There’s no better time of the year to be buying whisky than in the pre-Christmas run-up. As soon as bonfire night is over, the shelves at the UK supermarkets start to gear up their malt-based beverages in readiness for Christmas. Breweries start putting out their winter warmers, with varying degrees of success. If you’re looking to build a bit of a whisky cabinet, or just looking for something to get in “just in case”, now’s the time; the discounts are practically cut-throat.
Over the next few days, I’ll post some recommendations that you can easily find in the major UK supermarkets (subject to availability), starting today with Waitrose.
Waitrose has a really good range of whiskies, Scotch, Irish, American, and some superior blends – and they’re not just your usual pub brands. In fact, I hardly see the point in buying an “ordinary” bottle of whisk(e)y you can get at your local. Waitrose gives you the chance to spread your whisky wings a bit.
Glenlivet 15 French Oak Res £27.49, Glenlivet Nadurra £35.99
Glenlivet has a bit of a reputation for being an “ordinary” malt, but their standard bottlings have really improved over the last few years. Both of these examples are stunning. The 15 year-old French Oak Reserve took silver in the Stockholm Beer and Whisky Festival in the “wood finish” category, which means the whisky has had spent some time just before bottling in other casks in this case, French Oak barrels from Limousin, which is unusual in the whisky world. The effect has been to give a subtle spicy vanilla touch. At under 28 quid, this is a steal. Great as an aperitif.
The other end of the meal, but perhaps not Christmas dinner, is the time to bring out the Nadurra. Meaning “natural” in Gaelic, the Nadurra is non-chill filtered to keep all its natural oils, resulting in it being extra silky smooth on the palette. It’s honey sweet, without being sickly like a liqueur. This is one to tempt people who think they are non-whisky drinkers.
Aberlour A’bunadh, Batch 31 £26.99
This on the other hand, would be great with the xmas pud. It’s a big, full-flavoured whisky, whose impact comes from being matured in Olorosso sherry butts. It’s sweet and full of Christmas spices, with just enough balancing sharpness from the wood to keep it from being cloying. A new batch is released every so often, (we’re up to Batch 31, so it must be a couple of times a year, at least). The exact flavour between batches cannot be exactly replicated, but that’s what keeps things interesting (and me buying).
Talisker 1998 Distillers Edition £34.99
The Talisker 10 year-old is what you want after coming home having braved the snow, wind and ice. It is famous for it’s big peppery attack, and while being smokey, is not as heavily peated as some of the Islay whiskies. So, as I look out across a carpet of white, why am I recommending this Distillers Edition? Well, it’s a brilliant refinement of one of the Diageo Classic Malts. Another “wood finish”, this time, casks that have previously held sherry. The smokey pepperiness is still there, but the edge is rounded down with the influence of the sweetness of the sherry. Get this for long winter nights in, and when you do make it out through the drifts to the pub, start off with a bracing Talisker 10.
Makers Mark Bourbon £25.69
Jack Daniels, although not a bourbon as such, has practically cornered the market in rock and roll whiskey, and probably because of that, is one of the few whiskies the younger market will touch. Well, they should try this, and so should you; especially if your only experience with bourbon or other American whiskies is Jim Beam or Jack. Bourbons are extremely flavourful and stand up to a mixer, but this is great on its own. Sweet, fruity, and powerfully spicy (cloves in the lead) with lots of vanilla from the casks, which also give some tannic backbone to balance the sweetness. Big enough for a nightcap whatever you’ve eaten.
Waitrose “instant whisky cabinet”
Elegant aperitif. Glenlivet 15 French Oak Reserve: £27.49. Save £7
Xmas pudding dram. Aberlour A’bunadh: £26.99. Save £6
Refined peaty sweetness. Talisker Distillers Edition: £34.99. Save £6
Hendrix rather than Slash. Makers Mark Bourbon: £25.99. Save £
The one pick