We’ve all been there, trying to buy a bottle of Scotch for a special someone, staring at seemingly infinite varieties of glen this and glen that, only to choose to play it safe and get them the same one they always have because you don’t drink it. So how would you know which whisky is the right one?
Well we’re here to help. This article isn’t here to divulge the many, many virtues of great Whisky or to corral you into pouring yourself your first dram this evening. It’s here to attempt to de-mystify some of the styles and brands you’ll find on the supermarket shelves this year, as well as some great alternatives should you want to gift them something a little bit different.
This article will also be of great use to those of you who like a dram but perhaps need a little inspiration for what to sip next. However, here’s a few bits of whisky terminology for you to get acquainted with so it’s not all gobbledygook later on.
A few things to remember as well as useful vocabulary:
Generally, Whisky denotes Scotch and Irish products, whilst Whiskey refers to American ones. It’s not a typo, but yes it’s annoying.
The only real, serious gaffe you can make whilst buying Whisky for someone is to buy something really smoky for someone who really doesn’t like it. Whilst we will guide you within styles, if you plan on really pushing the boundaries, this is something to consider.
Peated, in the context of Whisky means smoky.
Single malt isn’t necessarily a mark of quality, as much as your beloved whisky drinker might assure you it is, nor does a blend mean it’s bad.
Now, for the sake of simplicity, we are going to split Whisky into the following broad categories, with a few noteworthy subcategories to be found later:
Generally speaking, we feel like most people who drink whisky would be able to find a home within one of these very, very broad categories. If your whisky drinker bridges them all then your job is all the easier!!
So, without further ado let’s begin.
Non-peated whisky, for the sake of our very broad categories is going to make up 90% of what you see on the shelves when you’re shopping. This means that if your chosen whisky drinker fits into this category you’ll be able to get them something great, very easily but you’re going to be faced with problem of too much choice more often than not.
Whiskies come in different gradients of richness and colour, thankfully, the ageing process that imparts these styles also tends to have an effect on colour. This means that a dark, mahogany coloured liquid is going to have a richer, woodier flavour than one which has the colour of pale straw. So far, so good.
Non-peated whisky also covers most of the prominent blends too. This group is the real crowd pleaser of the whisky world. If you aren’t sure what to get, then something from this category is never going to be too far wrong. Popular brands include:
Nearly all of the budget blends, -Teacher’s, Bells, Famous Grouse etc.
The big Irish ones too – Jameson, Powers with the exception of Connemara.
If our whisky drinker fell into this category, we would consider any of these as a great gift.
Auchentoshan Three wood
What’s it like?
Indulgent but delicate. The three woods refer to Bourbon and two types of sherry cask meaning it has depth for days and days. Smooth and well rounded. Truly a whisky for everyone and anyone. Enough tannin to give it structure with a delicate underlying sweetness.
Balvenie Doublewood 12
What’s it like?
Rich and complex, wonderful after dinner or paired with an indulgent dessert. Lots of tannin and structure, you could drink bottles and bottles and still not have discovered everything it has to offer. Well balanced sweetness and body adds to its indulgent character.
What’s it like
Our key tasting note for this is “buttered lemons”. There’s a big, warm, welcoming centre surrounded by bright citrus notes. Low in tannin but bursting with freshness. Perhaps less complex than the previous two, but it’s softness and youthful exuberance is incredible.
Compass Box Asyla
What’s it like?
Delicate and sweet, held together by a great malt base. Being the only blended whisky on this list, it introduces a soft creaminess not found in the others with a touch of orchard fruit at the edges. Really versatile and equally comfortable as a pre-dinner as it is a nightcap. A great way to open up even the most stubborn single malt evangelist to the wonders of good blended whisky.
Our last two choices will consist of something out there and something really expensive for those of you with particularly deep pockets.
What’s it like?
Candied dried fruit, coupled with brittle marzipan and almonds, almost a whole fruit cake in its flavour profile which develops towards chocolate and cacao, almonds and pecan. The range of flavours here, by virtue of three decades in wood, dwarf the rest of this list but as does the price.
However, at a third the price of other 30 year old whiskies, it is exceptional in its price bracket. Every whisky drinker should have the opportunity to try something this old and complex once in their life.
El Dorado 15
What’s it like?
Well, for starters it’s a rum so quite a bit different to the whiskies we have been talking about so far. It’s decadently sweet, tempered by broad, oaky flavours and its rich molasses centre. Notes of ginger and dried fruits add spice melt across the tongue, leaving lighter notes of honey and soft wood. This is simply one of our all-time favourite spirits and can’t recommend it enough.
The 12 year is also well worth your time, slightly easier on the pocket and equally brilliant on the tongue.
That’s it for part one!
In the next instalment of our whisky buyer’s guide, you can expect chat about the big peaty Islays (our favourite) and perhaps we might even touch on Irish whiskies if you’re lucky. You’ll be able to read part 2 on Tuesday 14th November, with part 3 to follow the week afterwards.
There might even be a shiny downloadable version of the whole thing as we head into December. Be sure to keep checking back to find out.
If you’ve enjoyed the read or this guide has helped you make a difficult choice, why not give us a follow across social media @copperpotbar or send us your feedback through our website.
Our focus, as ever is events and bar consultancy. Should you or someone else you know have a bar, menu, event or bartenders that need a bit of love, don’t hesitate to get into contact with Sam through our site or using firstname.lastname@example.org.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Sam, Copperpot Bar.
Photo Credit: John Cafazza