The 2017 Gift Buyer's Guide to Whisky

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With the holidays upon us it's time for our yearly Gift Buyer's Guide to Whisky to help take some of the confusion out of shopping for the right bottle for the whisky enthusiast on your 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 suggestion in this list that's bound to delight 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 for determining to which palates a particular whisky will likely appeal. 

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 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.


Johnnie Walker Green Label

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Strolling through the LCBO earlier this year I was intrigued to see Johnnie Walker Green Label back on the shelves. After vanishing a few years back it was rumoured that parent company Diageo was discontinuing the expression in favour of replacing it with a non-age-stated (NAS) blend variant. Given the trend for the "majors" in the industry toward NAS bottings it wasn't totally out of the realm of possibility that Green Label would come back as a shadow of it's former self. 

Yet, the rumour never came true. The age statement was kept and so was the formulation of the blend. The blended malt comprised of aged spirit from Diageo's Talisker, Cragganmore, Caol Ila and Linkwood distilleries. Containing whisky from nearly all of Scotland's whisky regions, Green Label is one of only two of Johnnie Walker blends to bear an age statement in the core range and is bottled at 43% ABV.

Ninety 20 Year Old Canadian Rye

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Ninety 20 Year Old Canadian Rye is the "ultra premium" offering from Highwood Distillers' "Ninety" whisky product line. While Highwood Distillers may not be an immediately recognizable name on LCBO shelves, fans of Canadian whisky may be more familiar with the Alberta distillery's other brands: Centennial, Century Reserve, Potters, or maybe even White Owl? 

Using the term Canadian Rye in the "traditional" sense, Ninety is a blend of mostly, if not all, corn whiskies aged for 20 years in charred oak barrels and is bottled at 45% ABV.

Nose: Quite sharp on the nose, especially for a whisky of this age and ABV, then a blast of wood shavings with custard and damp cardboard lingering behind. 

Palate: Medium-bodied and showing a slightly sweet mix of thinned honey and gingerbread studded with candied fruit on entry. But it's not long before this gentle sweetness is overtaken by woody spice that's both fiery and bitter with cloves, ginger and nutmeg. 

Finish: After the thunderous spice hit, the finish resonates with bitter heat before flattening out with muted toasted oak and vanilla tones. A splash of water certainly improves the flavour here by dampening the heat yet it does nothing for the bitterness and doesn't substantially change the finish. 

J.P. Wiser's 15 Years Old

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New to the Wiser's core range, J.P. Wiser's 15 years old is billed as "a complex whisky with a hint of rye spice," meant to be sipped and savoured. Bottled at the standard 40% ABV and, like many of Wiser's whiskies, this expression made from a blend of separately distilled and matured grain whiskies combined by Master Blender Dr. Don Livermore at the Hiram Walker Distillery in Windsor, Ontario.

Nose: Inviting aromas of toasted oak and spice atop a strong toffee note with a hint of green apple.

Palate: Full-bodied and smooth; like liquid dessert. Mouth-coating caramel, buttery toffee, and dried fruit notes are complemented by a hit of mint and clove-laden spice that keeps things from getting overly sweet.

Wild Turkey Rare Breed

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As a fan of Wild Turkey since my days in university, it was a special treat to visit the distillery a couple of years ago and meet the brand's affable patriach Master Distiller, Jimmy Russell. After a personal tour of the new visitor centre, the grounds and the grand, old, 6 story "Warehouse A", we returned to the centre where I purchased this bottle of Wild Turkey Rare Breed labelled Batch No WT-03RB

Bottled at 54.1% (108.2 Proof), Rare Breed is a highly awarded blended bourbon expression from Wild Turkey. While its alcohol content and taste may vary slightly from year-to-year depending on the blend, it's probably safe to assume any given version contains spirit from between 6 - 12 years old.

Nose: Heady aromas of marzipan, vanilla, brown sugar and roasted peanut shells burst from the glass. With a little time, fruity notes of cherry, purple grapes, and orange oil reveal themselves along with a light herbal, almost minty scent. 

