Whisky Gift Guide

December is here, and that means you’ll be thinking about presents. Not necessarily for me, although that would be nice. But you know someone who’d like a bottle of whisky. No, you do.

No whisky lover, none of them, want to get a novelty hip flask, okay?

So what should you get them? Bells, Teachers or Johnnie Walker? Well you could if they’re alcoholics and don’t really care what they’re drinking, so long as they’re drinking. Or they have always expressed a particular liking for cheap blends. Or you could show them that you gave it a little thought.

If you’re thinking if a bottle of whisky, but want to spend less than £20, don’t. But between £20-30 there are lots of good standard 8-12 year old bottles. What would I like to open? Glad you asked….

Up to £30

Perfect for someone who’s really helped you out this year. A teacher for example. Or maybe your osteopath, (cough). Let me point you to a 16 year old Lagavulin. Easily available, but not something you’d have chosen just because you saw it during an ad break. Usually found at £30, if you keep your eyes open it’ll often be had for £25.

£30-60

For around £35 you can pick up my favourite 12 year old: Bunnahabhain. If you’ve read this blog at all, you’ll know its merit well. I’ve seen it sold for as much as £55. If you see that, leave the shop.

If you want to spend that much: Thank you. Try finding a Bunnahabhain Ceobanach. It’ll make the lucky recipient think you’ve really done your homework. (And I’m dying to review it!)

£60-150

You want to spend more? What, is it for your new girlfriend’s dad? If you like you could try an 18yr old Highland Park at £75-90. He’s going to hate you anyway, but at least he’ll love the scotch.
Top end of this price bracket, though and you could get a 21yr old Balvenie matured in Port Wood. He’ll hate you even more, simply because now he’ll feel so mean spirited to hate you at all. We’ve all been there.

Pushing the boat out

Unless you have more money than sense, you really shouldn’t spend more than £150 on a bottle of whisky for anyone but yourself, unless you already know it’s a favourite. So you’re off the hook spending more than that.

Merry Christmas. Mine will be if people get the hint.

Mmm, I wonder what it is!

Mmm, I wonder what it is!

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Whisky Review: @Bunnahabhain 40 Years Old

I’m entertaining the possibility that I have been wrong these many years. That there is a God, there is a heaven. And crucially, I have recently died and gone there. The big news is that God is not an Englishman after all, but a Scot from the north east coast of Islay.

This would explain the perfection within my glass.

I had high expectations for this whisky. Considering the order of magnitude improvement that the 37 year old Lagavulin showed over its (already excellent) 12 year old stablemate, and the equally impressive comparison of the 25 year old Bunnahabhain with her younger sibling, I half expected the 40 year old to be that much better again. I half expected it not be, because that level of improvement seemed impossible.

But as Muhammed Ali said:

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

But enough hyperbole. Not that this whisky could have enough. My first draft of this review simply ran out of superlatives. I had a second glass just to try and find something to criticise or suggest improvement.

My favourite thing about this beautiful drink is breathing out. The vapour in your throat fills your mouth, your nose and you experience the drink’s resurrection- a whole secondary flavour and experience. It’s entirely different to the opening aroma, and different again from the first piquancy, or the aftertaste.

whisky review.Bunnahabhain40

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Whisky Review: @Bunnahabhain Cruach-Mhòna

This was the second of the three bottles sent by the fine distillery on the north-east coast of Islay and it was completely different to the Toiteach.

It’s an interesting bottle from the outset: It isn’t available to buy in the normal way because sadly, if you want a bottle you have to get it from duty free. On the other hand you’ll be reading this after I’ve already had that opportunity. I’ll be sure to exercise the option, too.

Different it may be, but that doesn’t mean it’s not just as good. As regular readers will know, I’m a fan, no an acolyte, of Bunnahabhain. Every bottle I try is different, and every bottle is excellent.

