Few liquors have as fervent a following as whiskey — which is how we know you probably have at least one dedicated whiskey drinker in your life. We also know they’ve got enough sad, wet whiskey stones to last them a lifetime, so why not mix it up and give them something they’ll actually use? We reached out to six whiskey makers, bartenders, and drinks experts to find out what they’d recommended giving to a whiskey enthusiast (and what they — whiskey enthusiasts themselves — would like to receive). From ice picks to academic courses, we’ve sourced a worthy gift for every kind of whiskey drinker, with not a whiskey stone in sight.
The best gift for a whiskey obsessive? Whiskey. Mark Newton and Jason Julier, editors of scotch and whiskey website Malt Review, say a 17-year-old whiskey from Scotland’s nearly two-century-old Glenfarclas distillery is pricey, but not too pricey, and fits the taste of just about every whiskey drinker out there. “We really appreciate the sherried charms of the Glenfarclas 17-year-old, which is the sweet spot in terms of age for the distillery,” Julier says. “It’s a great all-rounder” for around $100.
If you want to surprise someone with a terrific (and affordable) whiskey made outside the Bluegrass State, spirits writer Robert Simonson says look to Brooklyn’s New York Distillery. This Ragtime Rye is distilled according to the rules of the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897, which requires a whiskey to be distilled in its entirety by a single distiller in a single American distillery within the course of a one year. “Not all great rye whisky comes out of Kentucky,” says the Old-Fashioned and A Proper Drink author. “This Brooklyn spirit, using New York State grain, stacks up against the best in the business.”
That said, we couldn’t go without mentioning at least one great Kentucky bourbon. Nat Harry, the spirits specialist and Agave Club manager at the Bay Area’s Cask Store, says the one to know is Bardstown. “You’ve probably already had their bourbon at some point, as they’ve been a contract distiller for some time for a number of popular brands,” they say. “But they’re now releasing whiskey under their own label, blending bourbons of different ages and mash bills, and using a mix of whiskey from their own stock and that of other distilleries.” They recommend grabbing a bottle of their Fusion Series, featuring a blend of 60 percent of Bardstown Bourbon Company’s two-year-old wheated and high-rye Kentucky bourbons along with 40 percent of 11-year, seven-month bourbon also from Kentucky.
With the end of the year fast-approaching, you may be asking yourself what you should gift your boss or your favorite uncle without breaking the bank. Simonson recommends Power’s John’s Lane Irish Whiskey, winner in the Best Irish Whiskey category at the 2018 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. “This 12-year-old Irish pot still whisky is among the most dependably delightful tipples out of Ireland,” he says.
Here’s a conversation starter: ‘Hey, everyone, I brought Mayor Pete’s favorite whiskey!’ Last year the presidential hopeful from Indiana told us that he developed a real taste for whiskey while attending Oxford in the U.K., saying, “There was a student-run bar, and I became the self-appointed whiskey curator.” Though, he prefers scotch from the world-famous Lagavulin, for its deep smokiness, the cheaper and “chewy” Talisker will also do.
Or if you’d rather not bring up politics, why not give whiskey from the only president most of us can agree on: George Washington. As historian Alexis Coe points out in her guide to gifts for people who really love George Washington, The Whiskey Rebellion angered the first president so much that he started making his own rye whiskey, which is still produced today at Mount Vernon. “By 1799, he was one of the largest whiskey producers in the country,” she says. The white, unaged liquor is so good that it’s the official state spirit of Virginia and last year, the first president “took home” a silver medal at the American Craft Spirits Association Awards.
Finally, if you’re looking to go really big, you can give someone the gift of an entire whisky cask. “The next big thing is owning your own cask and seeing how it develops,” say Julier and Newton of Malt Review. “A lot of distilleries are offering this option, but Raasay distillery in Scotland is the one to watch. Their whisky displays promise and a variety of cask options should you wish to make the ultimate purchase.”
Kimura glasses are to whiskey what Zalto glasses are to wine: The veritable height of sophistication. Ann Soh Woods, founder of Kikori Japanese Whiskey, says the gift of Kimura glasses is one a true whiskey lover won’t soon forget. “They’re handcrafted by skilled artisans in Tokyo,” she says. “In other words, a delicate, graceful vessel.”
