Whisky Christmas Gift Guide 2019

Have a whisky lover in your life? Want to know exactly what whisky they’ll love without asking? We’ve put together this comprehensive guide detailing all the different ways we categorise Scotch, including the region of production and flavour profile so you don’t have to spend endless time searching this holiday season.


Scotch is one of the most varied spirits in the world, with over 120 distilleries still actively producing whisky across the whole of Scotland. Each distillery brings its own distinctive flavours to their bottles and many distilleries have a signature style that makes them easily recognisable to the discriminating taster.

Scotch region guide

Scotch production is broken up into four different regions, each filled with many distilleries. While these distilleries attempt to create a unique spirit, their location brings with it particular influences and tradition which often unite them in tastes.

Islands - Talisker, Tobermory, Jura

 

 

Island Whiskies

 

Islands whisky refers to spirit produced on Scottish islands in the north-west, such as Orkney, Jura and Arran. There are 8 different whisky brands produced on these islands, most notably, Arran, Talisker and Highland Park. While peated flavours are often considered a staple of islands whiskies, the use of peat varies from distillery to distillery. Because of their location, a number of Island whiskies also carry distinct salty, maritime notes.

 

Budget Mid-range Premium

Arran 10-Year-Old Non Chill Filtered Whisky (£40.00)

Jura Tastival 2017 (£79.99)

Talisker 15-Year-Old 2019 Release (£110.00)

Speyside - Macallan, Glenfiddich, Balvenie

 

 

Speyside Whiskies

 

Thanks to the superior quality of the water running through the river Spey, Speyside is home to more than half of all Scotch-producing distilleries. This region is one of the most well-regarded globally and is home to such household names as Glenfiddich, Macallan and Glen Livet. There is a particular Speyside ‘style’ which typically involves fruity and floral notes for a light, elegant and refined spirit.

Budget Mid-range Premium

Balvenie 21-Year-Old Doublewood (£33.98)

The Glenlivet 18-year-Old (£92.99)

Macallan 18-Year-Old Triple Cask 2018 Release (£220.00)

Lowlands - Auchentoshan, Ailsa Bay

 

 

Lowland Whiskies

 

The Lowlands are home to the fewest distilleries of any Scotch region, with only a handful still in operation today. The style of Lowlands whiskies is markedly lighter than those produced in the Highlands, with grassy, fruity notes taking predominance. Lowlands whisky is also typically lighter in colour than those found in the Highlands and peat is not typically used much at all in the barley drying process. The most recognisable Lowlands distilleries include Auchentoshan and Ailsa Bay.

Gift Set Budget Premium

Auchentoshan Collection 3x50ml (£19.00)

Auchentoshan American Oak (£30.00)

Littlemill 29-Year-Old 2019 Private Cellar Release (£2,750.00)

Highlands - Dalmore, Glendronach, Clynelish

 

 

Highland Whiskies

 

The Highlands encompasses a large area across northern Scotland and is typically divided into northern, eastern, southern and western when characterising the whiskies produced here. While most Highland whisky is typically sweet, the north and south, in particular, contain lots of fruity flavours. Western Highlands whisky has more of a peated, smoky character similar to the neighbouring Islands and eastern whiskies are closer in character to those of the adjoining Speyside region. Recognised distilleries include Dalmore, Glendronach and Royal Brackla.

Budget Mid-range Premium

Whiskies of Scotland Royal Brackla 1999 (£35.00)

Dalmore Port Wood Reserve (£59.99)

Dalwhinnie 25-Year-Old Limited Edition (£284.99)

Islay - Bowmore, Lagavulin, Bunnahabhain

 

 

Islay Whiskies

 

Though Islay sits among the Islands, it is recognised by the Scotch Whisky Regulations as a separate region for whisky production. Islay whiskies have a distinctly salty and smoky character which is recognised the world over. Peat is used by almost every distillery on the island and it is the salty, seaweed influences on the peat that give Islay whiskies their maritime notes. The best-regarded distilleries in this region include Caol Ila, Lagavulin and Ardbeg.

Budget Mid-range Premium

Bowmore No 1 (£29.99)

Lagavulin 12-Year-Old 2018 Limited Release (£100.00)

Whiskies of Scotland Bunnahabhain 1991 (£175.00)

Campbeltown - Springbank, Longrow

 

 

Campbeltown Whiskies

 

Though one of the smallest whisky-producing regions, Campbeltown was once the ‘whisky capital of the world’ with over 30 distilleries in action in the area. After diminishing popularity, only three now operate - Springbank, Glengyle and Glen Scotia. These distilleries have varying characteristics and as such, there isn’t much of a Campbeltown ‘style’. Many of the expression produced here have a similar feeling to some Lowland whiskies in that they are light, sweet and fruity.

Budget Mid-range Premium

Hazelburn 10-Year-Old (£37.00)

Springbank 18-Year-Old 2019 (£98.99)

Springbank 21-Year-Old 2013 (£349.99)

Flavour profiles

The taste of a whisky is drawn from many different steps in its production. From the barley drying and mashing to the maturation, elements added to the spirit will often impart new flavours that help tasters tell them apart. The most common alterations distillers make is in the amount of peat used to dry the barley and the kind of cask the spirit is matured in.

