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Tried and tasted: best whiskies for Christmas

Delightful drams from Scotland, England, Ireland, France, the US and more

1

Cotswolds Bourbon Cask Single Malt

Cotswolds Bourbon Cask Single Malt

The latest release from Cotswold Distillery is a delightfully fruity single malt that has been wonderfully matured in premium Kentucky oak barrels. 

Rich, with notes of vanilla and honey, this whisky is probably one for the purists among us and combines a velvety caramel palette with a subtle earthy finish. Made with 100% floor-malted barley straight from the Cotswolds, this is a perfect example of a successful transatlantic partnership.

2

Glenfiddich Grande Couronne 26 Year Old

Glenfiddich Grande Couronne 26 Year Old

Finished in a rare French cognac case, this whisky is pretty special and has a price tag to match. With a vibrant, oaky nose and a deep taste - rich, with hints of cafe creme and soft brown sugar - this is the perfect gift for a true connoisseur looking to expand an already impressive collection. A long-lasting oak finish tops what really is a marvellous whisky, while its embellished limited-edition bottle is definitely not something you see everyday. This wonderfully aged Glenfiddich is certainly pricey, but worth every penny.

3

Balvenie 14 Year Old The Week of Peat

Balvenie 14 Year Old The Week of Peat

One of three releases in The Balvenie Stories range, this whisky belongs to the peatier end of the spectrum and was apparently inspired by distillery manager Ian Millar installing a peat burner at the company’s Scottish headquarters. A perfect whisky for someone looking to dip their toe into peatier flavours, it has a smoky nose that means the round, honey and vanilla taste comes as no surprise. Where this whisky really excels is in its gentle, smokey finish in which that vanilla body lingers delightfully. A classic Balvenie profile, pulled off to perfection.

4

1970 Glenrothes Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Now for something a little bit special. The year this Glenrothes single malt was distilled, the Beatles broke up, the Boeing 747 made its first commercial flight to London and Apollo 13 launched on its ill-fated journey into space. That year is 1970. The release of this whisky in 2020 completed a trilogy of Glenrothes Single Malts. The first, from 1968, was released in 2018, and the second from 1969 in 2019. 

Silky smooth and seriously spicy, this whisky is not one for beginners, but is a real treat for those with the money to procure a bottle. With a thick vanilla finish and smoky palette, the Glenrothes is real whisky royalty. We can only imagine it would go well with a mixer, but couldn’t bring ourselves to dilute this one. No ice or water was involved in the tasting of this show-stopping tipple. 

5

Daddy Rack Tennessee Straight Whiskey

Daddy Rack Tennessee Straight Whiskey

An original recipe Tennessee whiskey that was created by an Englishman. A master blender with more than 30 years’ experience, J. Arthur Rackham – aka “Daddy Rack” – introduced his new brand to The Week via a tasting on Zoom. Explaining the story behind the whiskey, Rackham (who is caricatured on the bottle’s label) described it as something that is “very personal” to him and a “milestone” in his career. 

He should certainly be proud of his creation because Daddy Rack is a terrific tipple. Having been twice filtered through sugar maple charcoal, it has a very smooth sweetness when drunk neat, but as the flavour enhances there’s a spicy and almost peppery finish. 

While it’s really nice to drink on its own, with or without ice, the real taste test came through the mixing of a Rackhouse Lemonade or a Tennessee Guinness Punch. Rack ’em up, we say.

6

Filey Bay Flagship

The Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery’s Filey Bay Flagship

The Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery’s Filey Bay is Yorkshire’s first single malt whisky. A number of varieties are on offer, including Filey Bay STR Finish, Filey Bay Moscatel Finish and the Filey Bay Flagship. Distilled in 2016 and matured in bourbon casks, the field-to-bottle Flagship is made with 100% homegrown barley from the distillery’s farm. The Whisky Unplugged blog describes the Flagship as something “new and exciting” and we fully agree. Light and sweet with tasting hints of syrup and caramel, the flagship whisky from this English distillery is very unique and definitely worth a try.

