Well folks, it’s that time of year again. That’s right, in case you hadn’t noticed, we’re a month away from Christmas. Although, if you’ve been in any retail stores, it’s been ‘that time’ for the past three weeks. I’m already sick of Christmas carols and December’s not even begun!
All Scrooging aside, it is still a rather lovely time of year I think. There’s promise of mulled cider, roaring fireplaces, dark nights, the smell of Christmas trees. Even Londoners seem to get a little bit more cheery – bar those walking on Oxford Street amongst the throngs of shoppers. No one can keep chipper through that.
With that in mind, I’ve been thinking how you can give your loved ones the gift of whisky without having to deal with those crowds. Because, after all, it’s much more fun to buy presents in your pyjamas (a rather frowned upon dress wear on the high street).
As such, here are my top whisky gifts this year!
Fancy getting someone a pre-Christmas present? Okay, it takes some of the excitement away on the actual day, but if you can get a gift that gives for a month, why not? The Master of Malt advent calendars do just that. Behind each of the 24 doors, you’ll find one measure of whisky (or gin, or absinthe, or rum, or…just about any spirit as they’ve been expanding the range this year!). You’ll need to order ASAP to get it delivered in time to open that first door, but if you feel like splashing out on that special someone, this present, well, rocks. I’m looking very forward to starting to open mine next week and there are promises of everything from Glenfarclas 25 to Small Batch Teeling Irish Whiskey (not that I’ve been peeking – you can find out the list of included whiskies on the site). If getting someone a present before the actual day isn’t really up your street, then I’d consider Master of Malt gift vouchers. This is for two reasons: a) it takes the fear out of choosing the wrong whisky; and, b) they gain interest (that’s right, 5% interest per annum if you don’t use them – better than the bank!).
I’m a big fan (you’ll note from option 1) of gifts that keep on giving throughout the year. I’m also a big fan of a couple of whisky members clubs. The Scotch Malt Whisky Society is a great wee place – you try interesting, single cask, cask strength whiskies at the members bars in Edinburgh, Leith and London, and can get access to purchasing the whiskies too. A membership includes a beautiful gift box, 3 x 10cl bottles of different drams to whet the gift recipient’s appetite, and the annual membership. If you’re in London, also check out the Soho Whisky Club. Located on Old Compton Street, the hidden away bar has hundreds of whiskies that – with the £200 annual membership – cost from £3.95 upwards. It’s a great space, and there are dozens of free tastings a year that members can attend, helping to increase whisky knowledge one dram at a time!
Okay, so this isn’t exactly whisky straight up. But what it is, is good fun. I’ve been watching the meteoric rise of Shaken Cocktails with great excitement, as I know through the grapevine how hard the team has worked to get it off of the ground. The idea is simple: you as a customer receive a goody bag in the post each month with all the ingredients and instructions you need to make a set of perfect cocktails at home for a monthly subscription of £24. Many months this will include whisky, but one month you might get mezcal and the next, gin. If you’re getting a present for a whisky lover, who likes to sideline in other spirit admiration from time to time, this is a great choice.
I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of ‘traditional’ whisky glasses (i.e.: Glencairns, tulip and rocks glasses) in my cupboard. A lot. So it was with interest that I happened to meet the founder of a company called Denver & Liely out of Melbourne, Australia, when I was at this year’s Whisky Exchange Show. The team there has created a new style whisky glass – it takes the elegance of a wine glass, the comforting shape in the hand of a rocks glass, and the upward angle of a Glencairn/tulip glass, and moulds it into one. I’ve been using mine a lot since the show and have to say I really enjoy doing so. It makes for a more relaxed way to taste whisky than I find the Glencairn/tulip glasses do, while also being more refined than using a rocks glass. All in all, a winner. They do these in small batches, and are placing orders according to their website for delivery in early to mid-December. Once they’re gone, they’re gone until the next batch so if you miss out for Christmas, keep it in mind for future birthdays!
Continuing the ‘online’ theme, the online whisky school “I want to know whisky” is a great gift for anyone keen to really delve into whisky a little bit more. The tutorial gives the recipient not only the basics of how it’s made, but little facts about whisky, its history and how it’s received in this day and age, in an interactive and beautifully laid out fashion. They’ll even get a certificate at the end!
New whisky distilleries are popping up all over the map at the moment. But, because it’s going to take a few years for you to get to try any whisky from them, I believe it can all feel a bit distant, a bit removed. Many start-ups are helping to connect with customers early on by releasing gin or vodka that doesn’t need to go through a long maturation process. But it was this set from The Cotswolds Distillery (which I wrote about here) that caught my eye when I was at Whisky Live Paris in September. Consisting of 3 x 20cl bottles of its ‘work in progress’ – a new make spirit, a 5-month old ex-sherry wood cask spirit and a 10-month old ex-wine barrique spirit – the kit is beautifully designed and a great way to get an insight into a distillery in its early days, to know a bit more about the plans around some of its future releases. And, it tastes great – very young, mind, but great.
Got a whisky geek in the family? Or someone who is simply fascinated by all things organoleptic and olfactory? Then this kit from Jean Lenoir ticks all the right boxes. Le Nez du Whisky is a brilliant way to get behind the scents of your favourite whiskies to try and understand their ‘backbone’. Designed by Lenoir – whose famous Le Nez du Wine has been translated into over 10 languages since its launch in the ’80s – the kit includes 54 aroma bottles, an in-depth book breaking down the DNA of the scent of hundreds of whiskies, and a flavour wheel to help the reader delve into their whisky even more deeply. I love mine: it’s stunning to look at – most things French are, let’s be honest – and is a great toolkit to have at the ready. It’s not cheap at around £295 (you can find it at Harrods and Hedonism wines) but it will truly keep on giving for years to come.
Okay, so it’s hard to wrap up, but an IOU for a ticket to a whisky festival in 2016 is a perfect gift to give someone who likes to have something on the calendar to look forward to. Many don’t put tickets on sale until later in the year, but you can also often get nice packages and extra treats alongside if you look out for tickets early enough. A few of my favourites are The Whisky Show (put on by The Whisky Exchange), Whisky Live Paris (put on, in Paris, by Maison du Whisky), the Glasgow Whisky Festival, and Dramboree (which takes place over a weekend in Scotland).