Holiday Gifts For Whisky Drinkers

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - November 28, 2007
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There’s no better time of year to browse the spirits aisles in your local fine wine store and end up being thoroughly confused about what they have to offer. Gone are the days of a few good, recognizable brand names. These are the days of instant vodka - or ones that take no more than a month or so to distill - and commercially created liquors designed to appeal to something other than our good taste.

That’s why, for me, there’s great comfort to be had in whisky distilling techniques that have worked for centuries. Gifting whisky is great fun, and I’ve always maintained I can pretty much match a personality to an appropriate whisky. I’ve rarely been wrong. OK, there was that one time when I encouraged a sales director from this very company to taste Laphraoig, and he accused me of serving him gasoline before he almost collapsed on the spot - but that was really unusual.

Here are a couple of can’t-miss (promise) holiday suggestions.

Caol Ila 12-Year-Old Single Malt (Islay)

I first visited this distillery in the late 1990s and was immediately struck by both the views across the Sound of Islay, the impressive body of sea that separates Isla and its nearest island neighbor Jura, and by the sense of family within the distillery.

Caol Ila is almost hidden in a cove near Port Askaig, and for most of the past century the whisky has been hard to get and unavailable outside Scotland. The distillery produces mostly medium-bodied whiskies with an extremely well-balanced and well-rounded flavor. What’s most obvious is a slightly oily, medicinal nose, some floral notes, and a long, warm finish that’s full of spice, nutmeg and pepper.

Caol Ila is matured mostly in bourbon casks, and most of this wonderful whisky goes into world-class blends such as Johnnie Walker.

It’s a great whisky to buy as an addition to a collection, or as a gift for someone who appreciates the complexities of Islay malts.

Clynelish 14-Year-Old (Highland)

I call this my Christmas cake single malt. It’s distilled up in the highlands in the remote town of Brora, and reminds me of rich fruitcake, bursting as it is with dried cranberries, raisins, prunes and a sweet spiciness that’s reminiscent of allspice, orange peel and cloves. Hard to imagine all of that in a whisky distilled in a northern town in the wilds of Scotland, I know, but that’s the magic of a great single malt.

This is the heart of Johnnie Walker Gold, that immensely sweet, rich, silky blend that’s popular when served straight from the freezer.

Clynelish is perfect for those who enjoy a whisky as an aperitif, and would make a great gift for any serious collector or anyone fascinated by classic regional nuances.

Cask No. 16

While this is neither from Scotland nor a single malt, Cask No. 16 looks as though it may be one of the hits of the holiday season. Canadian whisky maker Crown Royal has blended more than 50 Crown Royal whiskies with the intent of creating a blended whisky with the smooth, lingering finish of a cognac. After blending, the whisky is transferred to oak casks made from wood from the famous Limousin forest in France and aged for 12 years. The casks, usually reserved for fine cognac, are stamped with the “zip code” of their region, No. 16.

Crown Royal fans should be intrigued by the new concept and Cask No. 16 should make for a unique gift for any whisky aficionado on your list.

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