Monday, December 8, 2014
Whiskey Gifts You Can Actually Buy
The end of the year means lots of "best of" lists and gift recommendations. I get exhausted with some of these lists which typically read like this:
1. Port Ellen 35 year old
2. George T. Stagg
3. Pappy Van Winkle 23 year old
4. Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition
5. Brora 35 year old
It's all well and good to taste rare and ridiculously expensive whiskey. I'm thrilled when I get to taste that kind of stuff, and I'm glad some people have the access and/or funds to do that and write about it so the rest of us know what they taste like, but the truth is, lists like that aren't helpful to 99% of the folks out there. That's why I've tried to spend some time this year on good affordable whiskey you can actually buy.
But what if you want a special gift for your whiskey loving friend who already has plenty of Henry McKenna? Well, this year saw some very good new whiskey releases that you can actually walk into a store and buy for a fairly reasonable price. So here are some of my favorite whiskeys of the year.
Scotch: I've been very impressed with the Springbank owned Kilkerran Whiskies, distilled at the Glengyle distillery. I especially liked the bourbon barrel aged expressions, but the sherry casks are also good. They go for around $60.
Bourbon: One of the best new release bourbons I tried this year was the Maker's Mark Cask Strength. While it's not as easy to find as some bourbons, it seems to be more available than many of the other new releases. It goes for around $40 for a half bottle.
Rye: It was a good year for finished rye. High West's Midwinter Night's Dram ($80) is their Rendezvous Rye (a blend of Barton and MGP rye) finished in new French oak and port casks. Willett XCF ($150) is an MGP rye finished in Grand Marnier casks. These were both good whiskeys that successfully balance spicy rye with a sweet finish.
Irish: At $20, Clontarf 1014 is a great deal for a solid Irish Whiskey. The slightly pricier Teeling ($40) was a nice, light, drinkable whiskey.
Other: For a delicious but completely different bourbon, the Corti Brothers Mission del Sol aged Exquisite Whiskey was a real hoot and is still on shelves in California, though its sherry like notes may appeal more to Scotch and brandy fans than bourbon lovers. It goes for $50 or $30 for a half bottle.
Splurge: It is the holidays, so what if you do want to splurge on something? One of the best whiskeys I tasted this year was Charbay III, the third release of Charbay's original, massively flavorful, hoppy distilled pilsner. It is definitely a splurge at $400, but Charbay Whiskey is one of a kind and it's still on the shelves after a year on the market. If you want to try Charbay style whiskey without the big bucks, the R5 (distilled Racer 5 IPA) and S (distilled Big Bear Black Stout) are aren't as good as the pilsner, but they are a lot more affordable at $70 and give a good view of the house style.
Books: The good thing about whiskey books is they don't get bought up by whiskey flippers. This year was another fantastic year for whiskey reading with great books for every level of whiskey lover. For the beginning whiskey fan, Heather Greene's Whisk(e)y Distilled is the perfect introduction to all types of whiskey; for the intermediate whiskey lover, Lew Bryson's Tasting Whiskey goes a bit more in depth; and for the advanced bourbon geek, Chuck Cowdery's Bourbon, Strange drills deep into the world of bourbon. And if you're a real whiskey nerd, just do what I did and buy them all!
And while it wasn't a whiskey book, Jeffrey Morgenthaler's The Bar Book deserves heaps of praise as the best bartending book to come out in years with great instruction on ingredients and techniques.
Later this week: Brandy Gifts