7

Brenne Cuvée Spéciale French Single Malt Whisky

Brenne Cuvée Spéciale French Single Malt Whisky 

Another unique whisky we’ve enjoyed is Brenne, a French single malt. Launched in 2012, this creation is a collaboration between founder Allison Parc and a distiller in Cognac - the French town famous for the popular spirit of the same name. Made with malted barley grown in the town, Brenne is first matured in Limousin oak casks before enjoying a finishing period in Cognac casks. This process really gives Brenne a unique flavour. If you’re a fan of liquorice then you’ll really love this special whisky as it has a strong presence on the palate.

8

Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 Year Old

Here at The Week, we are a pretty well-travelled bunch. The job requires frequent trips (in normal circumstances) and if there is one thing we have learnt, it is that you can get this blended whisky anywhere in the world. Whether you are in Cambodia, Kansas, Botswana or Berlin, Johnny Walker Black is always behind the bar. It’s not the flashiest or best whisky in the world, but like an old friend, it never fails to pick you up. It’s affordable, a damn smooth blend and with a 12-year statement is a huge step up from other whiskies in the same price bracket. 

9

The Gladstone Axe The Black Axe 

The Gladstone Axe The Black Axe 

Blending whiskies from the Highland and Islay regions, this bold, malty dram nods on its label to great liberal statesman William Gladstone and his stress-breaking hobby of cutting down trees on his country estate. The Black Axe blends vanilla, toasted oak and smokey firewood notes to produce a whisky that is high on peaty flavours. A gentler finish then expected makes this a good choice for anyone who has previously tried and enjoyed rich, sweeter whiskies.

10

Millstone 4 Year Old - That Boutique-y Whisky Company 

Millstone 4 Year Old - That Boutique-y Whisky Company 

On this world tour of whiskies we travel from France to the Netherlands. Independently bottled by That Boutique-y Whisky Company, Millstone is the third batch of Dutch single malt whisky from Zuidam Distillery in Baarle Nassau. On first impressions, and on the nose, we knew it was going to have big flavours. Dark in colour, the Millstone has fruit, cake and chocolate coming through. This rich whisky reminds us more of winter, but if you’re sitting around a summer campfire it would make a perfect late night tipple.

11

Egan’s Vintage Grain 

Egan’s Vintage Grain Irish Whiskey

Originally founded in 1852 in Tullamore, County Offaly, Egan’s Irish Whiskey was resurrected in 2013 by members of the Egan family and today it has the fifth and sixth generation, Maurice and Jonathan Egan, continuing the traditions and legacy. 

We tasted two varieties from the Egan’s collection: Fortitude and Vintage Grain. Fortitude, which is the first Irish single malt whiskey to be matured exclusively in Pedro Ximénez casks, is a full fruity number with sherry notes and dried fruit flavours. Described as an “ideal introduction to Irish whiskey”, Egan’s Vintage Grain is a single grain whiskey which is aged in American oak bourbon barrels for a minimum of eight years. The Egan family recommend using Vintage Grain in cocktails, Irish coffee as well as being drunk neat. 

We sampled the whiskey alongside a traditional roast dinner and its fruit and spice tones made it an ideal compliment for the rich flavours of the meat and gravy. However, this sweet whisky really shines when paired with a dessert course - we had it with chocolate cake and ice cream. With vanilla on the nose and chocolate on the palate, it’s a winner before, during and definitely after a big meal.

12

Hyde No.8 Heritage Cask 

Hyde Irish Whiskey

Hyde Irish Whiskey launched in the UK with its collection of ten varieties. Hand-crafted by bonders with 380 years of history and experience, each variety is made at one distillery partner in County Cork, before being matured in a bonded warehouse in Little Island, County Cork. 

We tasted two of the Hyde collection and first up was the No.9 Iberian Cask - a single malt which is tripled distilled then matured for at least eight years in ex-bourbon oak barrels. It is then transferred and finished for a further nine months in vintage Tawny Port oak casks - this gives the No.9 a fruity, citrusy taste before ending with a spicy finish. 

In our second testing, we tasted the No.8 Heritage Cask - a special reserve commemorative blend which is finished in Irish stout casks. The stout gives this whiskey a coffee flavour on the first taste before a creamy, sweet finish. If you want a real taste of Ireland then you can’t get much more authentic than this.

