For this second part of my guide to whisky bargains for Christmas, I find myself trudging through slush on my from Camden Town tube to the big Sainsburys in the opposite direction to the Camden Market-seeking tourists. A Bentley coupé slides to a standstill, just, at the crossing between the station and the Camden Eye pub. Not only is it the season to buy whisky, it is the weather too.I can’t remember ever buying whisky in Sainsburys, but they often have interesting beers. I wonder if this is because the whisky section is so hard to find. Ah, here. tucked away in the corner next to a larger selection headed “White Spirits”. What a horrible term. However, I might be coming here more often; the value is very good indeed. You may remember from my Waitrose post that I’m not just looking for some good bargains; I’m interested in some whiskies that are a little different from those you might find in a standard pub selection. So, I’ll only mention in passing the 2 for £20 offer, because as good as that offer is, it only seems to have standard bottlings. Glenlivet 15 Year-old French Oak reserve £25.31. Saving: £7
If it is good enough to recommend as a “steal” at £27 from Waitrose, it’s certainly good enough to mention here at two quid cheaper. Good value even at full price. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if this whisky went for closer to £40. Laphroaig Quarter Cask £20. Saving £7.07
Laphroaig is a bit of a Marmite malt; the standard edition’s peaty dominance and medicinal tang is not for everybody, but it was my Road-to-Damascus malt. When I first tasted this version, I wrote “One dimensional” – it’s very smokey. Then as it worked its charms I added, “… but what a dimension.” My notes say £20, but I can hardly believe them. Perfect for the Big Chill weather. At 48% ABV it’s not quite cask strength, but it is non-chill filtered for that full-bodied mouthfeel. Wonderful, especially at this price. Bushmills Single Malt £17.97. Saving £10
There aren’t very many Irish single malts, and despite years of advertising with “triple distilled to be smoother than Scotch”, still haven’t overcome a perceived inferiority among many whisky lovers, which is a pity. Irish whiskey, whether blended, as single malt, or (best of all) pure pot still, ought to have a place in every cabinet. The Bushmills has the light floral nose characteristic of a good Irish, with some toffee, creamy maltiness and bags of vanilla from aging in bourbon barrels. Another real bargain. Although not on offer, the Jameson 12 Year-old Special Reserve (not a single malt) is worth considering.
Balvenie Signature 12 Year-old £23.49. Saving £7. Balvenie Doublewood 12 Year-old £24.15. Saving £5
Balvenie is a Speyside distillery, more usually associated with lighter flavoured whiskies, often using sherry casks for maturation or finishing. The Doublewood has a second maturation period (finishing) sherry casks for those wine-y and dried fruit flavours that are so Christmas-y. The Signature is a relatively new bottling and another that is released in batches. I tasted batch 001, but I think this is 003. The one I tasted was a lovely mix of sherry and bourbon cask influences, as you might expect from a bottling that is made from a mixture of bourbon and sherry casks. The Doublewood on the other hand is finished in casks that previously held sherry. For me, this makes the flavour more seasonal, but the Signature is a little more unusual.
Your nearest Sainsburys might have a completely different stock, so you might want to see the whole range of whiskies on their website – and it is extensive. Not quite as many more unusual bottlings as Waitrose, and rather lacking in the American whiskies. Sainsburys” instant whisky cabinet“
Elegant aperitif: Glenlivet 15 Year-old French Oak reserve £25.31. Saving: £7
Bonfire in winter. Laphroaig Quarter Cask £20. Saving £7.07
Floral, toffee vanilla all-rounder. Bushmills Single Malt. £17.97. Saving £10
After-dinner or with mince pies. Balvenie Doublewood 12 Year-old £23.49. Saving £5 Total cost: £86.97
Total saving: £29.07 The one pick
Laphroaig Quarter Cask