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.

Happy holidays!

Later this week:  Brandy Gifts


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post.

I have some Henry McKenna 10 year Bib and find it fairly standard, nothing special. The EW-BIB at 4 years + is almost just as good.

I tried Elijah Craig 23 a few weeks ago and found it awful, syrupy over-aged, almost 100% wood, with some bits of pepper and cinnamon. It was nothing I would ever want to drink again, ever, let alone pay 150 a bottle for. What is the deal with old bourbons? Do some age better than others or is this "old bourbon" thing just a way for distillers and fancy bottlers to get rid of old barrels?

As a new person to bourbons, an escapee from over-priced Scotch, I was shocked that the EC23 was so awful. I understand why Scotch benefits from long maturation but I'm just not quite understanding the benefits for bourbon.


Anonymous said...


Completely agree about the's amazing to compare either WIP6 to say, whiskies like Kilchoman - which are great but also strikingly more expensive...wonder if Springbank will release a cask strength version at some point?

Also wanted to pick up on your posts highlighting Smooth Ambler...I recently bought two bottles of their single barrel, cask-strength rye from the Wine Merchant in St. Louis...fabulous whisky for around $50 a bottle. Their single barrel bourbon was good too, but the rye was approaching BTAC territory.

Let's also have a Japanese item or two...Hakushu 12 or Taketsura 12 - which are both also around $50. There's a NAS Hakushu in Europe that hopefully will make here one day for less than $50.



sku said...

Adam, good call on the Japanese Whiskies. Thanks for the addition.

Anonymous said...

I know many of you will laugh at my ridiculousness, but the MM Cask makes amazing Old Fashioneds. Outrageously good.

Anonymous said...

To the first poster (anonymous) who complained about old American whiskey*: See Whisky Advocate's current end-of-year awards where they applaud the Sazerac 18 folks for moving that one out of casks and into stainless tanks a few years ago to avoid excessive oak maturation.

* Note that I didn't say "bourbon."

My Annoying Opinions said...

I'd highly recommend the Death & Co. cocktail book as well. I'm probably going to read it more than I am going to actually use it but it's a great read.

sku said...

I'm totally game for a MM Old Fashioned.

Dan, Elijah Craig is notoriously inconsistent. Bourbon can age very well, but not all bourbons do. The charred oak and hot Kentucky summers make aged bourbon a much more iffy prospect and are why you don't see many bourbons over 20 years and almost none over 25, but they can be great.

Anonymous said...

anon - haven't tried an old fashioned with MMCS, but I indulge with ECBP and damn if it isn't amazing.

tried the stagg jr too, which helps tame the heat in that beast.

i'll have to try the MMCS.

TylerP said...

I always love reading your thoughts, especially suggestions. I have not gotten great reviews on the Willet XCF- so I was surprised to see it in your list. Just goes to show there are lots of different opinions about Whiskey in general.