13

Waterford Organic: Gaia 1.1

Waterford Organic: Gaia 1.1

Launched in November 2020, Waterford Distillery’s Gaia 1.1 was Ireland’s first organic single malt whisky. Part of the Arcadian Series, it is distilled from 100% organic Irish barley grown on six small farms. From the striking design of the bottle to the taste of the spirit itself, everything about this whisky is unique. It starts off peppery and ends with a fruit finish. A nice touch from the distillery is a TÉIREOIR code on every bottle giving drinkers access to an online portal which provides details of the whisky. 

14

Stauning Kaos Triple Malt Whisky

Stauning Kaos Triple Malt Whisky

Danish whisky brand Stauning launched its range in the UK with three expressions on the menu: Rye, Peat and Kaos. Taking its name from Danish history - Thorvald Stauning used the phrase “Stauning or Chaos” to win re-election as prime minister in 1935 - Kaos is a mash-up of the brand’s rye, smoked and non-smoked single malts. It has a full, sweet flavour to start with and a spicy, peppery finish. With its striking bottle design, this triple malt whisky not only looks great, but tastes great as well. 

15

The GlenDronach 15 Years Old Revival

The GlenDronach 15 Years Old Revival

Crowned “best in show whisky” and awarded a double gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, The GlenDronach 15 Years Old Revival is an exceptional Highland single malt. Matured in the distillery’s signature Spanish sherry casks, the dark fruit flavours really shine before a chocolate finish. 

16

The Singleton 38-Year-Old

Creating a whisky takes years, but to create something sensational you sometimes have to wait decades. Just ask the makers of The Singleton 38-Year-Old why having patience is so key to the process. This rare single malt was drawn from just eight casks after undergoing a 26-year secondary maturation – the longest in The Singleton’s history. The result is a whisky that on first taste was strong, intense then sweet, but on the finish it was rich and warm. The lengthy ageing process can at first be noticed in the full flavour of The Singleton 38-Year-Old, but getting towards the end of the dram it became much more mellow. Only 1,689 bottles of this superb whisky were available globally. 

17

Cotswolds Signature Single Malt Whisky

Cotswolds Signature Single Malt Whisky

This award-winning single malt was the first whisky ever made in the Cotswolds. And what the region lacks in experience is more than made up for with this bold, flavoursome dram. Matured in ex-red wine casks, this whisky is rich in notes of honey, Seville orange marmalade and dark red fruits. A creamy, round palette gives way to a wonderfully long finish, full of custard flavours and aromatic freshness.  

18

Cask 88 ‘Unfiltered’ series

Cask 88 ‘Unfiltered’ series whisky

Cask 88’s “Unfiltered” series features unique single cask whiskies that are bottled straight from the cask. In the four-bottle collection there’s “no colouring, no filtering and no dilution”, hence the name, unfiltered.

The Glen Garioch 12 Year Old (230 bottles; 59.4% ABV; £70) is a honeyed single malt of the Highlands that’s floral and fruity. Very representative of Islay whisky, the Caol Ila 13 Year Old (270 bottles; 57.7% ABV; £90) is a Hebridean malt that’s sweet to start and has a smoky finish.

With a smokeyness and spiciness, the Ledaig 14 Year Old (230 bottles; 59.6% ABV; £140) is a dessert-style single malt from the Isle of Mull that can be described as “a grown-up’s whisky”. And the oldest whisky in the Unfiltered series, the single grain North British 32 Year Old (215 bottles; 46.7% ABV; £110) is fruity and warm on the palate with a very, very smooth finish. If you’re looking for the rare and unusual, this is a must-taste collection for any whisky fan.

19

Peat Monster Arcana 

Described as an “experiment in oak and smoke”, this limited edition from Compass Box is a result of the cask strength version of The Peat Monster being further matured in three French oak custom casks for more than two years. It was then blended with malt whiskies from the Talisker, Miltonduff and Ardbeg distilleries. If peat whisky is your preferred choice, then this should be on your menu. We tested the Peat Monster Arcana alongside a range of cured meats and the flavours compliment each other perfectly. The Compass Box team recommended any smokey meats (for example ribs and BBQ), but if you really want to treat yourself (like we did) then pair Peat Monster Arcana with chocolate. Delicious. 

