Seamus’ Opinionated Guide to buying Whiskies as Gifts

Are you close to a Whiskey, Whisky, or Scotch lover? Do you want to get them the perfect bottle as a holiday gift? Do you have no idea how to shop for a bottle of whiskies?

Because of my love for whiskies and my involvement with the 3 Drunken Celts, I am often asked for suggestions as to which bottle would be a good gift for a friend, family member, or boss. To this end I present: “Seamus’ Opinionated Guide to buying Whiskies as Gifts”

When accosted for a recommendation, my initial response is: “Find a bottle of ‘The Balvenie’ which suits your price point and buy it. You won’t go wrong…”

However, I have found that not everyone is as enamoured with the distillery as I am (cough, Raz, cough). So in a vain attempt to help out those recipients who don’t always prefer The Balvenie, I will attempt to provide some basic guidelines to choosing a suitable bottle as a gift. (If you just want Seamus’ top picks for each price point, scroll to the bottom past all the drivel in between…)

Ok, if you are still with me, let’s get to the substance of this article:

First and foremost, figure out what your price point is. There is no use finding the perfect bottle, only to realize it is way out of your range. Price can be used as a general guideline: the more costly, odds are it will be better than the cheaper stuff. But don’t let that get you down; there are some GREAT whiskies on the market which far outshine their lower price points. Just remember, there ARE deals to be had! Find some whiskies in the price range you are comfortable with, and then begin narrowing down from there.

Like price, Age is also a decent guideline where the older is typically better. On general principal a 21 year old whisky will be smoother than a 10 year old whisky. This guideline, however, tends to only stand up within the same distillery. Once you begin comparing differing distilleries and differing ages, the guideline begins to break down with too many exceptions.

When using Age as a guideline, it is also best to add Region in as well. You may well find a great 22yr Single Malt, only to discover it is from a region known for its brine when your recipient prefers peat.

If at all possible, you should try to determine of the recipient has any specific preferences when it comes to his/her whiskies. If so, you have it easy… stick with those preferences. Straying from a preferred distillery/region can be a risky venture as most connoisseurs are quite particular with their drams.

Assuming that the recipient has no particular preferences, you’ll have your work cut out for you. At the least, try to determine if he/she likes the smoky, peaty, briny, or sweeter whiskies. This will help you narrow down to a smaller regional subset and progress from there.

Some general regional characteristics to help you along the way:

Highlands – Arguably the most popular region appealing to the widest range of tastes including peat, brine, and smoke.

Speyside – A very popular and quite prolific region. Sweet, delicately complex; some with a refined smokiness, some with fruity finishes.

Islay (pronounced “Eye-la”) – Gives the Highlands a run at most popular. Challenging, Peat, brine, smoke and sometimes a tinge of salty seaweed

Skye and Orkney – Similar in character to the Islays but tend to be softer on the pallet. The Peat on the Orkneys is from heather which imparts a honey like flavor.

Lowlands – This region no longer boasts the copious number of distilleries as it once did. Soft, smooth and mild. A little of the peat and brine of the Highland malts, but much more subtle.

Campbeltown – This also use to be a prolific region, but is now in rarity. Slightly briny but not as aggressive as the Islay malts.

Irish – Not as popular as Scotch malts but this is a developing malting region its blends are quite popular. Distinguished by the un-malted barley used along with malted barley. Smooth, complex and frequently with some fruity flavor. Once known for peated whiskies, this is rarely done now.

Bourbon – From the Bourbon County, KY area of the US. Sour, sweet and smoky

American – Not from the Bourbon County area. Many are quite new to the market place with varying differences in flavours.

Assuming you have a set price range, you can really start narrowing down your selection set based on Age/Year, region, and the particular palette imparted by each bottling. Of course none of this can take the place of experience (i.e. sampling and knowing how each tastes); but if you knew already, then you wouldn’t need this guide would you?

At this point the internet is your best friend. You can find some great tasting notes on darn near any bottle ever produced! Start your searches on some on-line liquor retailer websites to find the bottles in your price range, and then do a few Google searches to find tasting notes and ratings on each. You should have a short-list selection in no time. From there, either order your choice from one of the sites who will ship to you (even with shipping you can get some wonderful deals on the internet), or take your list to your local purveyor of spirits to fill your order.

