The 2016 Gift Buyer's Guide to Whisky

'Tis the season of holiday parties, merry-making and gift giving so to help you select the perfect present for the drammers on your list, we've compiled a list of whisky and whisky-related gift ideas to help take out some of the guesswork. Ranging from under $30 to $200, 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:

  1. 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 for determining to which palates a particular whisky will likely appeal. 
  2. 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 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. 
As always, every attempt has been made to ensure that all whiskies listed herein are available in the LCBO at the time of publication. The title link navigates to the LCBO page while the links in the description will direct you to one of our reviews of the whisky - if available - so if you'd like more detail the full notes are a click away.

Before we get going, I'd like to re-iterate an important message: please don't waste your money on whisky stones. Every year whisky drinkers the world over are gifted these cubes of soapstone, or balls of metal, 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

The Glencairn Glass - Available online: Canada 1 Glass/$10.49, US/Int'l 1 Glass/$8.99

A perennial favourite, 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. Chances are your recipient could always use an extra one or two!

Amber Glass Boston Round Sample Bottles - Available online: SKS Bottle & Packaging Inc., SaffireBlue Inc. and
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 Boston 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 Boston 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 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 Boston 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.

$30 to $60

Looking for an affordable blend to bring to a festive gathering? Black Bottle delivers big flavour at a very reasonable price. Containing malt from Bunnahabhain, and a host of unpeated Highland and Speyside malt and grain whiskies, this whisky is approachable and surprisingly smooth. With it's sweet smokiness, somewhat oily texture, and long, chewy finish this dram might just become your recipient's new "house blend!" 

Lot No. 40 is one of the best values out there right now for "rye-forward" Canadian whisky this holiday season. Produced by Corby at the Hiram Walker & Sons Ltd. distillery in Windsor, Ontario, 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 charactorize 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." Lot No. 40 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?

This is one of the best value bourbon brands currently available in the LCBO. Bottled at a hearty 47%ABV and widely available at just about all LCBO locations, it never ceases to amaze me how many people are joyfully shocked when they sample Elijah Craig for the first time. Big vanilla, light spice, rich brown sugar sweetness, and equal helpings of chutzpah and charm, render this suitable for just about any whisky fan no matter how they like to drink it. 

Fantastic value on this single grain whisky from the independent, Alberta-based, Highwood Distillers. Despite being called a rye whisky, the single grain in Century Reserve 21 years old is actually corn. A bit of an oddity in the so-called "Canadian rye whisky" landscape, this dram contains just corn-based spirit aged in oak with no rye flavouring added. There's a bit of woodiness on the nose that hints at its age but on the palate it's as mellow as can be with a full-bodied, almost buttery, texture. Delicious flavours of caramel, honey, oaky spice, hard candies, ctirus zest and floral tones fade out into a clean finish. A remarkable, easy-drinking, offering at a great price that will appeal to both fans of Canadian whisky and newcomers alike.

Well-balanced, approachable and food-friendly, Aberfeldy 12 years old is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. A lovely dram at an attractive price, Aberfeldy displays a charming combination of sweet and spicy flavours like beeswax, apples, orange oil, and a dusting of nutmeg that all fade out in a delightfully long and warming finish showing toasted coconut alongside sponge toffee, and cocoa powder. While Aberfeldy may appear straight-forward at first tipple, fitting nicely into the traditional "Highland" regional flavour profile, there's a subtle complexity to the golden liquid that will keep your recipient coming back to the glass to discover more nuances. 

$60 to $100

If you're shopping for the drammer who has everything, why not surprise them with this limited edition run of Wiser's Canadian whisky made using a sour mash method typically used in American whisky production? Distilled in 2001 and aged in ex-bourbon barrels, this 14 year old whisky is bottled at 45% and is limited to the Ontario market. With only 2000 cases of the liquid available, once it's gone, it's gone and it's not coming back. There's a lot of complexity in here with big aromas of dusty wood, talcum powder and green apples while the palate shows a distinctly more floral tone with rosewater, hard candies, walnuts and a subtle sweetness balanced with lively peppery spice leading to a long, evolving, finish.

Glenfarclas Lorne Scots Commemorative 8 Years Old, 10 Years Old, 12 Years Old - $71.95, $75.95, and $84.95

Perfect for history buffs and whisky fans alike, the LCBO has a fantastic trio on the shelves this month from Glenfarclas, one of the only remaining family-run, independent, distilleries in Scotland. To celebrate the 150th anniversary of anniversary of the Ontario-based Lorne Scots (Peel, Dufferin and Halton Regiment), Glenfarclas have released commemorative bottlings of their 8yr, 10yr, 12 yr along with a special single cask offering bottled at cask strength. With battle honours dating from the War of 1812 to the latest conflict in Afghanistan, the Lorne Scots' regiment has played a significant role in Canada's military history. What better way to celebrate 150 years of service - and Canada's own upcoming sesquicentennial anniversary in 2017 - than a tipple from one of Speyside's best sherried whisky producers? Given the options and the relatively neglible price difference, you can't go wrong with any of the 3 age stated expressions. As expected, all share a similar flavour profile with dried fruits, honey, spice and sherry sweetness with the main difference between them coming down to the texture, or the body, of the whiskies. The 8 year displays more malt influence on the nose and is slightly drier on the palate than the 10 year which has more of a thinned honey mouth-feel. The "richest" of the lot, is indubitably the 12 year with it's heavy sherry tones and slight oiliness. Still undecided, let me put your mind at ease; there's no bad choice here and if you can't settle on one (and you can afford it) why not buy all 3, give them out (or keep one for yourself) and try them in a vertical tasting!    

