The word whiskey (or whisky, depending on region of production) means innumerable things to a great many people. This brown spirit category plays catch-all for everything from the smokiest scotches to the oakiest bourbons. There are single malts and single pot stills. There are blends of every fashion, and for every taste. It can be exceptionally hard to choose whiskey for somebody else without first understanding which subcategory and taste profile appeals most to them. The following 10 selections, organized by classification, are just a sampling of the whiskey wonders we tried this year, but make for ideal gifts across all price points.
Unpeated Scotch Whisky
Glenmorangie Signet Single Malt
One of the most impressive Highland single malts on the market, Glenmorangie Signet ($199) dodges peat in favor of richness and spice. Half of the malt is in fact high-roast chocolate malt. What this yields is a creaminess to the scotch, a bit of vanilla and a hint of coffee on the palate. Aging in a mix of Spanish sherry casks and virgin American oak means it delivers spice and fruit upfront, but keeps thing finessed at the finish.
Dewar’s Scratched Cask
New to the market this year, Dewar’s White Label Scratched Cask ($34) is a blended scotch wonder of 40 single malt and single grain whiskies. The spirit has aged for at least four years, but it’s the marrying process in barrels that have been heavily charred and then scratched that a smooth, toasty vanilla flavor. It’s mellow but nuanced.
Peated Scotch Whisky
Released this year, in celebration of the brand’s 200th anniversary, Laphroaig 15 ($80) epitomizes the delights of single malt peated whisky. This expression, produced on the isle of Islay, references one of their most popular recipes launched 30 years back. The spirit definitely noses of peat, but tastes of sweet smoke, with salt and pepper. This whisky will appeal to lovers of peat, and might just act as a great introductory point for someone looking to give peated scotch a try.
Highland Park Dark Origins Scotch
For anyone who wants in on the “no age statement” boom, peat gracefully confronts sherry in the Orkney Island’s Highland Park Dark Origins ($98). The peated barley lends its impact right away, but it is the aging in 80% first-fill sherry casks and the island’s heather plants that ultimately beget something floral, spiced and smooth.
Tullamore D.E.W. Phoenix
There’s still nothing quite like Tullamore D.E.W.’s Phoenix ($65) coming out of Ireland today. Of late, Irish whiskey has been recognized for being lighter and sweeter than products hailing from Scotland. Phoenix embodies this, with its refreshing vanilla creaminess and flourishes of brown sugar. Yet, its key to success is the balance of potency and nuance and, at 110 proof, there’s no denying its power.
Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy Single Pot Still
Midleton Distillery’s most famous product is without a doubt Jameson. And yet, that’s just one of so many whiskeys produced on site. The distillery recently brought Powers back to the US, and Greenspot, Yellowspot and Redbreast have been garnering acclaim for years. But the limited edition Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy Single Pot Still ($250) stands above them all. “Single Pot Still” is a signifier of quality here—meaning this is produced in small batches, with the utmost care in one single copper still. Naturally, there are oak-oriented flavors but its the green fruits that yield something distinct.
Detroit City Distillery Homegrown Rye
Finally, the principal component in both the Manhattan and Sazerac is getting its just dues. With a farm-to-bottle mentality at its core, Detroit City Distillery Homegrown Rye ($47) is produced with Eaton County rye in one small copper pot still in Detroit’s Eastern Market. Those rye grain notes within do flourish, but smoothness reigns supreme here, bound by nothing short of caramel. As the product is brand new, it might be hard to come by for holiday—and if so, Whistlepig and High West Yippee Ki-Yay make great alternatives.
Woodford Reserve 1838 Style White Corn
Certainly one of the most robust product categories in the spirits market today, bourbon continues to impress by way of everything from throwback recipes to cutting-edge distillery advancements. Among our favorites, the Woodford Reserve 1838 Style White Corn ($124) makes reference to a mashbill (the grain component recipe within whiskey) from 1838—and as the name suggests, it employs white corn. The result is honeyed in flavor, with a bit of smoke—altogether, a bourbon that’s powerful but buttery. As it’s limited edition, it may be difficult to find. But the latest Booker’s Small Batch Bourbon, Angel’s Envy Cask Strength Port Wine Barrel Finish and Russell’s Reserve Small Batch Single Barrel Bourbon all impress.
Forty Creek Double Barrel Reserve Whisky
A highly awarded Canadian whisky, the Forty Creek Double Barrel Reserve ($50) draws its profile from rye, corn and barley. There’s a nuttiness to the spirit that follows through to the complexity of the finish. It’s a good balance of smooth and spicy, that lingers long after each sip.
Suntory Hibiki Japanese Harmony
Whisky lovers really can’t go wrong with any Suntory products, and yet the Hibiki Japanese Harmony ($70), released this year, is more than a perfection of the craft they learned from the Scottish almost a century ago. It’s a distinctly Japanese blended whisky—altogether dry and complex, with a hint of smoke.
Images courtesy of respective brands