Friday, 20 November 2015

Christmas Spirit: 10 Finance-Friendly Drams for your Festive Consideration

Well, another year, another Whisky Bible, another 'Top Five' made conspicuous by the absence of a Scotch. (Though don't worry - best Single Cask went to a Glenfarclas from 1957, so if you've got the same sort of money spent on my car to put towards a bottle, then you're sorted. Good luck finding it mind.) Anyway, this isn't going to be a blog about Mr Murray or this year's champions - congratulations incidentally to Crown Royal - but more about a few whiskies that I have enjoyed immensely over the last 12 months and which I'd like to humbly recommend so far as picking out your Christmas bottle might be concerned.

I mention the Whisky Bible Champions simply because a quick look at the list suggests that my readers may have a difficult time getting their hands on any of the top 5. The Whisky Exchange doesn't currently have the Crown Royal, the Pikesville or the Yamazaki. The William Larue Weller is about to land in the UK, and you'll probably have all of about 3 hours to snag a bottle, though only if you have £145 to spare, and the Midleton Dair Ghaelach is about the same price.

A few of the guys and gals in my office (and out of it) have been asking me for suggestions on their Christmas Whiskies recently, and the budget generally seems to be between £40-£50. Since this is also my own usual spending range and encompasses a huge number of wonderful bottles from all over the world, it's what I've used as a rule of thumb in putting this list together. (Though I've stretched it to £55 so I can include two of the Whiskies which I have enjoyed most.) All are currently available through various channels and (I hope) encompass a broad enough range of styles and flavours to satisfy any taste. Obviously restricting myself to just 10 has meant that I haven't been able to include some of my favourites, and bottles such as the Penderyn peated and indeed Madeira finish as well as whiskies from Pulteney, Glenfarclas, Dalwhinnie and many more have also given me immense pleasure, but the following 10 have stood out particularly to me for myriad different reasons, and I hope that amongst them you will find something to make your festive season a little more special.

So, in no particular order, my top 10 drams for less than £55 for Christmas:

Clynelish 14 Year Old - A real favourite of mine amongst Distillery Own-Label expressions, and a joy to return to when I visited on that foggy day in September. I love the balance that Clynelish offers, with its rich, waxy body, brown sugar and orange and that tantalising whiff of smoke to keep you honest. (Though for those less fond of peat - it really is just a smidge, we're not talking Islay or even Highland Park levels here.) Tips the scales at just over £40 and is worth every penny. 46% ABV

Amrut Fusion - In a year during which I've had my first whiskies from Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, France and Sweden this beauty from India was a real standout. The 'fusion' is its blend of unpeated Himalayan barley and peated Scottish malt, and I liked it so much that I bought my friend a bottle for his 26th. Contains its ABV well amidst beautifully plump and chewy flavours of fruit and trifle. If you're looking for something a bit different then look no further. 50% ABV

Four Roses Single Barrel - In a year full of terrific Bourbons (including my first experience of the Buffalo Trace Antique
Collection) this was comfortably my favourite for the money. Properly rich and fat with all the fruit and honey and vanilla you could wish for, there really aren't many (if any) whiskies in the world that offer more at this price point. A couple of friends of mine who used to sneer at anything outside of Scotland have been turned for good by this Kentucky Cracker, and rightly so. 50% ABV

Ben Nevis 10 Year Old - My reason for including this on the list was because it gave me one of the year's most memorable Whisky moments. Having expected it to be average at best it gave me an
utterly delightful nosing and tasting experience and a valuable lesson in not pre-judging. Youthful and lively, so admittedly not the most 'Christmassy' of malts, but a really excellent, well-rounded dram from a distillery worthy of far greater recognition than it currently has, and also at under £35 the most affordable on this list! 46% ABV

Redbreast 12 Year Old - It's taken me until this year to really get into Irish Whiskey, but once I'd gone down that particular Rabbit Hole I found myself in a Wonderland that I am in no hurry to leave. I'm barely scratching the surface of what this astounding Whiskey
Nation has to offer, but my favourite thus far is Redbreast. My first experience of Single Pot Still Whiskey and what an experience it was - an absolute flavour bomb which demonstrates just how fruity a whisk(e)y can be, whilst locking it all together with sugars and spice and all things nice. If you want to cure someone of Cognac and get them onto a real spirit I suggest you start them here. 40% ABV

