Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Holiday Scotch Whisky Recommendations!

I receive a lot of email during this holiday time of year from people seeking a good Scotch whisky gift recommendation.  Many of these emails start with bewilderment that I have not already posted a top-ten best whisky list, must-have, desert island, drink-before-you-die list on this blog.

You, the regular reader, can appreciate that Scotch whisky is extremely varied. But, to the holiday shopper folk I correspond with, they just want to know my favorites and don't care about different regions of Scotland and how there can be a dramatic range of flavors.  They want safe bets that hopefully will be well received by the beneficiaries of their holiday generosity.  And you know what?  There is nothing wrong with that.

So, indulge me as I engage in what some of you may regard as bread and circuses to present the following list.

Honey Tasting Scotch Whiskies
To my mind, there are Scotch whiskies that fall into a couple of categories in terms of taste.  I figure everyone likes honey and if I had to buy for someone, not knowing if they like sherry, port or briny/peat/sooty smoke flavors, I would probably play it safe and gift with a single malt or blend from the honey flavor camp.  So, I am going to list some whiskies that I think make excellent gifts because they taste like honey, maybe some wax, lemon zest, and a slight whiff of smoke, but only the slightest. Moreover, I am recommending whiskies that are widely available, affordable, and most importantly: very approachable and not in the least bit offensive.  Smooth yet nuanced.  We want to be as mainstream as say Bob Barker when gift giving for someone else during the holidays.  So, here goes:

(1)  Cragganmore 12 years - Not well known, but one of my all-time favorite single malt Scotch whiskies.  I love this whisky for its' subtlety, the waxiness, the heather, and delicate floral notes.  A wonderful whisky that I just never tire of.

(2)  Glenfiddich 15 years Solera - If you can't find Cragganmore, there is a widely available alternative.  Moreover, it is very affordable.  Please do not confuse this with Glenfiddich 12.  The 15 is much more complex in terms of flavors.  A real treat that everyone likes!

(3)  Glenmorangie 12 years Nectar D'Or - This is an amazing single malt!  This distillery has taken their standard spirit and aged it for two additional years in Sauternes casks, a delightful French wine, and the result is breathtaking!  Honey, lemons and almonds come together with great complexity!  Buy this and whoever is the beneficiary of your generosity will be in your debt forever!

(4) Dalwhinnie 15 years - For some unknown reason, Dalwhinnie never seems to get the respect it so richly deserves.  Why this whisky is not making the lists of must-buy for the holiday season is beyond me.  Dalwhinnie delivers an interesting twist on the honey flavor profile by way of heather and a nice little complexity.  Lovely, lovely, lovely!

I hope this helps all those last minute shoppers of fine Scotch whisky.  Readers, I know there are many other great whiskies, especially in terms of sherry and peat/smoke flavors, but for those not prepared to take risks, I figure the honey flavor profile is the most conservative option.  Chime in with your suggestions for the holidays if you have time.

Happy Holidays Everyone!

Jason Debly

P.S.  When I originally posted this list, there was a fifth suggestion: Royal Salute 21.  But, reader JK is my whisky conscience who pointed out it is ridiculously over priced for what you get.  The more I thought about it, I knew he was right.  And so, five suggestions became four.


  1. My friends all have sweet tooths (teeth?) so this is especially useful. They are just now getting into whiskys they all loved Buffalo Trace.
    Also very curious about the Glenfiddich 15. Not a fan of the 12.
    x atelier zozo

  2. Good list, though I don't agree with the Chivas pick. I'm not a fan of this overpriced blend. There are a host of 21 YO single malts that are better at lower cost. I see in the picture you have green spot. Review coming soon?

    1. I struggle with the Royal Salute 21 too. I was going to add Hibiki 17 or 21 to the list, but as they are so hard to find I thought it was better to suggest whiskies that are widely available.

    2. Oh yeah, a Green Spot review will be coming in the new year. Great Irish Whisky.

  3. Good suggestions Jason, I am interested in your opinion on the Cutty Sark Storm; another of this historical recreations I seem to enjoy. Not tried it yet. I'll take the Dalwhinnie 15 year over the distillers edition any time.

    I always get asked along to the local whisky shop by colleagues to pick out some whisky gifts. I first ask a few questions about what the intended recipient enjoys, or what they do not like. My own recommendation for under £50 is the superb Springbank 12 year cask strength at 50.3%. However it might not be widely exported. Fantastic bottle for the price.

