Wednesday 21 November 2007

Christmas 2007 Gift Guide

If you are not a whiskey drinker yourself but you are buying for someone who is, read on for a few of my suggestions. All of these whiskeys are listed in the Celtic Whiskey Shop's new Christmas catalogue. Prices are from that catalogue too so adjust accordingly for other countries.

For the serious Irish whiskey drinker
  • Redbreast 15 Year Old (€90). I've said plenty about this whiskey already. As the catalogue says, this could be the last release of this whiskey ever so buy it now. Just magnificent.

  • Tyrconnell 15 Year Old Single Cask (€85). No fashionable wood finish or chill filtering, not vatted from multiple casks for commercial consistency, and bottled at 46% in a simple, clear glass bottle. This is just whiskey. It's also the best from Cooley (Ireland's only independent distillery) to date.

    I can vouch for the character of the 14yo version and I expect another year has only intensified the flavour.

For the serious Irish whiskey drinker (budget)
  • Greenore 8 Year Old (€37). What makes this interesting to the whiskey enthusiast is that it is a rare example of a pure grain whiskey. We typically think of grain whiskey as a dilutant, introduced to make a harsh drink palatable to a wider market. But Greenore demonstrates how much grain whiskey brings to the party.

    Not only does it have more taste at the point of distillation than is generally admitted, it must also be aged in wood for just as long as the pot still variety. Thus it reveals much about the maturing process that is masked by a stronger pot still whiskey.

    Greenore is a gentle drink but perfectly pleasant on its own. It also comes in a very striking, gift-friendly bottle.

  • Green Spot (€40). A pure pot still whiskey that is almost impossible to obtain outside Ireland. Green Spot is produced for Mitchell & Son, the old Dublin wine merchants (you can find their shop on Kildare Street). It belongs to a class of whiskey that once typified the Irish style but is now sadly almost gone (the Redbreast mentioned above is also pure pot still style).
Greenore and Green Spot, though from different distilleries, would make a very nice intellectual pairing as a Christmas gift. Not only do they have similar names, they represent the two components (grain and pot still) that go into some of the most popular Irish blends, eg Jameson.

Irish for the Scotch drinker

Some people apparently like peat in their whiskey though I personally thought it was an advance when kilns left the turf fires behind. For those with a taste for the bog the choice is clear.
  • Connemara 15 Year Old Single Malt (€100). I've only heard good things said about Connemara but, y'know, don't buy it for me.

Scotch for the Irish drinker

For the sake of balance, and in case you find yourself somewhere with a good range of Scotch but lacking in Irish, here's one suggestion.
  • Auchentoshan Three Wood (€50). Distilled three times, matured in three different types of cask and no peat. I have to admit, I like this one. There are some great flavours including one very sweet note right at the back of the throat.

Whiskey for non-whiskey drinkers

Lots of people find neat whiskey off-putting so if you want to force the stuff down a few throats at Christmas you are going to have to disguise it somehow.

There is a fashion at the moment for "wood finishing". This means that the whiskey will be transferred towards the end of maturation to a barrel that previously contained some other spirit or fortified wine. Many regard this as a gimmick but it does produce remarkably flavourful results. So it might make for an easier entrée to the world of whiskey.
  • Tyrconnell 10 Year Old Wood Finishes (€70-€75). You can choose from madeira, sherry and port finishes. It's a matter of taste but I preferred the port. According to the Celtic Whiskey Shop catalogue, Jim Murray nominated the madeira finish as his Whiskey of the Year. I suspect that was partly for technical achievement since a madeira finish is the hardest to do well.

  • Bushmills do something kind of similar. Instead of finishing in a different barrel, however, the whiskey is aged from the beginning in a single rum, sherry or bourbon cask. Be aware though that these are cask strength bottlings, i.e. 53.7%-56.5%. Don't ask a whiskey novice to down that without a little water. I'd probably go for rum cask in this case since that's the least whiskey-like of the three agings.