Palate: Full-bodied and remarkably smooth for a whisky of this strength. Caramel sweetness with candied fruits, vanilla and a hit of camphor just before the finish.

Liquormen's Ol' Dirty Canadian Whisky

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liquormen-s-ol-dirty-canadian-whisky.jpgReleased in 2016, Liquormen's Ol' Dirty Canadian Whisky is a sourced whisky from an unnamed distillery in Alberta then bottled by Rock Spirits (a blending and bottling subsidiary of the Newfoundland Labrador Liquor Commission) for Dartmouth Spirits Inc. - the IRL drinks business side of the Trailer Park Boys media group. 

According to the label notes, the Trailer Park Boys launched this whisky to honour the legacy of liquor thieving bandits from the old West. Bottled at 40% ABV and aged for just three years in charred, white oak casks; it's a young whisky. 

While I was bemused by the idea of grabbing a bottle to play the home game, yet given the Boys' other attempts at making and selling booze I didn't have high hopes for the result

Ed. note: links might be NSFW...



J.P. Wiser's Dissertation

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J.P. Wiser's Dissertation is the distillery's latest release in their Rare Cask Series; a limited run of one-off bottlings put together by Master Blender Dr. Don Livermore. This one however, is particularly special to Dr. Livermore as the whisky in the blend came from 114 barrels he used during his doctoral research to develop a method of predicting the effect of wood on the maturation process.

"How do you know a barrel is any good?" asks Dr. Don somewhat rhetorically. "Well, typically, you look at the barrel and smell it...and then make a decision, but you won't really know until the spirit has had time to mature, and by only then would you know with any certainty if it worked out or if it was a loss." 

The so-called "wood character" of a barrel is one of the most important factors when it comes to producing whisky. Not only does the wood draw out unwanted flavour compounds in un-aged spirit like dimethyl sulfide - which displays a potent cabbage-like aroma even at low concentrations -  but it's also responsible for imbuing the liquid with all kinds of delicious and desirable flavours. One way that distillers attempt to alter the chemistry of the wood is through charring the barrel, but is more or less char on the barrel better when aging whisky? 

"Back in 2005 when I started the project, my thinking was a bit like 'Tim the Tool-man Taylor' you know? More Power! I thought deeper levels of char would give the best results," says Dr. Livermore with a laugh. 

In order to test his hypothesis, he created a method of using infrared sensor technology to determine exactly how much "wood character" would be extracted into the whisky after just a 30 second scan of an empty barrel. The result: less is more. A char level of just 2mm seemed to deliver the best flavour results. 

"I was surprised! We learned that 2mm was the right amount for our whiskies." After the experiment was over, he turned to writing his dissertation and "kind of forgot about the barrels." 

Twelve years later he and his colleagues re-discovered the barrels in the Pike Creek warehouse and decided to try and make something with them. "It evolved quite organically, there was a lot of interest in our other Rare Cask bottles so we wanted to see how these whiskies might work." Containing a mix of what would have been Red Letter, Lot 40 and a double distilled rye, Dissertation is bottled at 46.1% ABV, is non chill-filtered and shows natural colour.   

Given the title of the whisky, I ask if there's something he'd like people to take away when sampling this dram. "I think we're challenging the status quo of the category. We're not making caramel-flavoured vodka here.... so let's stop apologizing for Canadian whisky; other countries recognize our success before we do! We can make quality whisky that consistently wins international awards." 

Dewar's 12 Year Old Blended Scotch Whisky

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Dubbed The Ancestor, Dewar's 12 year old blended Scotch whisky contains up to 40 aged malt and grain whiskies  
that were "double matured." After the initial blending and marrying, the blend was left to mature in oak casks for an additional 6 months before being bottled at 40% ABV. Dewar's 12 is undoubtedly chill-filtered and likely contains colouring. 

Nose: Lightly floral and fruity with aromas of red apples and raisins accompanied by a whiff of marzipan and vanilla

Palate: Slightly oily in texture, it's full-bodied and mellow with a rich caramel tone and a gentle nuttiness. There's more red apples and raisins here too; bobbing along with a sprinkling of warming woody spice.   