    1. Hi Whisky Rover! I just opened the Cutty Sark Storm and must say I rather enjoyed it, given the price point and that it is a blend. It is basically the standard Cutty on steroids. A bit more smokey and peaty. Quite enjoyable.

      Your Springbank 12 is a great one but not easy for the occasional whisky drinker to appreciate. More for the intermediate and advanced fans like ourselves!

      Happy holidays!

  4. Excellent suggestions, Jason. Cragganmore 12 and Glenfiddich 15 are also at the top of my list of malts that I recommend to people who don't have much (or any) experience with Scotch. I'd also recommend Johnnie Walker Green (if the person can find it). I've yet to meet someone who has tried one of those and not liked it.

    If I were asked to recommend a malt that's a bit more adventurous than those, I'd go with Highland Park 12 or Talisker 10 -- and, for the even slightly more adventurous, Springbank 10.

    Happy holidays to you and your family.

    - Josh

    1. Hi Josh, I was going to make Johnnie Walker Green the fifth suggestion, but as it has been discontinued, I thought it would be an exercise in frustration for people looking for it. It is apparently still on shelves, but that will change quickly if not already in many places.

      I think I will remove Royal Salute and replace with Highland Park 15. The latter is aged in sherry casks, which offends my thesis of sticking to honeyed flavor profiles, but the presence of sherry in HP 15 is not dominating. I just gotta add it.

      Springbank 10 is a dream but a little to adventurous for the consumer buying for someone whose tastes they are not familiar with.

      Happy Holidays!

    2. There's still a somewhat healthy supply out here in Los Angeles area, along with Johnnie Gold (not the RESERVE).

      Reminds me, I need to pick them up as soon as I can get the funds for both bottlings. The JW Gold is absolute one of my favorites.

    3. The fifth recommendation of mine should have been Johnnie Walker Gold 18 years, but as it has been discontinued, I obviously couldn't make the suggestion.

      The more I think about it, Royal Salute has to be dropped.

  5. Jason, Another enjoyable piece, thanks. Scotch as a gift to other - is for me - simplified to one thing: what do you know could make the receiver happy ? If one knows knowing about their spirit or whisky tastes, maybe Scotch is the wrong answer. If I know they enjoy Scotch but have no further info, I go Glenlivet 12 or 18, depending upon the relationship. JW Gold and Royal Salute 21 are each so over-priced for the quality these days I'd not want the receiver thinking I recommend it. For someone deserving of an extravagant gift of whisky (more than $60 US), I resist the temptation of giving something I think is worthy or educational or exciting, and instead give something I know they wish to taste. JK

    1. I agree the Royal Salute is over priced for what one gets. I am deleting the recommendation and will replace it with another suggestion. But, the question is what? It must be honeyed, not too sherried, me thinks Glenkinchie Distiller's Edition.

    2. JK, I think I will simply delete the suggestion of Royal Salute. You are correct. It is grossly over priced and in good conscience, I cannot recommend readers buy it as a gift.

      So, my fifth suggestion is gone, and now the list is 4.

  6. That's an awfully nice bottle of Green Spot you've got sitting there... Hope the recent weather hasn't put too much of a damper on your holidays, though.

    One question: where did you get hold of the Talisker Storm and Cutty Sark Storm? Travel? How do they compare (to each other / their respective standard releases / etc.)?

    Ok, that was more than one question...but Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Looking forward to more reviews in 2014.


    1. Green Spot is my favorite Irish whiskey and will definitely be the subject of a review in the New Year.

      The Talisker Storm was purchased when I was recently in Houston, Texas for an NFL game. Not available in my neck of the woods, so I knew I had to grab it.

      Merry Christmas!

    2. Oh yeah, and the Cutty Sark Storm was launched recently and is now being distributed through out Canada. It's not bad. I rather like it.

      I have not opened the Talisker Storm, so I cannot tell you what it is like yet.

  7. Jason, I brought up the topic of your December holiday gift recommendations among our tasting group last evening. It seems there's as many ways to give good whiskey as there are people recommending it. When pressed for a consensus, we felt that under $30, there's no standout option. At under $60 there was one everyday quality whiskey that all members felt happy enough with to recommend for receipt or gift. There was no compromise to giving - or receiving - a bottle of Bruichladdich (The Laddie) 10y single malt, at least among us JK

  8. Not sure about all the baked apple zesty spicy grapefruit and ginger crap that people talk about. It smells nice and tastes even nicer. Very smooth and warming. If you think it burns, then stick to uncultured colonial drinks, this is one very fine malt whisky