Tis the season, and if you're like a lot of gift-buyers out there, Dad is both the easiest and the hardest family member to shop for -- sure, you can always get him golf clubs or bottles of fancy booze, but which ones? I might not know a nine-iron from a putter, but I do know a few things about whiskey. Here are five tasty ideas for boozy gifts this season, with reviews from my whiskey club's excellent website (or you can skip right to our database of thousands of whiskey reviews).
Parker's Heritage 10 Year Wheated Bourbon
Price point: around $85
About: Anything from the Parker's Heritage label -- from the Heaven Hill distillery, in conjunction with Parker Beam, of the nearly-royal Beams -- will be good, but this stuff is especially tasty. At more than 120 proof, the alcohol content is about 25% higher than your average bottle of bourbon, but along with all that undiluted alcohol comes undiluted flavor. A lot of people will cut a whiskey this strong with an ice cube or a thimble-full of spring water; I'm of the sip-it-straight persuasion, but that's just me.
Tasting notes: "Fantastic nose, like french toast in a glass with maple syrup. Pretty hot at ~ 64%, but I like that, brings out the big rich spicy wheat profile with lots of sweetness lingering in the finish."
Laphroaig Quarter Cask
Price point: $45
Region: Island of Islay, Scotland
About: I think this is one of the best scotch values out there. I'm partial to the super-peaty stuff, which anything Laphroaig produces certainly is, but this has a great balance to it, due largely to the amount of contact this ten-year-old whisky has had with oak-wood. In the old days, when there were still a lot of whisky-makers in Scotland who tried to keep their activities secret in order to avoid British taxes, a great deal of whisky was aged in small casks, which were easier to hide and transport subtly. The unexpected advantage of this maturation method was that the ratio of wood-surface-area to whisky was upped significantly, giving the scotch a woodier taste. As far as I know, Laphroaig is the only distiller who matures anything in the old contraband-style quarter cask.
Tasting notes: "I find this to be more accessible and balanced than the Laphroaig 10. Great peat but the wood shows, enjoyable, and should be a staple in most collections." "Smokey, musty nose. Palate is very smokey and mildly sweet, with a whole bunch of peat/earth/that stuff and some medicine. A peat treat and a good buy."
Price point: $40
Region: Speyside, Scotland
About: This is an extremely accessible and very tasty dram, one I'd be confident putting in the hands of someone who's never tasted scotch before. If they don't like this, they probably won't like scotch at all. On the other hand, snootier palates and more experienced scotch drinkers might turn their noses up at what some consider a "starter" scotch. But, IMHO, that's just silly.
Tasting notes: "Sweet, sherried flavor, moderate finish, and very enjoyable." "Maple nose, full oaky flavor with good mouth feel, some sugar. Finishes a bit hot, but quite good for the price."
Note: If you can find a bottle of the significantly-more-expensive-but-wonderful Balvenie Rum Cask, BUY IT! It's one of the best rum-cask-aged (or anything-other-than-oak-aged) scotches out there.
Thomas H. Handy Sazerac
Price point: $70
About: One of the best ryes money can buy. A giant, high-test (126 proof) bottle of spice and cinnamon and leather and oak. Major yum. You may be tempted to make Sazerac cocktails or other mixed drinks with this but DO NOT waste it by diluting with mixers! One ice cube is permitted. Yes, I am very opinionated.
Tasting notes: "Christmassy-clove-allspice-cinnamon-nutmeg-minty-rich-freight-train-delight. A fascinating rye that just pleases the hell out of me. This is not one for novices, the ABV and massive rich spice mix will probably just put them off. However, the heat isn't near what would be expected from nearly 67% (and I drink it at full strength, yes, although it is great on the rocks as well). This has some nearly magical, mysterious aspects to it... and I don't believe any magical or mysterious mumbo-jumbo, so that's saying a lot! Completely delightful."
Price point: $400 and up
Region: Highland, Scotland
About: OK, we're getting really fancy here, but I include it because this pretty much the best thing I've ever tasted. I had it once -- a Laphroaig ambassador whipped a bottle out at a party and started pouring it, and when a man in a kilt tells you to drink scotch, you don't ask questions -- and it absolutely blew me away. It's difficult but not impossible to find.
Tasting notes: Nose has moderate cherry/berry scents, dijon mustard, tinge of smoke, chocolate. Palate -- ooh -- chocolate, toffee, and that mustard/spice/smoke thing. Medium-sweetness. Quite rich without being too much of anything. There's also something in the background that tastes like I'm chewing on carnations. Hey, I really like this! Finish is long, where the smoke emerges more and sticks around longest, with a little black pepper. Gets dryer in a way that's a nice contrast to the palate. Reveals different characteristics on every few sips.
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