20

Balvenie TUN 1509 Batch 7

Balvenie TUN 1509 Batch 7

Crafted by malt master David Stewart, the latest release from the Balvenie Tun range is an expert marriage of 21 casks - four ex-bourbon American oak refill barrels, ten doublewood refill sherry butts and seven sherry hogsheads. On first taste this limited edition is rich and intense but very quickly the fruity and sugary notes come through. The sweet finish is clean with hints of spices and vanilla. 

21

J&B Rare

A back bar classic, J&B Rare is a cheap, but reliable go-to for whisky fans across the globe. Like the Johnny Walker Black, this is not a whisky that is going to let you down any time soon. Following the end of Prohibition in the USA, J&B Rare was created by Justerini & Brooks, landing on shelves in 1933. Medium-bodied with hints of apple, pear, oak and cinnamon, it is often suggested that this whisky is a little sharp to be drunk straight. We have no such problem, but those who do should add their favourite mixer for a classic highball. 

22

Talisker 10-year-old Single Malt 

Straight. Always straight. This classic island dram from the Isle of Skye should not be mixed because it is just so perfect as it is. A fresh and fragrant nose bindes to pungent smokey flavours to provide a bonfire like palate, with a touch of toasted malt. Very rich and fruity, this is a really explosive whisky, packing the perfect punch for a more seasoned drinker. An Editor's Choice at Whisky Magazine and gold medal winner at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2017, this Talisker sweeps the board come award season for good reason. 

23

Rampur Indian Single Malt

This is the first Indian single malt whisky from the Radico Khaitan distillery (previously the Rampur distillery – hence the name), in Uttar Pradesh in the north of India. Despite the distillery dating back to the 1940s, this is its first single malt to make it to the UK and we can only say that we wish it had made the journey sooner. Rich on top with a thick, toffee background, the Rampur carries a balanced taste with plenty of malt and creamy vanilla. A great gift for someone who is not yet a whisky regular, but who you suspect might like to start, this is eminently drinkable with a lighter, amber taste. 

24

Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select

Yes, Jack Daniel’s is an obvious choice. And yes, JD and coke is disgusting and only drunk by students and metalheads. But put your prejudice aside for a moment, because JD’s signature single barrel offering is not the drink of horrible early-20s hangovers. With a sweet, simple flavour profile, the whisky is built on the bones of the standard Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 offering. But the Single Barrel Select boasts a more refined flavour, with a more rounded and balanced palette, combining toasted oak and banana chip flavours. 

This one we tried both with straight, with a dash of water and as what Jack Daniel’s describes as a “Gentleman and Ginger”. All worked well, though if you are following the JD recipe, increasing the measure of whisky ever so slightly is recommended. 

25

Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey

An absolute classic that every whisky fan should have in their cabinet, this award-winning Kentucky whiskey is inspired by the small batch technique used over 150 years ago. A stunning bourbon that won a Gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2012, this evokes the tradition of smooth, spiced flavours and hints of tobacco leaf that is as southern American as bluegrass, horse racing and fried chicken. 

26

Glenfiddich Grand Cru

This is another one to file in the showstopper whisky category. Matured for 23 years in hand-picked American and European oak casks, before being transferred to rare French Cuvee wine casks for up to six months, this whisky artfully combines the finest Scottish and French flavours for a truly special experience. In terms of its nose, think malty baked bread and citrusy lemon, while its palette combines rich vanilla, sandalwood and white fruits. Definitely not one to splash out on for a beginner, but for the aficionados out there, this one is quite something. 

27

Ardbeg Blaaack Limited Edition

A common theme across all of Ardberg’s whiskies is a confidence in peaty, smokey flavours. In fact, so confident is the distillery, that it brags on its website that its Ardbeg Ten Years Old single malt (RRP £47) is “revered around the world as the peatiest, smokiest, most complex single malt of them all”. This limited edition whisky certainly supports that self-confidence in big, bold flavours. Knitting velvety summer fruit pudding and bitter cherry, this whisky hits the taste buds with a sooty, peaty palette. The whisky is rounded up in New Zealand Pinot Noir casks, lending some of the wine’s body to this very special whisky. 

