Tis the Season For Whisk(e)y
Is it that time of year already? So it is, and given that the holiday season doubtless involves Knecht Ruprecht showing up to swat people upside the head with his bag of ash, you're going to need to arm them with the one thing that makes the intrusions of Santa's many abusive sidekicks tolerable: whiskey. The ongoing whiskey boom has resulted in a deadly combination of high prices and low availability (oh, those sad, lost individuals still showing up to ask if a store has the Pappy Van Winkle they read about in a list of great gifts), but that doesn't mean there's not plenty of gift-worthy holiday spirits out there that fulfill the trifecta of 1) being affordable, 2) being available, and 3) being really good. We've searched far and wide, but mostly at the bar, and present to you our own suggestions for bottles that will delight whichever friend or loved one to whom you give them.Be sure to remind them that the spirit of the season also behooves them to open it up and share.
Distilled in France and aged in ex Cognac barrels, Brenne has been one of the great delights of the international whisky scene. Rich, fruity, tropical -- and now, with this new bottling, cask strength and ten years old. The extra proof and extra age brings this bottle a little more in line with what a whiskey drinker expects from whiskey, with the extra notes of oak balancing out Brenne's more tropical fruit meets Cognac profile. $100
Nikka Coffey Grain
Nikka has been the subject of a shortage thanks, in part, to the massive popularity of a recent television drama about its founder. But while the Nikka malts bearing age statements are vanishing from the shelves, the moderately priced Coffey Grain takes less time to make, and so you can actually find it. Made from a corn mashbill in a Coffey still, it's a slightly viscous, caramel corn tasting treat. $65
Powers John's Lane
The reputation of Powers in the United States is built largely upon the low-priced Gold label, positioned in most bars as the slightly better shot than Jameson. But don't let that color your perception of the whiskey as a whole. John's Lane just became available in the United States after making a splash in its native Ireland, and it's a fantastic dram. Dark chocolate, leather, tobacco on the palate. A perfect winter whiskey. And if you do want to go with Jameson's, the recently released Caskmates Stout Finish is affordable and delicious. John's Lane $60, Caskmates Stout $40
Egan's 10 Year
Invoking the name of a long gone pot still Irish single malt, the current generation of Egan's are resurrecting their family' brand in the form of this surprisingly full-bodied whiskey. Spending ten years in a former bourbon barrel lends this a nice vanilla sweetness on the back end, but there's also a lot of yeasty dinner roll, malt, and spice cake in the mix. If you expect Irish whiskey to be light and lacking in unique character, Egan's will surprise you. (Silver medal, 2015 NY International Spirits Competition), $50
American Craft Distillers
Westland Peated Single Malt
While bourbon has dominated the landscape the past few years, American single malts have been making a name for themselves. Leading the pack is Seattle's Westland, which has damn near perfected American style single malt using primarily locally sourced barley. Peated American whiskey is rare, partly because there's not much tradition of it, partly because peat flavor varies wildly and not all of it makes for good whiskey. But Westland has nailed it, resulting in a whiskey that tastes like s'mores and campfire. $70
J. Henry and Sons
Launched in April of 2015, this farm-to-still bourbon from Wisconsin is brash, as many American craft bourbons are, but it's also considerably more accomplished. Aged for five years in full-sized barrels stored in one of the barns on the J. Henry & Sons farm, the mash uses heirloom corn developed in 1939 at the University of Wisconsin. It's not necessarily a whiskey for smooth savoring and quiet contemplation, but if you're looking to give something a little rowdy while also supporting small midwestern farms, this one comes at you with a bit of burn and a lot of caramel corn, allspice, toffee, and even coconut. Who knew you could get tropical notes from Wisconsin weather? (Silver medal, 2015 NYISC), $45
American Macro Distillers
Jim Beam Pre-Prohibition Style Rye
