Malty Gifts for Christmas. Part 3: Whisky tastings

Sometimes it’s not easy being a whisky lover. And at Christmas, it can be hard to know what to buy for the whisky lover in your life. Have they got this whisky already? Will they like it. I have just the thing to solve this problem: how about buying a whisky tasting?

The sites I’m recommending here put together a selection of specialist and often rare whiskies in 30ml or 50ml bottles. Miniatures that you often can’t get anywhere else.  It’s both a try-before-you-buy, and an instant whisky tasting session.


The whiskies on offer are interesting – and the ones I’ve had have been really good – that you cannot fail if you buy a tasting set for a whisky lover. A couple also offer subscriptions for regular delivery of tastings.

Master of Malt I recommended last Christmas, you may remember. They also provided the whiskies for a tasting at a Burns Night dinner I conducted. Sets are mostly in the £20-£40 range, but can go quite expensive. I’d be particularly interested in the Staff Favourites set, which includes a couple of Islays, a cracking bourbon and a fantastic Japanese.
Master of Malt

The Whisky Tasting Club is run by Whisky Magazine editor Dominic Roskrow. The lucky citizens of Norwich have had the privilege of his live tastings for a while now, and this site has grown out of that. You can buy individual tastings or subscribe to receive regular tasting sets through the post, saving on delivery charges.

I had their Islay Festival set, and it was outstanding. Some sets you might expect to come across: Regions, Highland, or verticals (one distillery), and also some interesting ideas. Get Wood “explores the range of influence that wood (the cask) can have on a whisky”. 5 samples for £25+p&p.
The Whisky Tasting Club

In a similar vein is The Whisky Tasting Company, who also do subscriptions and a range of gift sets. I’ve not tried them out yet, but it seems they have a good many samples from the excellent independent bottlers Old Malt Cask, which is a very good sign.

Hurry! Last orders very soon!


Malty gifts for Christmas. Part 2: Books about beer

I have three beer books on the go at the moment; all would make great presents: Great British Pubs, by Adrian Tierney-Jones, CAMRA’s Book of Beer Knowledge, by Jeff Evans, and the somewhat controversial Oxford Companion to Beer. (Links to UK Amazon below). 

You might have seen Adrian Tierney-Jones’ beer columns in the Daily Telegraph, for which he was recently awarded British Guild of Beer Writers Best Beer Writer in National Media. His book: Great British Pubs as well as evidently being a work of passion, is a carefully thought-through book, neatly divided into themed chapters (Beer Range, City Pubs, Riverside Pubs, and so on). It is inspiring in me a wanderlust for the grandmother-of-all pub crawls. £14.99 RRP, or try Amazon.

Jeff Evans’ book is subtitled Essential Wisdom for the Discerning Drinker. It is a smaller volume but packs a huge number of beer-related facts into its pages. At £7.99. An ideal stocking filler; I have trouble wresting it from MaltCim. Here is the Amazon link.

The Oxford Companion to Beer, edited by Garrett Oliver, has caused somewhat of a stir in the beer writing world. It is encyclopaedic in nature, has been years in the making, has 920 pages with over 1100 entries written by 165 different contributors. The controversy stems from disagreements over omissions and errors. As someone who has spent a career in various forms of technical communication, I’d say in a first edition work of this nature, this is Bound To Happen. There’s no escaping though, it is a fascinating and essential read for anyone interested in beer. £35.00 RRP, or somewhat cheaper here.

But, but… the book that has really made a difference to my appreciation of beer, and to a large extent, what I write about on The Nightjar, is a book that came out years ago, but which I only first read towards the end of 2010. Nevertheless, I keep going back to it: Garrett Oliver’s The Brewmaster’s Table: Discovering the pleasure of Real Beer with Real Food.
Really, this book deserves a post to itself, so I’ll leave you with a link to the Kindle Edition, £8.99. The current “proper” book copy is bulky, despite it’s flimsy soft cover, and if you’re serious about pairing beer and food, you need to be able to carry this around with you. You don’t have to have a Kindle: get the Kindle reader app.
Come back for Part 3: Whisky

Malty gifts for Christmas. Part 1: Beer

Beer and whisky gifts for Christmas proved a popular post last year, so here we go for 2011, beginning with some special beers and soon to be followed by some of the best beer books this year.

On the case

A good many breweries have online shops and special selections for the season, but I wanted to bring a couple to your attention that you might not be aware of.

Summer Wine Brewery, from Yorkshire, who in choosing their name are clearly hedging their beverage bets with an eye to global warming. Nevertheless, SWB are brewing beer for the foreseeable – and jolly fine it is too. They have a Festive Case of 24 330 ml bottles of a range of styles from a modern IPA to “Double Black Belgian RyePA”, all for £54.

I might have to include a chocolate fireguard with my next recommendation, as it’s a very limited offer, and might already be sold out. Bristol Beer Factory‘s 12 Stouts of Christmas is the culmination of a year-long project to produce 12 different stouts (would you believe). At £48 including delivery, they are bound to go faster than huskies in the snow.

If you miss the boat (sledge?), you could go for the Mixed Dark Case instead. It has some of the 12 Stouts, or you could choose your own case and include the likes of the Glenlivet cask-aged stout.

Online shop My Brewery Tap is an outlet for craft breweries. They have some mixed cases too, and also a few special bottles that would make a great gift. The 52-week UK beer club is a brilliant idea. Every quarter your chosen recipient receives 13 different, well-chosen British “real” ales. A gift that gives all year for a very reasonalbe £110 plus a Tiny Tim of a one-off, 6-quid shipping charge.  

A more affordable idea is to choose from the pick-and-mix selection, which would allow you to give one or two special beers to several friends and maybe keep a couple for yourself. Or perhaps go for a 1.5 litre Chimay Magnum Grande Reserve. Complete with champagne stopper, it would light up any New Year’s Eve celebration.

London’s The Kernel Brewery is probably the hippest in the UK at the moment, having just walked away with Brewer of the Year from the British Guild of Beer Writers. I couldn’t find a ready-made mixed case for you at that other online bastion of great beer, Beer Merchants, so I’ve made one up: a Mixed Kernel IPA Kernel, IPA ANR, 7%, Kernel, IPA Black 33cl, Kernel, IPA Citra 6.6% 33cl, Kernel, IPA Double Black, Kernel, IPA Nelson Sauvin Citra, 7.1%, 33cl, Kernel, IPA S.C.G.A.NS 7%, 33cl, Kernel, IPA SA.NS.NZC, 7.2%, 33cl, and Kernel, IPA Simcoe Centennial, 7%, 33cl.

Back soon with some ideas for books about beer.

To Jonas: On seven years of good luck – a whisky in celebration

To my brother-in-law Jonas,

December 8, 2004 I saw you just after you came round.
“Nice haircut,” you said.
“You’ve seen better days,” I thought.
But then again, you didn’t look bad for someone who’d just donated a kidney.

Today is the seventh anniversary of that haircut and also your heroic gesture. It changed your sister’s life – my wife, and no doubt, has made my life immeasurably easier.

A whisky is on its way today to you as a token of gratitude for this year; another healthy one.

Here’s to you, and to all who have done as you have, thank you!


To anyone else reading this, if you haven’t done so already, please sign up to be an organ donor.