recently when uber-critic Jim Murray awarded it as his Whisky of the Year for 2016 in his yearly Whisky Bible. For a few days in November the whisky world was thrown into a state of shock as the humble whisky from Manitoba toppled challengers from the old world, Japan and the USA with a near perfect score and near breathless praise: "Rye, that most eloquent of grains, not just turning up to charm and enthral but to also take us through a routine which reaches new heights of beauty and complexity. To say this is a masterpiece is barely doing it justice." Should you decide to buy this topical conversation piece for your whisky-loving friend, be prepared for your very own "Jingle all the way," experience as the Northern Harvest Rye is becoming increasingly hard to find in LCBOs across the GTA. All hype aside, this is a great value rye from Crown Royal and is undoubtedly the most interesting and flavourful whisky they've put out in recent years.
$30 to $60
Can't find a bottle of the Northern Harvest Rye? Lot No. 40 is a more than worthy substitute if you're looking for a "rye-forward" whisky this holiday season. Produced by Corby at the Hiram Walker & Sons Ltd. distillery in Windsor, Ontario, Lot No. 40's recipe that dates back to when Canada was still a young nation. Notably, the all-rye whisky is distilled in small batches from a mash containing 90% rye grain and 10% malted rye in in a single copper pot still instead of the traditional column still that tends to characterize the mass-market offerings of Canadaian whisky distillers. Since its re-release in 2012 it's received high praise from enthusiasts, connoisseurs and writers alike, with Canadian whisky authority Davin de Kergommeaux claiming that it's "become the Holy Grail of Canadian whisky, the quintessential Canadian rye." The all-rye recipe offers good complexity and a range of effusive and interesting flavours like: sweet hard candies, violets, ripe melon, cherry, zesty cloves and peppery spice with a gentle earthy character.
Continuing on the Canadian whisky tip, Corby's got another bargain whisky on offer this holiday season with their on point throwback whisky that pays homage to former Ontario distilling heavyweight producer Gooderham and Worts. Bearing an appropriately "old-timey looking" label, Gooderham and Worts' Four Grain Blend contains corn, rye, wheat and barley whiskies bottled at an auspicious 44.4% ABV. Packed with flavour, there's raisin, dried apple, grain, sawdust, vanilla, and orange peel all pulling together. Inviting, supple and showing good structure this whisky strikes a compelling balance of grain-derived sweetness and wood influence. This is a very quaffable and, in my opinion, a great value "all-purpose" Canadian whisky. Whether you take it neat, flask it, or mix it, G&W Four Grain Blend is a versatile whisky. For instance, why not try it in place of rum in a holiday egg nog?
Show off your scotch savvy by giving your recipeint a gift with some serious cache by helping them get a jump on one of the most important dates on the Scottish calendar, January 25th, by giving them a bottle of Arran Distillery's Robert Burns single malt. Burns Night, as its called, is a celebration of the life and works of Scotland's National Bard, Robert Burns. Poetry, dancing, haggis, and whisky are essential components for any Burns night and this light-bodied, single malt is the only whisky to be endorsed by the Robert Burns World Federation. An aperitif dram, this straw coloured malt shows delicate flavours of vanilla, apples, pears, honeyed malty sweetness with just a hint of lemon.
If you're not sure about your recipient's whisky collection or experience and you aren't big into whisky yourself, shopping for the perfect gift bottle can be a daunting experience to be sure. Take out the guesswork and save some cash by opting for the Glenmorangie Core Range Taster Pack which includes four different expressions in 25ml sample bottles. Containing the approachable honeyed citrus flavours of the Original, the Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez sherry cask finished Lasanta with its warm spiciness and chocolate covered raisin sweetness, the dessert-like Quinta Ruban showing its full-bodied, mouth-coating honeyed chocolate studded with dried fruits and a delicate whiff of mint, and finally, the Nectar D'Or that's been finished in Sauternes wine casks which imbues a unique floral and fruity quality to the dram not often tasted in a single malt. Considering the cheapest expression of a full bottle of Original Glenmorangie starts at nearly $70 in the LCBO and the Nectar D'Or tops out at $123, this taster pack is one of the most economical ways of introducing a newcomer to the world of cask finished whisky and will indubitably elicit gratitude from more experienced enthusiasts who may have missed out on a couple of these expressions.
$60 to $120
Laphroaig Quarter Cask $72.95
Got a peat freak on your shopping list? Help them get through this winter's chill with this vibrant, punchy, peaty, popular offering from Laphroaig. By using a smaller cask the whisky's maturation time is sped up and the result is a full-bodied, smoky dram with notes of double smoked bacon, brine, iodine, and biscuity malt. Not for the feint of heart, this one is best given to someone who's been enjoying whisky for a few years and knows their way around Islay.