I do have a criticism. It’s a small one, but important. It’s one that has the capacity of harming sales, and consequently the deserved appreciation of this, and other Bunnahabhain whiskies… It’s the naming policy. All the scots gaelic. Toiteach, and this one: Cruach-Mhòna. Yes, they do create an ambiance, but it’s tough to pronounce when you haven’t had your first two or three. After that, for an englishman like me, it’s nigh on impossible.

Now that’s out of the way, on with the whisky.

Loved it. The ‘duty free only’ status has given me a bonus reason to go abroad. It’s firm, unforgiving. Peatier than you’d expect from the distillery, but the peat is, as with the Toiteach, very subtle. At the risk of sounding pretentious, the drink is rather more audacious. Even with the peat, the aroma is crisp, fresh. It’s not unlike stepping outside and smelling the woodsmoke from the chimney on a chill winter morning. It’s comforting like that.

The comfort doesn’t stop there. It warms you through as you drink, the light peat is accompanied in a variety of taste over the mouth during, and after, the drink. There’s a saltiness and something else. The tasting notes on the Bunnahabhain website (as always, read afterwards) say it’s seaweed. I didn’t identify it as that, but as I couldn’t identify it as anything else, I’ll go along with that.

This was another outstanding whisky. I’m going to have to force myself to drink whiskies from other distilleries. Bunnahabhain are producing such a range, and all good.

But…

I did drink it with the anticipation of another. The third of the three bottles Bunnahabhain sent: A 40 year old that I was saving for my birthday. And perhaps the anticipation of that took away a little from the purity of the experience.

whisky review.Bunnahabhain Cruach-Mhona

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Whisky Review: @Bunnahabhain Toiteach

This is the first of three very special whisky reviews. I very cheekily suggested to the distillery that they send me a free bottle after I blogged my review of the 25 year old. I wasn’t really expecting anything from them. They know I’m a loyal and committed disciple, so they don’t have to butter me up with freebies!

But they sent me three 20cl sample bottles. Three. And two of them have been a real treat. I’m saving the third for 31st of December, and I have high expectations.

I didn’t read about Bunnahabhain Toiteach until after I tasted it. I didn’t want any preconceptions. So I was surprised by the peaty aroma. It’s not something you expect from a Bunnahabhain malt. But there it was. Subtle, but still there. It doesn’t assault you, but it floods your nose, and even your mouth. I took in quite a few breaths, just to be sure I’d got it right, and each one renewed the aroma. Subtle, but full.

The colour is subtle, too. A very light gold, almost champagne colour which catches the light beautifully in our Thomas Webb Normandy crystal glasses (yes, we took out the best glassware for this).

On the first taste, the clean and fresh colour is reflected in the drink: there is no immediate flavour on the front of the tongue. But as it flows to the back, and the aroma fills the mouth and the back of the nose so you end up tasting the whisky over your whole mouth. It leaves the sharp sting of peppery taste on the front of the tongue and warms the throat beautifully with smoky peat.

Toiteach, I’m told, means ‘Smoky’ in scots Gaelic. The tasting notes say it has a sweet sherry influence. My takeaway thoughts weren’t about sweetness, sherry or smoke. The thing that stood out for me was how full flavoured the Toiteach was, without coming close to being overpowering. As well as drinking this yourself, my tasting partner Dimple enthusiastically tells me this would be the perfect gift for a woman who enjoys the flavour of whisky, but might find it a little too much.

I tasted it a second time a week later (mostly because I’d saved some). The second time around, there had been half a bottle of air for the whisky to interact with, and I found both the aroma and the taste to be stronger in peat. I’ve not known a drink to change in quite that way over such a short period before. I feel like I’ve had two for the price of one. Or in fact the price of none!

It’s been a long time since I tasted a whisky for the first time and knew it was going to be a permanent fixture in my Monk’s Bench. Thank you, @Bunnahabhain, if you could perhaps send more…?

