Last minute gift guide: Warming whiskies

Need something to tuck under the tree? We’ve got you covered with these holiday bottles

Here at The Alchemist, we pretty much always think a bottle of something delicious makes a good gift, especially if that bottle contains whisky. If you’re looking for a last-minute gift, these are the are the sippers we’d like to find under our own Christmas trees. (For more gift ideas, see Last Minute Gift Guide Part 2: Spirited presents.)

Highland comfort

Dark, damp, chilly winter days make us crave the rich flavours of whisky, especially Scottish single malts, especially from the Highlands. These whiskies are sophisticated and elegant, and an easy go-to when you want to impress.

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The Macallan, for instance, is the most collected whisky on the planet, and for good reason: It’s a well-made, enjoyable, high-quality single malt that is both complex, yet approachable. There are numerous expressions in this market, ranging up to the $6,000 Macallan M, but at $86.99, the Macallan Double Cask 12 Years Old is a terrific whisky at an excellent price.

Similarly, the Dalmore is a beautifully balanced Highland whisky, with a gorgeous bottle adorned with a silver buck’s head, one that anyone would be proud to display on their home bar. We especially love the Dalmore Port Wood Reserve ($124.99), a gold-medal winner at the 2019 International Wines and Spirits Competition. It is partially aged in tawny Port pipes from W & J Graham, and is as complex as it is smooth, with flavours of stone fruits, caramel, coffee, roasted nuts and Christmassy dried fruit flavours.

Smoke in your glass

But if you—or rather, those you’re buying for—prefer the powerfully smoky and medicinal notes of heavily peated whiskies, then look toward Islay, the southernmost of the Inner Hebrides islands, and labels like Laphroaig, Ardbeg and Bowmore. We’re especially smitten with Bowmore’s Vault Edition Series. The Second Edition – Peat Smoke recently landed in B.C. ($179.99), bringing with it the aromas of smoke, ash and herbs (thyme, rosemary, mint), and flavours of sweet sherry and sticky fruit.

True north whiskies

Canadian whisky is having a moment, in part because it’s just so darn easy to enjoy and in part because our rules allow creative freedoms other regions do not.

What’s known as the “One Eleven Rule” allows the blending of 10 parts whisky with one part of another spirit, wine or sherry. Master blender Andres Faustinelli has taken full advantage of that rule to create the limited edition Bearface One Eleven Series Oaxaca Release ($49.99). This blend of bourbon-cask-aged Canadian single grain whisky and espadin mezcal is elegant, subtly fruity up front, earthy and smoky on the finish, and utterly unique in the world of spirits.

But even the more traditional Canadian labels are digging into their vaults to discover well-aged barrels of the good stuff tucked away in shadowy corners. Canadian Club, for instance, has recently released its 42 Year Old Chronicles Issue No. 2 ($289.99), with its warm notes of brown sugar and baking spices.

The consistently excellent but underrated Alberta Premium has just released two new (well, actually, old) limited edition expressions. The Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye ($76.25) is surprisingly smooth despite its 65.1 per cent ABV; it’s oaky, sweet and spicy with hints of chocolate, dark fruits and caramel. The 20 Year Old Rye ($79.99), on the other hand, is all buttery caramel on the nose, with lingering complex flavours of toffee, spice and oak.

Meanwhile, J.P. Wiser’s has made cocktail hour even easier with its bottled classic cocktails—the Old Fashioned Canadian Whisky Cocktail and Manhattan Whisky Cocktail ($26.49)—which have all the subtle spice you crave, without any of the effort. Pack then with glassware and garnishes for the perfect gift.

BC whiskies come of age

All those B.C. craft distilleries that put whisky in barrels years ago are finally starting to see them come of age, and the first sips suggest there is a bonanza of delicious whisky in our future. Case in point: Pemberton Valley Organic Single Malt Whisky ($82.59). This single-cask release of lightly peated 100-per-cent B.C.-grown and malted barley has notes of honey, caramel, mountain flowers, delicate spice and just a hint of peat smoke.

Some other local whiskies to check out include those from: Shelter Point, Odd Society, Okanagan Spirits, Victoria Caledonian, G&W Distilling and Lohin McKinnon distilleries.

Note: Prices may vary and are subject to change without notice.

—by Joanne Sasvari

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