As I complied this list, I have realized that they were special beyond simply tasting spectacular. On that note, there is only one reason that I was able to taste all of these – friends. Particularly with rare, expensive, and/or inaccessible bottles – no one needs all of them, but everyone wants to taste all of them, and the solution to this problem is friends in a whisky community. If you don’t have any, I recommend joining a site such as Connosr to see if there are any enthusiasts in your area. Broadly, I have found, the whisky community is eager and generous – a very great quality indeed.
As the end of the year approaches, I was thinking back to some of my most enjoyable drams over this past year – standard whiskies, not special releases or necessarily the best – but whiskies that I simply thoroughly enjoyed. As much as there is always hype over special releases – understandably, as they provide something new and different – standard bottlings often don’t get their due.
The story with this whisky goes that a few stillmen found an old bottle of whisky from the turn of the 19th century and wanted to replicate it – and so, Aberlour puts forth a monster of a whisky – a cask strength, heavily sherried single malt. Each bottle has a batch label on it, and batches vary in quality but this is a longstanding classic and favorite of many connoisseurs. This bottling is from batch 44, and comes in at 59.7%, matured in first fill (i.e. new) sherry casks – deep red and brown in colour, with no coloring added or any chill-filtration. “A’Bunadh” means “of the origin” in gaelic, speaking to the old style of this whisky.
Great King Street is Compass Box’s brand for their blended scotch, and this Glasgow blend only recently came into their core line. The whisky’s inspiration comes from the big-bodied style of many of the 19th century blending houses, blended particularly with smoke and sherry notes. The blend is bottled at 43%, without colour or chill-filtration, and composed of 33% grain whisky from a Fife distillery (presumably Cameron Bridge), about 20% from a south shore Islay distillery, 33% from a sherried whisky from Benrinnes, and a malt from Brora (presumably Clynelish), and a few other Speyside and Highland malts to round out the recipe.
We are fast approaching Christmas now, with 2 weeks away, and I often get asked for recommendations of what to buy. Of course, this largely depends on budget and preference, so here are some recommendations of good, accessible whisky. These have a few different ranges and I’ve tried to pick whiskies which are available and sit at a few different price points (I’ve included rough Canadian pricing for reference/comparison).
At a basic level, here are 5 very good, generally available, whiskies,which should all appeal to a broad range of taste preferences. Any one of these would make a fine gift for a whisky lover:
- Dalwhinnie 15 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($90)
- Redbreast 12 Year Old Irish Whiskey ($75)
- Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye Canadian Whisky ($30)
- Forty Creek Confederation Oak Reserve Canadian Whisky ($70)
- Maker’s Mark 46 Bourbon ($50)
If you know a bit about what you are looking for, here is a more advanced list of recommendations:
Subtle & Complex
- Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye ($30)
- Ninety 20 Year Old ($50)
- Forty Creek Confederation Oak ($70)
- Crown Royal Single Barrel ($50)
Bourbon & American Rye
- Buffalo Trace ($40)
- Elijah Craig 12 Y.O. ($40)
- Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel ($50)
- Four Roses Single Barrel ($50)
- Baker’s ($55)
- Booker’s ($70)
- Talisker 10 Year Old ($100)
- Bowmore 12 Year Old ($50)
- Laphroaig Quarter Cask ($70)
- Lagavulin 16 Year Old ($120)
- Compass Box Great King Street Glasgow Blend ($60)
- Glendronach 12 Y.O. ($60)
- Aberlour A’Bunadh ($100)
- Grant’s Family Reserve ($27)
- Glenmorangie 10 Year Old ($70)
- Dalwhinnie 15 Year Old ($90)
- Ballantine’s 17 Year Old ($90)
I’m looking for something different!
Pick up an Amrut (Indian) or Kavalan (Taiwanese) – both produce very high quality whiskies and their whole lineups are good.
Beyond this, feel free to see more of which whiskies I think are the best here.
Bunnahabhain was originally a filler for blended scotch whiskies, even distilling some spirit to be aged elsewhere off the island of Islay. However, now it is producing more heavily peated whiskies – many of which we see as single malts. The distillery has a number of large stills, which produce heavier whiskies because of their shape. Consequently, the character of the distillate is quite a bit different from the other Islay whiskies. Cruiach-Mhona means “Peat Stacks”, and was launched in 2010 as a duty free offering combining younger peaty whiskies and older sherry-cask whiskies (which originally were upwards of 20 years old! I’m not sure what is put into them now, but presumably they are also quite old). The whisky is bottled at 50%, non-chill-filtered, and non-coloured.