Cereal

Yeast, Toast, Barley, Cooked veg, Cooked mash

One of the most basic whisky flavours, cereal notes come from the barley mashing process which every spirit undergoes. Common tastes include hay, yeast, toast and cooked veg. Whiskies from all around can harbour cereal notes as part of their flavour profile.

Some examples for a range of budgets include: Aberfeldy 12 Year Old (£44.99), BenRiach 21 Year Old Tawny Port (£116.99) and Springbank 21-Year-Old (£349.99).

 

 

Lightly Peated

Smoky, Mossy, Vegetative, New wood, Rubber, Leaves, Greenhouse

Using a smaller amount of peat during the drying process introduces smokiness the whisky’s flavour without being overpowering. Lightly peated whiskies are characterised by grassy, woody, vegetative flavours. Some expressions also combine smoke with sweetness for exciting flavour profiles at both ends of the spectrum. Islay whiskies are known for their peat use but distilleries across the highlands use varying levels of peat too.

Check out a couple of our options in this range: Highland Park 12-Year-Old (£29.99), Highland Park 18-Year-Old Viking Pride (£98.99) and Ledaig 18-Year-Old (£280.00).

 

 

Heavily Peated

Smoky, Mossy, Leathery, Coal, Tobacco, Old wood, Cooked veg, Oily

On the other hand, heavily peated whiskies carry an intensely smoky or medicinal flavour, with common tasting notes including leather, tobacco and old wood. The peatiest whiskies are typically from the Islay region, where distillers are sometimes able to introduce sweeter flavours of vanilla and red fruits.

For an intensely smoky whisky, try Big Smoke 60 (£50.00), or for fruitier expressions, check out Lagavulin 12-Year-Old (£100.00) or this exclusive Port Ellen 32-Year-Old (£1,900.00).

 

 

Smooth

Vanilla, Dried fruit, Honey, Sherried

The smoothness of a whisky can be influenced by the distillation process but a creamy whisky can also draw its smoothness from the maturation process. Auchentoshan is known for its triple distillation which produces a remarkably smooth whisky with fruity and floral notes. Many whiskies finished in sherry casks gain a lot of dried fruit and spicy flavours from the wood, as well as a vanilla or caramel creaminess which lends itself to the smooth taste.

Smooth whiskies you'll find in our range include: Springbank 10-Year-Old (£35.99), Glendronach 18-Year-Old (£94.99) and Macallan Estate (£225.00).

 

 

Sweet

Vanilla, Cooked Fruit, Dried Fruit, Honey

Sweetness in whisky takes a number of forms. Some whiskies have the crisp sweetness of fresh green apples where others are more reminiscent of peach. This is mostly due to the wood barrels the spirit is matured in. Sherry casks, as mentioned, bring the warm sweetness of red berries but Japanese oak-finished drams will be more peachy or citrusy.

For an accessible, flavoursome and sweet drink, try Balvenie 12-Year-Old Doublewood (£33.98), or check out the Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve (£64.99). For those with a much bigger budget, we also have a creamy and fresh Springbank 21-Year-Old (£349.99).

 

 

Spicy

Cooked Fruit, Dried Fruit, Nutty, Sherried

Popular spicy notes include black pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg. While cinnamon is a common flavour in sherried whiskies, peppery notes are more closely related to smokiness and can be introduced when the spirit is matured in ex-bourbon barrels. Speyside whiskies are often recognised for their spiciness and distillers of this region are highly experimental with the ways they mature and blend whiskies for the perfect flavour range.

The Glenfiddich Fire and Cane (£43.00) experimental expression is known for its spiciness, as well as Aberlour Double Cask (£70.00) and the highly-regarded Macallan’s 18-Year-Old Triple Cask (£220.00).

 

 

Chocolate

Chocolate, Nutty

The roast of the grains and the maturation process can both impart chocolatey notes on a whisky’s flavour profile. Charred American oak barrels can infuse the spirit with vanillins which can be reminiscent of chocolate and the variety of vanillins present can provide anything from coffee-like mocha flavours to sweet milky chocolate.

Chocolatey whiskies we’ve hand-selected include Black Bull 12-Year-Old (£40.00), Bowmore 18-Year-Old (£79.99) and Glenallachie 25-Year-Old (£229.99).

 

 

Salty

Kippery, Oily, Sandy, Sweaty

Salty whiskies often hail from the islands off Scotland’s coast, with most of the briny flavours coming from the sea-infused peat used early in the production process. Salt flavours in whisky can range from smoked kipper to seaweed and many of these expressions have a distinctly oily mouthfeel.

For salty whisky lovers, try Tobermory 10-Year-Old (£49.99), Islay’s Lagavulin 12-Year-Old (£100.00) or Bowmore Springtide (£224.99).

 

 

Fruity

Citric, Fresh Fruit, Dried Fruit, Fragrant, Sherried

As with sweetness, fruity whiskies can vary between fresh, stewed, dried or baked fruits. Fruity whiskies can also be heavy on citrus flavours like mandarin, lemon and orange peel. These flavours commonly come from ex-rum or sherry casks.

Try the Hazelburn 10-Year-Old (£37.00) and Black Bull 10-Year-Old (£33.00). A more unusual fruity infusion appears in the Glenfiddich Winter Storm experimental expression (£199.99) thanks to an icewine cask finish.

With so many different regions, distilleries and characters to choose from, finding the right whisky gift can be difficult even for a whisky-lover. Make life easier this holiday season by following this guide to the perfect bottle for that special someone.



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