Choosing a bottle for a whisky fan always poses a challenge. They are such a fussy and particular bunch.
There are a number of approaches open to you. You are unlikely to find a good option for a ‘special gift’ in your supermarket or local wine shop. Your best options are;
- Spend over the top – a bit too flash
At the top end of the price range come old and rare whiskies either to drink or to collect. Most distilleries and certainly the online merchants offer 30, 40 and even 50 year old expressions at large to very large prices.
A good dealer will ask if it is for drinking or collecting and advise you. I am frequently asked to give this type of recommendation and frankly I find it difficult to impossible without knowing the recipient!
These types of editions cost from £500 all the way up to £20,000 and beyond.
Independents offer the best value. Generally it depends on your budget and what the expertise, needs or interest of the recipient might be. A whisky advent calendar with 24 different samples can also be bought at the top end of priced up to £1,000 and a great present with a selection of drams to enjoy.
2) Specialist bottles – single distillery – might need a trip or be closed currently
Specialist distillery releases also offer a great gift option. These are usually cask strength and in limited numbers. These can be accessed direct from a distillery or bought from independents direct or via whisky shops. These can often be bought in shops as smaller bottles. As they tend to be exceptional quality these are a most acceptable gift for any whisky lover even from a distillery they might not normally regard as one they like although clearly that is a debatable point.
The secret of buying specialist bottles is to speak either to visitor centre staff or get advice from your whisky shop. They will keep you right, I am confident. These are unique and offer the best chance of gifting something unique and previously untasted. Look up That Boutique-y Whisky company, Gordon and MacPhail, Douglas Laing, A D Rattray, The Sipping Shed and many others for a range of prices and offerings.
3) A Designer bottle – Great current option IMHO
There are a small number of companies I describe as whisky designers, producing unique interesting high quality very flavourful whiskies by not being tied to any rules about which malt whisky they include in their product, which casks they are matured in and how long any stage takes.
These are in general blended single malts with single grains added if they improve the flavour. For these companies it is all about quality and flavour.
For me the current leading proponent of these is Compass Box.
Back in 2000, John Glaser believed there were too many companies making and selling Scotch whisky the same way. An American, transplanted to the UK and working for a large distiller, he wanted to do things differently to bring the joys of Scotch whisky to more people. He I widely recognised and respected for his approach and the quality whiskies he produces.
He set up a different kind of Scotch whisky company, based on the long-lost model of the Scotch whisky blending house, but with a forward-looking approach and an unrelenting desire to create quality. He originally launched the business from his kitchen, but today, nearly two decades later, Compass Box has an office and Blending Room in London, its own stocks of maturing whiskies in Scotland, and more than a dozen employees.
These expressions might focus on spiciness, smokiness or a fruity expression but all are complex and multi dimensional. They are not tied to any single distillery of group or brand. They are uncoloured and unchillfiltered. It is simply all about the taste.
As a gift they are the perfect bottle for a whisky fan. They overcome any prejudice about distillery region or whatever. They are attractively packaged, not the cheapest but generally the most acceptable. they are entirely suitable for a gift and at a fair price.
I have reviewed a couple of these below but have enjoyed many more and can recommend any of these. There are a couple of other big players in this market including Wemyss Malts and Douglas Laing who adopt a similar approach and produce some excellent whisky. Many independents have offerings in this market so there are choices available. These are available from the main online suppliers , The Whisky Exchange and Master of Malt and most specialist whisky shops if you are fortunate enough to have one nearby.
Here are the 4 Compass Box whiskies I recommend.
Juveniles 46% ABV
A collaborative whisky project inspired by the great friendship between Compass Box and Juveniles Bistrot à Vins in Paris. This release has one of his bells in the punt of the bottle, ready to give a jingle every time you pour.
Lovely crystal clear straw yellow colour
Nose: Perfumed violets, red apples, marshmallow ,spicy cinnamon, lemon bon bon
Palate: Instantly lovely caramel and creamy toffee, barley sugar, and spicy ginger and pepper, good waxy mouthfeel, vanilla and berry pastille flavours, beautiful balance great texture complexity of flavour giving exceptional breadth with a dry tannic finish that endures through lots of confectionary, spice and frui,t pear tart with a light savoury note almost balsamic the waxy mouthfeel lingers long and excitingly.
I love this blended malt so well integrated into a variety of interesting flavour. Great barrel notes. Fabulous expression at its perfect ABV. A prime example of why more is better!
A key ingredient tastes like it has been condensed in worm tubs giving it great texture and body.
RRP £89.95 Available from The Whisky Exchange
Peat Monster Arcana 46%
Created to celebrate Compass Box Whisky’s 20th Anniversary, Peat Monster Arcana explores the effect of maturing peated whisky in toasted French oak casks.
Lots of people do great peat but this could be something special and it is!
There is an oily texture to this a nice clear light amber
Nose: Chocolate (a bit like putting you nose into the cardboard smarties tube), light bonfire smoke, cherries, biscuit
Palate: Sweet peat, golden syrup, great tar notes controlled well, creamy salted caramel, a mouthful of fruit – pears in syrup peaches and complex spicing, cinnamon, hints of ginger salt and chilli. My guess is that this oak is Tronçaise which I like a lot!
Water calms the spice elegantly.
A beautiful balanced whisky with the tastiest of peat, subtle but plenty for peat fans yet not in your face at first just balanced and beautiful – the peat brings spice and fruity sweetness, finishing strong with drying phenols, and wonderful cask notes the spices keep growing and growing and linger for ages.
There are more peated whiskies the best with better texture and mouthfeel. What is unique about the Peat Monster is the balance of flavours. No standard issue offers the peat, sweet, fruity spicy balance this whisky offers making it a big recommendation from me.
RRP £74.95 Available from The Whisky Exchange
On this occasion I have not tasted their other two expressions but I have enjoyed them in the past and would certainly include them as present recommendations.
Hedonism 43% ABV
The first whisky created by Compass Box in 2000. It’s something special for both the collector and the new whisky enthusiast. A superb blended grain whisky revealing the best of grain notes sweet caramel, vanilla and spices from quality ex Bourbon barrels.
Tasting Profile: Vanilla Cream, Toffee and Coconut
RRP £57.45 Available from Master of Malt
The Spice Tree 46% ABV
Rich, bold flavours make it great for after-dinner sipping, as an accompaniment to cheese, chocolate or spice cakes.
Tasting Profile: Clove, Ginger and Fruity Maltiness
RRP: £43.70 ABV 46% Available from Master of Malt
I mentioned that tasting sets were a good idea as a gift and Compass Box offer one such option. I have not actually tasted the Spaniard but have confidence in everything that John Glasser produces.
Compass Box Signature Malt Whisky Collection – This gift box is the perfect introduction to the craftsmanship of Compass Box. An immaculate and compact collection, it provides an introduction to Compass Box’s core malt whisky range with three very different styles.
Included: 3 x 50ml The Story of The Spaniard, The Spice Tree, The Peat Monster
A lovely gift.
with thanks to compass Box for the samples reviewed. header image Photo by Mel Poole on Unsplash