Finish: Medium long with bitter chocolate, anise, raisins and dark dried fruit flavours that evaporate into an almost flat and mineral-like, drying finish. A splash of water brings out more sweetness in the finish while simultaneously dialing up the bitterness of the anise.

Overall: I have to say that I'm pleasantly surprised by this blend from Dewar's. There's a decent amount of malt in the mix with the grain component only really showing itself midway through the finish. Well-balanced, not overly complex, yet compellingly quaffable and food friendly. Good value buy at $47.25 in the LCBO; recommended.
Father's Day is just around the corner and ScotchBlog.ca has compiled a baker's dozen of affordable gift ideas for the whisky-loving Dad(s) in your life! 

If you can, it's worth noting what bottles are in your recipient's existing collection. What types of whiskies occupy the shelves? Blends, single malts, bourbon, Canadian whisky? This will help you avoid duplicates (unless you've already been given a clear signal to buy yet another bottle of the fave) and will lend some context to your decision-making. 

For Ontario readers, make use of the embedded links to check stock (look for the hyperlinked price!) before heading out to your local store. Remember, 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. With many of the whiskies listed, the title links to a full write up of the bottle - if we've reviewed it - in case you want a little more detail. 




Bastille 1789 Blended Whisky

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Bastille 1789 Blended Whisky is the creation of French Master Distiller Jean-Marc Daucourt whose family name is typically associated with Cognac rather than whisky. Building upon the family tradition of distillation, Daucourt studied Scotch whisky production in Scotland for a number of years before launching his own uniquely French whisky. 

Using a combination of wheat and malted barley grown in Brittany in the north west of France and limestone-filtered spring water from Gensac in Grande Champagne, the Master Distiller sought to make a whisky evocative of the French terroir. The spirit was distilled in an alembic still, traditionally used for Cognac, and then aged for 5-7 years in a combination of French Limousin oak, cherry and acacia casks before vatting and bottling at 40% ABV. 

The Singleton of Dufftown 12 Years Old

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Dufftown12.jpgFounded as the Dufftown-Glenlivet distillery in 1895, the distillery was one of six operating in its namesake town of Dufftown. Except for a brief shutdown during the second world war to comply with rationing efforts, Dufftown has been an active distillery with most of its single malt production ending up in the blends of its various owners over its lifetime. Under its current owner, Diageo, a larger portion of Dufftown's malt output has been directed to "The Singleton" line with a core range of aged statements and a handful of NAS bottlings.

The Singleton of Dufftown 12 years old was matured in a 50/50 split of European and American oak casks for 12 years and bottled at 40% ABV. 

Nose: Inviting aromas of toffee, drizzled over toasted coconut mixed with dried apples, raisins, apricots and nuts accompanied by wood shavings and a sort of mossy dampness

Springbank 13 Years Old

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On a recent trip I was lucky enough to track down a new-to-me expression of Springbank. Here in Toronto, it's a bit difficult to find much selection from the Campbeltown distillery on LCBO shelves so I always make a point to seek it out when travelling. I was thrilled to find one the 9,000 bottles distributed worldwide for this limited run of Springbank "Green."

Released in 2015, this edition of Springbank's yearly "Green" bottling was produced using organic barley and was fully matured in sherry casks for 13 years. Free from artificial colouring and chill-filtration, the whisky was bottled at 46% ABV. 




Yellow Rose Double Barrel Bourbon Whiskey

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It's not often you see a cask finished bourbon and rarer still on LCBO shelves. I find it's always a bit of a gamble when buying whiskies with wine or port finishes; doubly so when it's bourbon! Yet despite all of the bad experiments I've tried over the years I'm still lured by the thrill of hitting upon one that gets it right. 

A couple of weeks ago I was introduced to Yellow Rose Distilling, a relatively new distillery from Houston, Texas, by way of a sample swap. 
Double Barrel Bourbon was among the first offerings to market after their launch in 2012 as a limited run. The bourbon was first aged in new oak barrels then finished in ex-Cabernet Sauvignon wine barrels between 2-5 months before being bottled at 43% ABV.