On the far more budget-friendly side, there’s the beloved whiskey glasses from Glencairn, which anyone who has attended a whiskey tasting will recognize. “The world of whiskey is littered with glassware,” says Julier of Malt Review. “But most of the expensive glasses with lofty claims aren’t worth your time or money. We’re big fans of the tulip shape for everyday use. They provide solid performance and a robust, practical design.”
That said, if you know someone who likes to taste test whiskeys for fun, gift them a pair of Artisan Spirits Glasses from NEAT, the official glass of spirits competitions. “For those who already have a collection of Glencairn glasses, the NEAT glass may be an interesting choice,” says SIA Scotch Whiskey founder Carin Luna-Ostaseski. “The large surface area allows for more aromas to appreciate, the curved sides enhance swirling and evaporation, and the shape of the glass removes the feeling of noseburn.”
Neat whiskey drinkers, look away. “Some people think it’s a sin to put ice in your whiskey, but I do not,” says Simonson. “If you want a little chill on your dram, go ahead. But you might as well make it look pretty and do a big cube.” One of our favorites is the highly rated silicone combo mold from Glacio.
Or if you prefer to make your own custom ice cubes, there’s always the mighty, mini ice pick. “We know those pesky freezer ice cubes can dilute your whiskey faster than you can enjoy it,” says Soh Woods. “This ice pick has just the right weight in the handle to use with ease and precision.” And the fact that these icepicks have been handcrafted in the Niigata prefecture of Japan for more than 50 years makes them even more special.
And what can you use to hold all that beautiful hand-picked ice? Well, a very nice ice bucket. Soh Woods loves the Japanese-style ice buckets made with hardwood and copper or tin detailing. “This hand-crafted bucket originates from ‘ki-oke,’ a traditional Japanese bucket used in homes for hundreds of years,” she says. “Despite its price tag, it’s meant to be used and will find many purposes around the home, including holding ice to keep the whiskey and holiday libations going.”
If $1,900 is too steep, perhaps this equally attractive ice bucket is a bit more within your budget.
Books and experiences
If your favorite whiskey lover still doesn’t know what a mash bill is, consider giving them Robin Robinson’s exceedingly enjoyable whiskey course in book form. “In ten ‘classes’ Robin takes us on a journey through the roots of distillation in ancient times and the beginnings of whiskey in the middle ages to Japan, Scotland, Kentucky, and Brooklyn,” says Luna-Ostaseski, adding that there are great interviews with some of the best whiskey makers as well as profiles of their distilleries. Plus it has a stamp of approval from Whisky Advocate Magazine, which calls it, “A must-read for aspiring connoisseurs, and a thorough refresher for seasoned whisky lovers.”
How about whiskey from our neighbor to the North? According to Simonson, “Canadian whisky is a big blind spot for most whiskey lovers, who spend most of their time obsessing over Bourbon, Scotch, and Japanese whisky.” Enlighten them with a little help from independent whiskey reviewer, author, and Canadian Whisky Awards founder Davin De Kergommeaux. “He can direct you toward the good stuff,” says Simonson.
For less history and more modern information, there’s the Malt Whiskey Yearbook, which, as the name suggests, looks back at the most recent year in whiskey news, stories, personalities, and distilleries. The photograph-heavy books also feature exhaustive tasting notes on the most important whiskeys of the year. “It’s the essential guide to what’s happening in the world of whisk(e)y whether you need to know it or not,” says Newton of Malt Review. “It has a timeless quality, plus a shameless plug as the Malt Review is mentioned! It’s as essential to any whiskey drinker as glassware.”
And for the experience-starved whiskey lovers among us, there is always the possibility of taking online courses from the Edinburgh Whiskey Academy, which offers both inexpensive seminars (such as “Waking Up Your Whiskey Nose” and “Focus on Flavour”) for less than $35 as well as a slightly pricier “Introduction to Whisky Certificate” course for a little over $160. “The curriculum is dedicated to the history, production, and appreciation of Scotland’s most renowned export,” says Luna-Ostaseski, who completed two in-person diploma courses at the academy. “I found the courses to be intensive, immersive, and industry relevant, but most of all they are fun and engaging. Plus, all courses are certified by the Scottish Qualifications Authority.”
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