Known locally as the "rarest of Speyside," the spirit from Aultmore distillery has long been a key component of Dewar's Blended Scotch and until recently, nearly all of the distillery's 2.1 million litre yearly output has been destined for blending with only a scant amount of single malt made available to independent bottlers. Recently released as a 12 year old expression free from colouring or chill-filtration, Aultmore is an aperitif-style whisky that conjures memories of similar tasting malts from Glen Elgin or even Glen Grant. Light-bodied, with fresh, fruity and floral aromas, Aultmore 12 yr is a lovely introduction to this lesser-known distillery and will likely be a welcome addition to any whisky enthusiast's shelf.

Initially a limited run, the Isle of Arran's Machrie Moor expression is the much-loved peated twist on the standard Arran profile. Now in its seventh run, Machrie Moor is made just once a year and is peated to 20ppm. Showing a delicious range of flavours like tropical fruit, creme brulee, and grassy peat smoke, it's a quality offering that's bound to inspire an interest in an oft-overlooked distillery.

Yet another commemorative bottling worthy of consideration this year is the bi-centennial anniversary release from Lagavulin. Bottled at a robust 48% ABV and solely aged in American oak, the Lagavulin 8 Years Old offers a more distillate-driven flavour profile than the standard 16 year old expression with its strong sherry influence. Light-bodied and somewhat oily, the spirit shows a lively interplay between its smokey, sweet and warming elements. A touch of honeyed sweetness underpins zesty spice and a range of peaty and herbal tones that span from raw green bell peppers to slightly bitter camphor that flashes with chocolate mint. Tremendous length on the finish as the whisky seems to smoulder and waft smoke to the palate like a smothered bonfire even up to 10 minutes after swallowing. In short, it's perfect for drinking fireside in the winter months.

Over $100

For the peat-freak on your list whose pungent and smokey whiskies can be detected from across a crowded room, Bruichladdich's Port Charlotte Scottish Barley Heavily Peated is a sure bet. Bottled at a muscular 50% ABV, non chill-filtered, free from colourants, and peated to 40ppm, this whisky will be adored by fans of peated whiskies like Ardbeg, Lagavulin, and Laphroaig on one hand, and yet it is still somehow accessible to those not as enamoured with smoky whiskies as well. Smouldering aromas of peat smoke woven with iodine, brine, and charred oak appear straight away but, with a little air, the inviting scents of buttery toast, toffee and walnuts are revealed. Viscous and rich, the dram strikes a rather elegant balance of peat reek and maritime elements with the gentle sweetness of toffee, vanilla, licorice all leading to a long, smooth, finish.

The lone Irish entry on this year's list is a limited batch run of Redbreast's 12 year old single malt in non chill-filtered and bottled at the cask strength of 57.4% ABV. Long considered a benchmark of quality for Irish single malt, this whisky is rich and complex with bushels of apple and pear flavours atop stewed fruit and biscuits drizzled with floral honey tones. There's a reason this sells out every year, it's damn tasty. If you're unable to grab a bottle in time, you can always reach for the regular 12 year old expression at $79.95; a great gift in its own right! 

A strong contender for the LCBO's most "splurge-worthy" whisky gift of the season is The Glenlivet's limited edition single malt, Cipher. Like its predecessor, "Alpha," Cipher is cloaked in an opaque black bottle without tasting notes or label info. The so-called "world's most mysterious whisky," is bottled at a remarkably smooth 48% ABV and when I sampled it earlier this year I noted: aromas of licorice root, vanilla and honey with fruity, hard candies. It's light-bodied with flavours of pear, beeswax, caramel toffee, with warming ginger and cinammon spice that finishes dry with an interesting waxy, nearly mineral, character. I can understand the skepticism about buying something with next to no information on the box and scant information on the web, your reluctance is warranted; why not wait until they announce the details to The Glenlivet "Guardians"  later this month? Because regardless of the rarity of spirit, age, combinations, or cask type  (I think there might be a wine finish here?) The Glenlivet is among the most in-demand Speyside whiskies in the world and Cipher will sell out in a flash. Also think of it this way, if you get ahead of the curve on this one you've got a gift with cache and a fun party game for your recipient to play in advance of the "big reveal."

Hopefully this has helped narrow down your choices for gift whiskies, but if you find yourself struggling and short on time, please do reach out via email or Twitter along with a quick snap of the recipient's whisky shelf, or the bottles you have in mind as a gift or, simply ask "what should I get this person?" is all we need to start working with you to help guide your gift-giving in real time! 

Thank you for reading and on behalf of everyone at, I wish you all the very best for the holiday season and the year to come.


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