Nose: Roasted peanuts, plum, brown sugar, and an almost bready dark chocolate aroma. 

Palate: Smooth and full-bodied with juicy cherry and orange flavours sweetened by brown sugar and a smear of peanut paste. 

Finish: Refined and somewhat dry. The warming finish shows a moderate length with candied fruit and roasted peanuts in the skin! 

Aberlour 16 Years Old Double Cask

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aberlour-16-year-old-whisky.jpgAberlour's 16 Year Old Double Cask is part of the Speyside distillery's core product range and has remained relatively unchanged for several years with one notable exception; the alcohol content. Past bottlings available on LCBO shelves were listed at 43% ABV whereas the current Aberlour Double Cask range has been reduced to 40% ABV. 

It's been a while since I've had this one and I thought I'd try it out again to see what, if anything, might have changed in the flavour profile. Like the 12 and 18 year old, this expression was matured in a combination of first-fill Bourbon casks and Sherry butts.

Nose: Inviting aromas of malt, cherries, pink bubblegum, and toffee spiced with nutmeg. 

Palate: Light to medium-bodied, the palate bursts with cinnamon, estery cherries and orange zest that almost seem to tilt the dram into a dry "rye-like" fruitness yet it's restrained by a subtle sweetness in the form of buttery toffee and toasted coconut.

Finish: Dry and tannic with dark chocolate and dried fruit notes appearing late into the long, warming, finish. 

Gordan & MacPhail Glenburgie 10 Years Old

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Although Glenburgie is among the oldest of the active distilleries in Scotland it has remained out of the spotlight and as such could be considered among the "lesser known" of Speyside's distilleries. Whisky production is known to have occurred on the current site as far back as 1810, yet Glenburgie was actually opened in 1829 by William Paul who hired renowned industrial architect Charles Doig to design the distillery.

With most of its single malt production destined for Ballantine's or Old Smuggler brands of blended scotch whisky, a sighting of a Glenburgie bottling is a rare occurrence. Over it's lifetime, Glenburgie has changed hands 9 times and each owner has restricted its output to blending with only a small amount of single malt made available to independent bottlers. For a number of years Glenburgie produced 2 different styles of single malt on the same site. In 1958, then-owners Hiram Walker & Sons installed a pair of Lomond stills to produce a variant called Glencraig supposedly named after former production director Willie Craig. Until the stills were removed in 1981 Glencraig was occasionally available as a single malt but, like Glenburgie, most of the spirit was used for blending. The current owners, Pernod-Ricard (held by Chivas Brothers), expanded the distillery's annual capacity to 4.2 million litres following their acquisition in 2005. 

Discovered by chance at an NB Liquor store in Rothesay, New Brunswick, it's the first bottle of Glenburgie I've ever seen. This 10 year old expression was matured in refill sherry hogsheads and first fill sherry butts and bottled at 40% ABV by independent bottlers Gordon & MacPhail.
 



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Recent Comments

  • Ryan commented on Johnnie Walker Green Label:

    Pleased to know I could be of service :) As for the gift guide, stay tuned!

  • 1000songs commented on Johnnie Walker Green Label:

    Thank you - didn't know this was back in stock.

    Q. What about a 2017 Xmas Gift Guide??

  • Ryan commented on Benromach Peat Smoke:

    Sampled this a few weeks back at our club meeting and over the years the peat smoke has become much more pronounced. The bottling we got from the LCBO (http://www.lcbo.com/lcbo/product/benromach-peat-smoke-speyside/492157) has the same 46% ABV but the peat smoke is now at 67ppm, almost double from 5 years ago.

    Nose: Grassy and vanilla notes are more upfront but the general aroma profile remains similar as before with beeswax, cereal tones and a subtle smoke.

    Palate: Campfire smoke and vanilla with juicy apricot and mandarin orange flavours.

    Finish: Stewed fruit dusted with cocoa powder and a long, deliciously smokey fade out.

    This Speysider has gotten smokier but still shows plenty of fruitiness. It's perhaps more "in-your-face" than the 2012 but without being gimmicky about the whole thing.

    A quality dram here.

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