Choosing the right gift for that special someone can be daunting, but when they enjoy a dram or two, it can be even more daunting in the face of countless numbers of different Whisky brands and categories.
Do they like single malt or blends? What about smoky or sweet? Scotch or Bourbon? These are the questions that come up when buying someone a gift of Whisky.
With some generic ‘day’ popping up every week, now is the time to be getting to know your loved ones’ favourite drams.
So what to find out and what will that tell us?
Whisky comes from far and wide. Although Scotch is one of the most well known, it is not the only place where Whisky has a home.
Some of the biggest producers are places likeAmerica and Japan. The need to know this is wrapped up in the fact that each place has a different flavour profile.
On the other hand we have American Whisky. This is filled with big bold flavours that are especially derived from the rich oak barrels. These tend to be sweet vanillas warming spices like cinnamon and nutmeg.
Bourbon is growing in popularity so this might be a good idea even if your friend likes Scotch. It’s always nice to introduce people to something new, and you never know, you might just introduce them to their new favourite!
Big Bourbon brands like Buffalo Trace and Wild Turkey, or Woodford Reserve and Maker’s Mark have some interesting and exciting expressions that will tickle even the most hard-core of Scotch lovers.
These vary in price depending on what exactly you’re buying. If it’s a more standard Bourbon like Buffalo Trace or Wild Turkey 81 Proof, then around £25 is the norm.
This increases with the age and complexity of the drink. For example, Wild Turkey Rare Breed typically sells for almost £50, and a Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Rye goes for around £46.
If you want to go the international route then Japan is another country that is leading the charge in exceptional Whiskies. In fact, the country is now Scotland’s biggest rival in the drinks market and has out performed Scotch countless times on the awards stage.
These Whiskies tend to be more delicately sweet than their global competitors. They also have some very popular peated versions and their smoothness is a challenge to Ireland’s signature mouth feel.
Anything by Nikka or Suntory, especially their Hibiki range, is sure to please any Whisky lover. These are the big names in Japanese Whisky, having consistently maintained a high quality in recent years.
These brands tend to be a bit pricier than American Whiskies. Both standard Nikka and Suntory Whiskies go from between £30-40, with the price increasing as the liquid gets older or more select. Don’t be put off by the high price tag here however, these are very well respected Whiskies and you are definitely paying for quality.
If it’s a Scotch your friend is looking for, then do not be fooled into thinking it’s as simple as just that.
Scotland is divided into four different flavour regions. Knowing which region your friend prefers will come in extra handy when choosing a good Scotch and will give you a definite idea of their preferred flavour profile.
The four regions are Highlands, Lowlands, Speyside and Islands and each has a distinct flavour profile.
The Highlands tend toward light, floral notes with a dry finish. They are sweet and spicy and Highland distilleries on the coast also have some peated and salty qualities.
Speyside malts are very similar to the Highlands. They are floral and light but are more pronounced in their sweetness and spice.
Differently, Lowland malts have a more earthy tone that is full of dewy grass and herbs.
Finally, we have the Islands. These malts reflect their coastal home and are packed with peat and sea salt. They are thick and smoky, the more peat the better!
So once you know the region, it becomes easier to understand your friend’s likes and dislikes.
Scotch brands all have a region and knowing this will give you a great boost in choosing a good Whisky. For example, if they like a Talisker then they probably lean more towards a smoky, sea worthy Islanddram than the light fruity tastes that are characteristic of a Speysidesuch as Glenfiddich.
On the other hand, if they are more inclined towards a Cardhu then look towards the Highlands, for their light floral flavours.
Prices for Scotch, no matter what the region, vary greatly. There are low range malts, such as those with a younger age statement, that are still very good and go for around £20-30. Then there are high range malts, with higher age ranges or that have been matured in special casks, that can go for upwards of £100.
It is best to have a price range in mind when looking for a Whisky as this will help you narrow it down a lot.
Blend or Single Malt?
This simply means do they like blended Whisky, which is a malt made from a mix of many different Whiskies, or a Single Malt, which is a malt with only one Whisky.
If it’s a blend your friend is going for then steer away from the big guns and introduce them to something a little different. Yes brands like Johnny Walker and Ballantine’s are popular because they’re good, but the chances are your friend has already tried them, depending on how invested they are in their drams.
Again, finding out the preferred flavour profile of the recipient is important even when buying a blend. Blends like Big Peat for example, do exactly what they say on the tin. They are filled with a rich, smoky peatedness that fans of Islay malts will love.
Big Peat is a great blend and you can even get a Christmas edition. This retails at around £50. Another great peated blend is Compass Box Great King Street Glasgow Blend. This is a great Whisky and retails slightly cheaper than Big Peat, at around £35.
But if it is something sweeter you’re looking for then Scallywag, by the same bottler as Big Peat, is a great choice. There are two main options for Scallywag, one bottled at 46% ABV (Alcohol By Volume) for £39 and a cask strength one at £49. Cask strength simply means it is bottled at a higher ABV.
A cheaper blend that has sweet and malty characteristics would be Monkey Shoulder. This is a fantastic and popular Whisky, that sells for around £26.
The most important thing to do when choosing the right Whisky is to research.
There is so much information out there that once you know what to look for, you will stumble upon plenty of hidden gems.
And knowing whether to go for smoky or sweet or floral or fruity is the perfect place to begin!