Prohibition and pre-Prohibition are practically their own subgenre of spirit at this point, and while the designation technically has no real meaning beyond "like we made it a long time ago, maybe," don't let the marketing concept get to you. This is a fantastic, very affordable rye whiskey from Jim Beam that packs a punch thanks to the higher proof and the higher rye content in the mashbill. Spicy and bold, with a whiff of licorice, vanilla, rye bread, and caramel. This is exactly what you always assumed rye whiskey tasted like. (Silver medal, 2015 NYISC) $25
Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye
Rye whiskey has been on the rise lately, but Wild Turkey has been in the game a long time before it started trending. Building off their similarly tasty 101 Rye, Russell's Reserve is named for master distiller Jimmy Russell (the Yoda of whiskey making) and drawn from a single barrel. Which means one batch might taste a little different than the next, but don't worry because they're all going to taste good. This is, hands down, one of the best rye whiskies on the market. $60
Scotch has a vast and sometimes shockingly diverse flavor profile, which means you sort of have to gauge the potential taste of the person for whom you are buying. On the big, meaty, peaty end of the spectrum, the roost is ruled by the Islay style whiskies, and none is finer than Ardbeg. Although not easy to spell, Corryvreckan (named for a whirlpool off the coast of the island) is one of their best offerings, a fantastic blend of bold Islay (think salt and soot and peat and seaweed) and creamier, sweeter honey and toffee, making it a sure thing both for seasoned peat-heads as well as someone just dipping their toes into the tumultuous, briny flavors of Islay. $80
Old Pulteney 21
A product of the far northern Highlands of Scotland, perched on the tip of a sea-battered peninsula, venerable Old Pulteney 21 single malt is like sitting down and drinking the scotch equivalent of a clipper ship and one of those old brown maps of the world. It bursts with sea air and brine, but since you're sailing south, there's also distinctive notes of coconut, Tahitian vanilla, oak, and leather. If you are buying for someone who owns a sextant or likes to sit in a mahogany-lined den reading accounts of Sir Edmund Scott and Freya Stark, this is the whiskey for them. $150
Glenmorangie Dornoch or Duthac
If you find yourself shopping at the airport this year, whoever you get this for is in for a treat, and not just because it isn't available in regular stores. Dornoch and Duthac are two Glenmorangie single malt scotches exclusive to travel retail. Named in honor of the Dornoch Firth estuary and the conservation work Glenmorangie supports through the Marine Conservation Society, Dornoch is aged in ex-bourbon barrels then finished in Amontillado sherry butts, giving it a rich taste of toffee, leather, baked apples, and a hint of roasted nuttiness. Duthac is spicier, tasting of toasted oak, vanilla, pears, cloves, and hazelnut. Absolutely wonderful winter whiskey. Both around $100.
Knob Creek Smoked Maple
Oh, I know, I know. Flavored whiskey deserves to be placed alongside flavored vodka. But the fact of the matter is, a lot of people enjoy it, and well, maybe you are buying for one of them. If that's the case, eschew all the apple and cough syrup cherry flavoring and stick to something that has more of a tie to the flavor profile of whiskey. Knob Creek Smoked Maple uses the quality base of Jim Beam's Knob Creek and infuses it with a smoked maple to create something between bourbon and something you'd pour on pancakes while camping. $40
Whiskey for a Woman
Any or all of the above. Despite what you may see elsewhere, whiskey isn't gendered.
The gift of whiskey is a wonderful thing to keep warm, but some people need coats more than they need whiskey. This year Maker's Mark has partnered with the non-profit One Warm Coat for “Give Cozy. Get Cozy." - a mobile coat drive collecting gently used and spare coats. The truck will make pit stops throughout the country in a food truck, serving hot chocolate and gingerbread cookies (sadly, no Maker's Mark bourbon, though the branding will be evident), encouraging those that stop by to spread the gift of holiday cheer. The full truck route with stops can be viewed via the Maker’s Mark holiday truck tour page here. Spread the love with #GetCozy.
- Chicago, IL | December 3 – 5
- New York, NY | December 7 – 9
- Hoboken, NJ | December 10
- Philadelphia, PA | December 11 – 13
- Baltimore, MD | December 14 – 16
- Washington, DC | December 17 – 19
- Louisville, KY | December 28 – 30
Fa la la la la. La la la. Whiskey!