Now, it seems that even after I espouse my diatribe above, people still look at me and ask “…well that’s fine and all, but what do YOU recommend?”. I have two answers to that question:

1. If you are asking this question, then you haven’t understood a word I have said. Whiskies are a complicated thing and can be very personal for each drinker. You are best to follow the advice above, lest you buy a bottle which doesn’t meet the recipient’s desires…

2. If you are still going to demand a particular bottle recommendation, and were buying said bottle for MY palette, here you go:

Seamus’ Top Picks by Price Point (2 bottles each category):

$250 and higher:

The Balvenie 25 yearBowmore 35yr

$120 – $249:

The Balvenie 21yr Port Wood / Edradour 22yr Port Wood

$100 – $119:

Midleton Very Rare / Compass Box Hedonism

$75 – $99:

Compass Box Flaming Heart / GlenRothes 1987

$50 – $74:

Oban 14yr / GlenRothes 1991 14yr

$30 – $49:

Sheep Dip / Knappogue Castle 1992

$10 – $29:

Aberlour 10yr / John, Mark, & Robbo’s The Rich Spicy One

Other picks…

For the Bourbon lover: Bulleit Bourbon is an amazing distillation, which at $15-$30 can’t be beat at all!

For a fun grab-bag type surprise, choose any Bruichladdich bottling (pronounced ‘brook’- ‘law’-‘day’). NONE are the same and will challenge the connoisseur’s palette and expectations. You never know what you’re going to get!


Jim Murray awards Arbeg with coveted top Whisky title!

As gleaned from the BBC News:
JimMurray, in his 2008 edition of his best-selling Whisky Bible, has awarded the Ardbeg 10 year the coveted top title of “World Whisky of the Year”.

As the BBC News reports:

<Murray> said in his guide: “To me Ardbeg is – and always has been – the most complex malt on earth.”

He added: “I have been visiting the distillery for nearly 30 years – long before anybody had heard of Ardbeg.

“And because I have long regarded this as the finest distillery in the world, I actually try to handicap the sample to iron out any natural bias.”

He said in his guide: “To me Ardbeg is – and always has been – the most complex malt on earth.”

He added: “I have been visiting the distillery for nearly 30 years – long before anybody had heard of Ardbeg.

“And because I have long regarded this as the finest distillery in the world, I actually try to handicap the sample to iron out any natural bias.”

So, here’s to you Ardbeg… may your drams continue to garner such high praise and acclaim from all who taste you!


Some Scotch Whisky and Whiskey Quotes…

A close friend recently asked if I had any good quotes surrounding Scotch Whisky which he may use on a sign at an open Scotch bar for another friend’s funeral. I so quickly took stock and realized that, oddly enough I really hadn’t any which I could provide easily.

 

Of course, being the connected lad that I am, I hurriedly hit the internet and began sending over a few here and there which I thought may be appropriate… Then it hit me… why don’t I add this to the site as a “3DC Approved” resource?! So here they are; a small handful of Scotch and Whisky(ey) based quotes which the 3 Drunken Celts heartily endorse:

 

“The proper drinking of Scotch whisky is more than indulgence: it is a toast to civilization, a tribute to the continuity of culture, a manifesto of man’s determination to use the resources of nature to refresh mind and body and enjoy to the full the senses with which he has been endowed.”

– David Daiches, Scotch Whisky 1969

 

“There is no such thing as a bad whisky. Some whiskies just happen to be better than others.”

– William Faulkner

 

“A good malt bears the imprint of its origins. The source of the water, the quality of the air and the character of the peat used to dry the malted barley all combine to make something unique -the very essence of its environment. Malt whisky is like the Scots tongue – broadly one language yet, within that, so many different dialects, each one unique to its own distillery. It is this subtle distinction which gives every malt its unmistakable identity.”

– From a Highland Park Distillery brochure

 

“Set up another case bartender! The best thing for a case of nerves is a case of Scotch.”

– W. C. Fields quotes

  

“For God’s sake bring me a large Scotch. What a bloody awful country. “

– Reginald Maudling

 

“There were years when I was a beer and tequila guy, then I got real fat. And then I found that you could actually go on a diet and drink scotch. Then I got hooked on scotch, and if you get hooked on scotch, then everything else just tastes wrong.”

– Ron White

 

“No married man is genuinely happy if he has to drink worse whisky than he used to drink when he was single.”

– H. L. Mencken

 

“The light music of whiskey falling into a glass – an agreeable interlude.”

– James Joyce

 

“We borrowed golf from Scotland as we borrowed whiskey. Not because it is Scottish, but because it is good.”

– Horace Hutchinson

 

“Whisky is liquid sunshine.”

– George Bernard Shaw

 

“What butter and whiskey won’t cure, there is no cure for.”

– Irish Saying

 

“Too much of anything is bad, but too much of good whiskey is barely enough.”

 – Mark Twain

 

And of course the good ‘ol 3 Drunken Celt standby:

Hollinshed, writing in 1577 on this ancient beverage, says: “It sloweth age, it strengtheneth youth, it helpeth digestion, it cutteth flegme, it relisheth the harte, it lighteneth the mynd, it quickeneth the spirits, it cureth the hydropsie, it repelleth gravel . . . and trulie it is a sovereigne liquor if it be orderlie taken”.