Ardbeg Uigeadail - One of two whiskies on this list which made me stretch the 'budget' to £55, because I just couldn't leave this one out. My father and uncle may disown me for saying so, but the peat monsters of Islay aren't always my thing. That said it is impossible to deny the pedigree and class of this objectively stunning dram, which drinks as a bit of a lesson in how to put together a quality whisky. The sherry casks also do a lot to soak up the more aggressive elements of the peat whilst adding a leathery fruitcake character. Don't be under any illusions though - this is still a smokehead's wet dream, with all the meat and peat and smoke-muscle one expects from the trio of Distilleries along the Kildalton coast. A Scotch Whisky legend and one of the most complex expressions out there. 54.2% ABV

Nikka Pure Malt (Red/Black/White) - I've enjoyed a lot of great Japanese Whisky this year, but none so much as the flight of Nikka Pure Malts my next door neighbour unexpectedly laid on for me a month or so ago. The man loves a Nikka (his favourite is 'From the Barrel') and I don't blame him - it's one of the premier league names in modern Whisky, even if they do need to bring their standard bottle size up to 7cl... In fact since Nikka own Ben Nevis
this is a double-entry for them, and deservedly so. All three are rounded and velvet-smooth with juicy fruit and grain aplenty. Lovers of unpeated - the red is your friend here. Peatheads, give the black and white a whirl. I didn't want to pick a favourite, so I'm recommending them all here. If you're looking to branch out from Scotch this is a delicious and brilliant value stepping stone. (And leagues ahead of the famous Scottish blended Malt 'Monkey Shoulder'.) 43% ABV

Springbank 10 Year Old - Unquestionably my 'distillery of the year.' At the start of 2015 I had never tried Springbank - since my visit in July I am now an absolute devotee. Longrows, Hazelburns I worship them all. But it's the flagship that won me over - the entry level whisky I have enjoyed more than any other this year. For its lemon freshness, streak of near-mineral salinity and seductive curl of smoke I have fallen completely in love with Springbank. In fact - I'm going to say it and never thought I would - pound for pound it is the only distillery in the world I treasure as dearly as Highland Park. The 10 year old is another 'aperitif' whisky (or 'breakfast whisky' as they call it up North) but quite honestly malt of this quality can be drunk at any time of the day or year. 46% ABV

English Whisky Company Chapter 16 - Peated and in Oloroso Sherry, this was my first ever experience of English Whisky, tried the day before I visited their stunning and wonderful distillery. I've fallen hard for all of their output that I've tried thus far, but none as hard as I fell for this one. Oranges, dark chocolate, raisins, bonfire
smoke - this might have been made to a 'what does Adam like in his whisky' recipe. The highest praise I can offer this expression is that it's the closest I've ever come to repeat-buying a bottle for myself that wasn't A'Bunadh. And I still might. In purely subjective terms this is probably my favourite new whisky of the year. And as far as its flavour-profile goes I can't think of a better-suited dram to a long evening before a winter fire. 46% ABV
(NB This has just won Murray's European Whisky of the Year, and there's not much of it about anyway, so my advice is to move quickly for this one!)

Aberlour A'Bunadh - I can't not include this one. I just can't. The only bottle I've bought for myself more than once and, for me, the best value-to-price Scotch Whisky on the market. If you love the rich, fruity, spicy flavours of perfect Oloroso butts, if you like your whiskies massive and rounded and unpeated then you have no
excuse for not investing in this one. Sip with caution - it's Cask Strength after all - but if you want to drink the same whisky as me for Christmas then this is the one for you. I cheat on the A'Bunadh all the time - I flirt and form trysts and affairs with other expressions and distilleries and countries, and often I stay away for months - years even - but I always come back. My all-time favourite and my one true love. My Christmas Spirit and doubtless what I'll ring in the New Year with too. 59+% ABV (batch dependent.)

Look forward to hearing what your own winter's dram is, in the meantime:


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