28

Teeling Whiskey Small Batch

The Teeling is aged initially in bourbon casks for up to six years, before spending a further six months in Central American rum barrels. The aging process gives it a dried fruit character, which when combined with a caramel-like smooth finish makes for an excellent whiskey. Another that we best enjoyed straight, the Teeling’s creamy vanilla palette combines nicely with ginger ale for those looking for a suitable mixer. 

29

Starward Tawny

Starward has quickly established itself as one of Australia’s leading whisky distillers, aided by a series of exceptional limited edition releases, which have ranked highly in international competitions. Its Wine Cask whisky, which was finished in Australian red wine casks, was awarded best Australian single malt at the 2017 World Whiskies Awards, while Solera - a twice-distilled single malt whisky - won a gold medal last year in the same competition. This year’s limited edition is the Starward Tawny, so named because it is fully matured in Tawny fortified wine barrels. The flavour, as you would expect, has taken on plenty of fruit from the Port casks, including dried apricots and figs, as well as spice and nuts. The result: a spectacular dram, perfect for after-dinner sipping. 

30

Balcones Distilling Texas Single Malt

A single malt from the heart of the American whisky trail, Balcones is a real treat. Warm and woody, this is a heavier whisky than the World Whisky Blend, the Staward, or the Teeling, more suited to a regular whisky drinker or perhaps a newcomer that is a fan of tannin-heavy red wines. Undertones of honey and vanilla make for a smooth experience, which we would wholeheartedly recommend trying straight or wish a tiny dash of water rather than opting for a more elaborate mixer. 

31

Säntis 10-Year-Old

From the same maker as the World Whisky Blend, The Boutique-y Whisky Company’s 10-year-old Säntis is the first batch of Swiss single malt from the Säntis distillery in Appenzell. The distillery sits on top of a Swiss ski slope and has produced a fine whisky artfully combining a nose of toasted brown sugar and sticky treacle with an earthy, but sweet, palette.

We tried this one straight and had no complaints, but found it came to life when combined with a little maple syrup and some bitters for a perfect Smoked and Salted. At more than £100 a bottle, it is at the pricier end of our recommendations, but this delightful Swisskey is well worth the price tag. It also features the best label we have seen for a while, on which Santis distillery owner, Karl Locher, appears dressed as Bond villain Blofeld and screaming: “Let your hangovers be particularly unpleasant and humiliating!” With your help Locher, we will do our best. 

32

Lagavulin 16 Year Old

A personal favourite, as well as something pretty special that won’t break the bank, this sought-after single malt is famed for its heavy, smoky and peaty palette. Typically for an Islay whisky, this Lagavulin has a richness and a dryness that may be a little too much for some, but is a treat for those that like that sort of thing. Pairing perfectly with a salty blue cheese, this mouthful of malt and Sherry provides truckfuls of fruity sweetness. Striking too is its incredible aroma, “it smells like gasoline” was one friend’s review, that fills the nose just as the flavours dominate the palette. 

33

World Whisky Blend

A blend of whiskies from around the globe that, according to its producer, “celebrates a truly global flavour and the way the world really drinks whisky”. World Whisky Blend combines samples from 14 different countries - including Scotland and the US - to produce a light, fresh drink with a spicy palette and hints of brown sugar. This whisky is a good one for new drinkers to try straight or with a single ice cube, in part due to its light flavour. However, 50ml mixed with around 150ml of either soda or tonic water also makes for a mean highball that would please even more seasoned drinkers. 

34

Cotswolds Sherry Cask Single Malt 

Cotswolds Sherry Cask Single Malt

Combining dark fruity flavours with nutty undertones, this single malt is a good bet for any whisky aficionado. Perfect for a chilly evening tipple, the Cotswolds sherry cask is a brilliantly smooth winter warmer, aged in American and Spanish oak barrels for a full-bodied palette.

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