I haven’t before now, but partly as a thank you to Bunnahabhain, and partly because I do think this is a bottle every whisky drinker should have, I’m going to add a link to the distillery shop. I’m not an affiliate, I won’t make any commission. It’s just good.

whisky review.Bunnahabhain Toiteach

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Whisky Review: @Bunnahabhain (25 Year Old)

My second extravagance of the week. A more reliable gamble than the 28 year old Singleton, too. Yes, it really did come in its own box, just like the picture (although, as with all the reviews, I’ve used a sales picture: why would you want a dark pic from my iPhone when there are lovely professional shots available?)

Unboxing it was rather special, too. Finding the bottle resting snugly in its bed, just tempting me to take its top off and drink it in.

What’s a man to do?

Bunnahabhain is, as regular readers will know, my favourite whisky. That’s why I was prepared to take the risk of buying this. I was far happier with this purchase than the Singleton 28, and it was a little cheaper at under £200. Not that pricing information is any good for you because all 400 bottles have sold now.

And I have one of them.

I don’t know whether to put the emphasis on “I have one of them” as a brag or “I have one of them” to show how foolish it was not to buy a case. How I wish I had more. It’s a truly great scotch, and at that price, it’s one I could justify drinking often – but not with just one precious bottle. I’m going to ration it out to myself until more become available (please, oh please).

whisky review.Bunnahabhain25

Whisky Week 2013 >>

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Anthropith’s Whisky Week

The week around the 22nd of October is a big whisky week for me. I like to buy in a few bottles – some of my favourites and some I haven’t tried before.

For one reason or another I’ve not done this for a few years, so this year I went a big, I really splashed out. Not only did I buy my favourites, I bought some expensive ones, too.

So this week, I have a Whisky Review a day. I’ll update this page as the week goes on with a contents list to add to the reviews that are already on here.

Whisky Week 2013

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Whisky Review: Bunnahabhain

There’s no point me starting this review without first telling you that this is my favourite. Bar none.
I like it even more than my late father’s favourite, Lagavulin.

It’s a strange choice for a favourite, because, in truth, it’s a strange single malt. It comes (as do so many great malts) from the Isle of Islay, famous for the peaty warmth of their whiskies. Yet Bunnahabhain is the least peaty (as I find it). It still has the warming depth of flavour, the fullness in your mouth and the trail of heat into your chest as you swallow. It leaves an exquisite aftertaste, that compels you to take another draught from your glass.

These are the true tests of a perfect malt. Does it beg you to drink more? Does it punish you if you do?

Bunnahabhain does the first and steadfastly refuses to do the second. It’s easy to drink, and as you do it doesn’t relinquish that flavour, each mouthful being as good as the first.

It’s easy, too, to kill an entire bottle in an evening (preferably with a second person to help). It’s not hard to wake up fresh in the morning afterwards, with a clear head and a real eagerness to face the day.

Seriously, if you can find me an ‘entry level’ single malt whisky I like more than this, I’ll buy you a dozen bottles in gratitude.

whisky review.Bunnahabhain with box

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Whisky review: Port Ellen

Bit of a special one this, but everyone gets it wrong. Port Ellen is my whisky number three in my all time favourites list. I don’t get to drink much of it courtesy of the fact that all the Port Ellen there ever will be already is.

Although the maltings still supply other distilleries, the Port Ellen distillery itself closed in 1983. And that’s why everyone gets it wrong. They all go out and buy (and ooze over) the 1983 but the real prize is the ‘82.

It’s softer than the average Islay, sitting between Bunnahabain’s almost peat free flavour and Lagavulin’s warm winter flavours. But it’s almost sweet.

I haven’t tried Port Ellen in either an Old Fashioned or a Hot Toddy, and frankly if you do, I’ll be around your house like a shot. And when I say like a shot, the only smoke you’ll be experiencing will be from the barrel of my shotgun. A fitting punishment for wasting this precious limited resource.

Positive scores:

Taste: 8     Comfort: 8    Enjoyment: 8

Negative scores:

Morning repercussions: 3    Old fashioned: 0    Hot Toddy: 0

Total: +24 – 3 = 21

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