Nearly every single malt enthusiast has encountered the "big boys" of the Scotch scene and chief among them is Glenfiddich with it's distinctive triangle-shaped bottle. In fact, you'd probably be hard-pressed to find anyone with a remote interest in whisky who doesn't know the iconic brand and a vague familiarity with the Speyside distillery. Your recipient may even have several Glenfiddich bottles on their shelf but they likely don't have this one: Glenfiddich Distiller's Edition 15 Years Old. While the 15 year old bottling is a common feature at whisky bars and home bars alike, the Distiller's Edition is available for just a few dollars more at the LCBO but yet it seems to remain under everyone's radar! Possessing a higher than normal ABV of 51%, it delivers more intensity of flavour and delivers nearly everything there is to love about Scotch whisky, minus the peat and smoke, with the flavour dial turned up to 11. Rich brown sugar, Christmas spices, hints of dark chocolate, and more are present in this expression that's currently hiding in plain sight. (see our review of the standard 15 year old).
Glenfarclas 105 $106.95
Finally back in stock in the LCBO, Glenfarclas 105 is a cask strength beauty from Speyside's masters of sherry matured whisky. At a muscular 60% ABV, this whisky is loaded with flavour and is perfect for this time of year. Full-bodied with warming spices, nutty Christmas cake studded with candied cherries, and a long evolving finish, this whisky is ideal as a dessert dram and would also pair nicely with a cigar. It's seemingly high price tag may appear a bit off-putting until you realize that its cask strength means that it should be consumed with a splash of water, which translates into a bottle that will have considerable stamina on the shelf. Rivalled only by the Aberlour A'bunadh ($95.05 in the LCBO) and the dearly departed Macallan Cask Strength, Glenfarclas 105 is a magnificent sherry bomb that will please even the most discerning of palates.
A unique offering from Speyside distillery The Balvenie, 14 year old Caribbean Cask whisky is likely something your recipient has yet to encounter. Aged for 14 years then further matured in casks that previously held Caribbean rum, this expression begins with a nose that smells like banana nut bread, a palate rich with toffee and vanilla, and a nutty nutmeg infused finish. Definitely a dram for those with a sweet tooth that enjoy a bit of spice as well. Since its release here in Ontario back in 2011, this bottle has inched ever higher in price and - I dare say - if it creeps much higher it will cease to be within the realm of affordability for most enthusiasts. Grab it while you can!
For those of you lucky to shop elsewhere than Ontario and pick from this year's meager collection of affordable, good value, bottles at the LCBO you may be treated with not only lower prices but also a wider selection. Below is a brief list of shops and suppliers that will look after you with great selection, even better service, and the knowledge to fill in the gaps.
Calgary, Alberta: Kensington Wine Market
Canada's finest retailer of spirits, and arguably the best in North America. Andrew and Hunter head up the whisky selection here and will steer you in the right direction without fail. Be sure to ask about the store's own single cask releases.
Chicago: Binny's Beverage Depot
Now boasting 31 locations and featuring hundreds of whiskies to choose from, this has long been the go-to shop for fans of brown spirits in the Chicagoland area.
Boston: Federal Wine & Spirits
This tiny shop is found on the edge of Boston's financial district, and is just a short walk from State Street Station on the T. Don't let the tight confines throw you though, their bottle selection is excellent. Be sure to ask for Joe, as you'll then be in the hands of one of the best in the business.
New York City: Park Avenue Liquor Shop
Home to a simply massive selection of single cask releases and almost all the standard ones, this is a fantastic spot to find unique expressions.
Cincinnati, Ohio: The Party Source
Go across the river to Bellevue, Kentucky, ask any one of the staff for assistance, and you will receive the type of service typically delivered by store owners. That's because the staff here are the owners! Exclusive casks from distillers, a wide range of standard releases and independent bottlings, and more bourbon than you can possibly imagine, The Party Source is a destination in its own right.
United Kingdom: The Whisky Exchange
The world's finest whisky retailer. Bar none. For any whisky fan passing through London, this is a must-see destination. For those residing in the UK, but not in London, fear not, as TWE also provides online shopping.
Johannesburg, South Africa: Whisky Brother
Now thriving for almost 5 years, it is simply THE place to shop for whisky in South Africa. Run by whisky fanatic and still part-time blogger Marc Pendlebury, you can be assured of the type of personal service and attention to detail that is more commonly found at a Ritz-Carlton than a whisky shop.
Hopefully that helps, but if you find yourself struggling and short on time, please do reach out via Twitter for the most immediate response. We're @scotchblog on there, and a quick picture or a "what should I get this person?" is all we need to start working with you to help guide your gift giving.
Thank you for reading and on behalf of everyone at ScotchBlog.ca, I wish you all the very best for the holiday season and the year to come.