The 2018 Gift Buyer's Guide to Whisky

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Season's Greetings!

ScotchBlog.ca's Gift Buyer's Guide to Whisky is back with another holiday installment aimed at the price-conscious shopper with a whisky-loving recipient on their list. Whether you're looking for a hosting gift, a celebratory bottle, a gift for a new drammer or a seasoned enthusiast, this year's list has something for every taste. As always, this guide is written to give you a short-list of the best valued whiskies currently on LCBO shelves with high availability province-wide. With a price limit of $100, you are sure to find a gift idea in in this list that's bound to delight your recipient. 

For Ontario readers, make use of the embedded title 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 the distance between your chosen store and the store of origin. Lastly, for any locations showing one bottle of something, be sure to phone ahead to confirm availability. 

Finally, each whisky listed below is 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.
Whiskies

Jameson Caskmates Irish Whiskey -  $39.95 on sale now for $34.95
Caskmates Stout Edition offers an interesting twist on a well-known and beloved Irish whiskey brand.  The standard, triple distilled, Jameson's blended whiskey is finished for four months in a cask that formerly held Irish stout beer and the result is like a liquid, boozy, tootsie roll. Rich chocolate tones, candied citrus peel and ginger combine with a dash of peppery spice and bitter hops. It's one of the best beer-influenced whisky experiments I've tried to date; well-balanced and highly drinkable it makes a perfect addition to a holiday party. 

A newcomer to the Canadian whisky landscape, Bearface is a sourced single grain Canadian spirit that's been previously aged for at least 7 years in ex-bourbon barrels. At this point the whisky is brought to Mission Hill B.C. where its finished in a combination of ex-Bordeaux red wine casks and barrels made from virgin Hungarian oak before being bottled at 42.5% ABV. All that wood influence makes for a bold whisky that tears out of the glass with big, oaky vanilla and toffee on the nose with juicy, red berries, camphor, cigar box and a hit of warming spice on the slightly bitter finish. Bearface is a remarkable value buy for the Canadian whisky lover on your list.

Named in homage of Highland Park founder Magnus Eunson this non age-stated single malt was matured in sherry seasoned American oak casks. Hailing from the the old viking outpost of Orkney, Highland Park's house style shows heathered peat smoke, honey and citrus with an occasional sherried influence. Magnus showcases that well-known house style but at a fraction of the price of the rest of the core range. Consider it a "value buy" that can do the heavy lifting as either a party "bring along" or as a hosting gift for the whisky lover on your list who likes things a little smoky.  

Food-friendly, approachable, polished, the Singleton of Dufftown is a great choice as a hosting gift. This Speyside single malt was made for holiday gatherings with it's smooth, full-bodied texture and flavours of toasted coconut, toffee, raisin bread, orange marmalade leading to a finish that fades through hazelnuts, coffee and a hint of black licorice. It's a delicious, quaffable, dram that will appeal to both casual and seasoned whisky enthusiasts.

Independent bottler Douglas Laing & Co.'s Rock Oyster is a small batch blended malt that contains whisky from almost all of Scotland's whisky producing islands like: Jura, Islay, Arran and Orkney. Perfect for the adventurous connoisseur on your list, Rock Oyster is non chill-filtered and naturally coloured with robust flavours of smoke, malt, waxy honey, and peppery spice leading to a briney and slightly peated finish. And yes, in case you're wondering, it pairs wonderfully with oysters on the half-shell.

It's baaaack! One of the most beloved single barrel bourbon's is back on LCBO shelves with it's distinctive bottle shape that bears a remarkable reminiscent to Monty Python's Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch. Because it's a single barrel bourbon, each time Blanton's shows up on our shelves it's slightly different due to batch variation. The bourbon lover on your list will enjoy the sweet vanilla, toffee and cherry notes alongside roasted nuts and salted chocolate with a long, mouth-coating, finish. It's a true sippin' bourbon that will keep your recipient company through the long winter to come. 

