Twelve Drinks of Christmas: Day One

So, depending on your interest in social media, you may have seen a short video pop up earlier today on my Instagram feed. In it, I heroically failed to cover the wide gamut of Scotch whisky that might fit the bill for good Christmas tippling within Reels’ sixty-second time limit. Herein, please find a quick recap, post-hoc justifications and links to everyone I mentioned!

First up, I suggested some Speyside whiskies on the fuller, sherry-led end. Speyside as a descriptor is pretty loose at the best of times, even without all the variables of special editions, intriguing cask finishes and so forth. With that said, there’s definitely those that lean into what time spent in a sherry butt can give a whisky. Lots of rich cake vibes, spice, with dried fruits, nuts, and depending on the intensity, notes of tobacco and leather.

So, Glenrothes was an obvious distillery to point to here, with a strong focus on sherry-led whiskies in their range. The other that immediately sprang to mind was Glenfarclas, one of the few family-owned outfits still going in Scotch whisky-making. Taking a slightly different approach are Benromach, who claim to represent a more traditional Speyside flavour, with some peat notes and a fuller body.

Speaking of such things as peat, it was only reasonable that we look at a few whiskies from Islay, where the connotations of smoke and sea air are inescapable. If you haven’t tried a Scotch in this vein, you might be wondering why you would want to go near any drink where “smoked kippers” are a valid tasting note, but I would exhort you to keep an open mind.

Firstly, if you’re going to go for an Islay whisky, why not go big? Lagavulin (specifically the 16 year old, for me) is a truly hefty number, but disarmingly complex and well deserving of its loyal following. Ardbeg are another Islay distillery who don’t mess about, and all the better for it. Lastly, if you want a bit of that Islay character, but in a lighter vein, then I’d point you at Bunnahabhain, where you can get some of that sea air and smoke without the same level of intensity relative to the rest of the whisky.

Buying Scotch can be intimidating, as there’s a profusion of terms, regions, styles, distilleries, bottlings, ages, special editions, film tie-ins and who knows what else. If you have a specialist outfit within reach, they should be able to help with guiding you to what you’re after. If you don’t have that luxury, the quality of online retailers is exceptional at the moment, so have a browse and you might be surprised at how much information you can get. A few outfits that I’ve been impressed by, in no particular order, are:

Royal Mile Whiskies
The Whisky Exchange
Master of Malt
The Whisky Shop

Depending on your confidence levels, independent bottlers can be a great source of interesting and and unusual whiskies, either from distilleries that normally disappear into one of the big blends, or a different take on a familiar bottle:

Gordon and MacPhail
Berry Bros. & Rudd
Compass Box
Douglas Laing
Hunter Laing

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