With just a few days before Christmas, it’s hard not to feel at least a bit festive. For many, trees are decorated, presents nearing wrapped and whisky lined up, ready to be drunk.
I’ve been helped along in my festive cheer with some whisky from Ballantine’s and Jack Daniel’s both specially released for the season.
The first – the Jack Daniel’s Holiday Select – was brought out at the end of November and has been selling in London through the Whisky Exchange, which also has a pop-up stand beside the Jack Daniel’s Christmas barrel tree in Covent Garden, and Harvey Nichols.
The second – the Ballantine’s Christmas Reserve 2012 – has been released in 15 markets such as Germany, France, Poland and China but not, I might add, in the UK.
So, how did the whisky stack up?
Let’s start with Tennessee dram, Jack Daniel’s.
There were 3,000 bottles of this released to the UK. It has an ABV of 45.2% making it a fair bit stronger than normal Jack No 7, which comes in at 40%. It was matured in what the distillery terms the “Angels’ Roost”, which refers to the top floors of the warehouse that are hotter; this means the Angels’ Share is around 30% for this, rather than the 16% the distillery normally expects.
The first thing to note about this bottling is its packaging – this is the real show-off part of this whiskey. Encased in a heavy black box with red trim, the top lifts out by an attached ribbon to reveal a slide-out interior encasement in which the whiskey sits. The festive looking bottle is heavy and stout with gold curlicue decoration etched on the front. It’s an impressive bottle for the shelf.
The whiskey is a burnt caramel colour and, on first pour, smells intensely of vanilla, apple and spice. The palate has a slight chocolate and hazelnut note to it that finishes on fresh-cooked, thick caramel and – a little while later – an intense aftertaste of banana bread and stewed pears.
It’s a thick, sweet dram but it appealed to me more than normal Jack Daniel’s which I find even more saccharine. This had less oak spice, but more layers of flavour and I enjoyed the heightened ABV.
Next up: the Ballantine’s Christmas Reserve. This whisky is lighter in strength than the Jack Daniel’s, at a standard 40%.
Housed in a white box with sparkling silver snowflakes, this is an attractive bit of packaging as well but without quite the same “oomph” as the Jack Daniel’s one. Inside, a black bottle with gold writing and silver snowflakes makes it stand out as a Christmas special release.
The colour of this whisky is akin to melting brown sugar. The first nosing was an instant caramel hit: a mix between fudge and the smell of a freshly bitten Twix bar. There were also orange notes and a perfume astringency.
The palate was very welcoming – a sweet spice that likened itself to cinnamon and nutmeg appeared first. There was a toast and butter element to it too, along with that returning caramel edge. It’s one I’d like to sit by a roaring fire and Christmas tree with. The whisky finished on a fruity whisper – the flavour didn’t stick around long but was pleasant when it did.
I’m at a bit of a toss up as to which of these Christmas drams I prefer. The first time I tried the Jack Daniel’s I found it too sweet and I edged towards the Ballantine’s. But, on retrying them for this post, I enjoyed the Jack Daniel’s. I suppose it is best to have a bottle of each (if you live in a country where both are available). If neither is, I invite you to raise a glass of whatever dram is nearest and give a Christmas cheer all around!