Glenfiddich Fire & Cane - $79.75 on sale now for $74.75 
Released earlier this year as part of Glenfiddich's "Experimental Series," Fire and Cane is unlike anything your recipient has probably ever tasted from the iconic Speyside distillery.  First off, it contains an unconventionally smoky and peated version of it's spirit from a distillery better known for its pear notes than its peat smoke. Then, after maturing in ex-bourbon casks, this special run of peated Glenfiddich was finished for up to six months in Caribbean rum casks. The result is a whisky with a pungent campfire smokiness, toffee, and dried fruit on the nose and baked apples, pears and toasted marshmallows on the palate with a gentle, warming finish. This year, blow up your recipient's preconceptions about Glenfiddich with a whisky that's pretty much unlike anything they've made in recent memory.

A bit of an oddball on this year's list is from Welsh whisky producer Penderyn with the distillery's first "peated" expression. Instead of peating the malt for their single malt, as you'd expect, the whisky was first matured in ex-bourbon casks and then underwent further maturation in ex-Laphroaig quarter casks. That extra time spent in the smaller casks from one of Islay's peat-reekiest distilleries imparts big flavour on the otherwise light and fruity single malt. A fumarole of charred wood and smoke erupt from the glass along with fresh citrus zest. On the palate expect a dry whisky with a blast of rubbery peat smoke, muddled tropical fruit like guava and citrus leading to a mouth-watering finish with lingering notes of menthol and peppery spice. Limited to just 5,000 bottles annually, Penderyn's Peated Cask would make a great gift for the whisky enthusiast on your list that seems to have "everything." 

Aberlour's A'bunadh may appear a bit off-putting with it's seemingly high price tag until you realize that its cask strength 59.5% ABV means that it should be consumed with a splash of water, which translates into a bottle that will have considerable stamina on the shelf. Deep red in colour with flavours of cloves, nutmeg, red apples and brown sugar means that this single malt is basically Christmas morning in a bottle. It's also worth mentioning that the A'bunadh is batch produced so each release is slightly different which heightens the gift cache of this beloved Speyside "sherry-bomb." 

The final entry on the whisky list is a limited edition release from Glenglassaugh which was brought back to life almost ten years ago after a two decade slumber. Not much from this Highland distillery makes it onto LCBO shelves which makes it a good option for the whisky connoisseur on your list. Cask strength, naturally coloured and non chill-filtered, Torfa ticks most of the boxes on the whisky geek's checklist for an "authentic" whisky experience. Rich, smooth, and practically billowing with grassy peat smoke the dram shows fruity notes of apricot, pineapple melon with custard. Layered and complex, Torfa has a long chewy finish of charred meat and fruit leather studded with candied ginger and black pepper. At the time of writing there's still a few left in the province but they're a bit scattered. Act fast and you'll still have enough time to ask the LCBO to do an inter store transfer to get it before Christmas or the New Year, depending on your needs. Can't swing it? Try Glenglassaugh's Evolution instead; same connoisseur cache but without the peat and smoke.

Stocking Stuffers

Whisky Snacks - Price varies
A shareable, snackable gift is a great complement to any dram and there are no shortage of combinations. This year's list is a mix of old and new favourites:

  • Walker's Shortbread - is it even Christmas if these cookies don't get passed around?
  • Walker's Oatcakes - is it even a proper night of whisky nosing if these don't get pass around to clear the palate?
  • Mackie's of Scotland Haggis & Cracked Black Pepper crisps - these vegetarian-friendly crisps are spiced to pair with whisky.
  • Smith's Scampi Fries OR Bacon Fries - A popular bar snack in the UK, the Scampi Fries are my fave. Imagine a bag of crispy bits from a fish and chips fryer with a squirt of lemon...heaven with a Gin and Tonic or a peated Islay whisky. Bacon fries are a decent backup option.
  • Roasted Seaweed Snacks - no particular brand to look out but I prefer low sodium versions. Pair this up with Rock Oyster and watch the vanilla and honey notes leap to the forefront.
The Glencairn Glass - Available in Downtown Toronto at Tap Phong Trading 

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.Amazon.com and others.
NOTE: on some sites you need to buy the caps separately from the bottles! 

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. There's a reason this gift idea is on the list every year: it's truly the gift that keeps giving! 

Remember, as always, if you find yourself struggling and short on time, please do reach out via email, Twitter, or Instagram 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 ScotchBlog.ca, I wish you all the very best for the holiday season along with a happy, healthy and prosperous 2019.

Slainte!

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