Whisky Christmas buying guide
Decanter|January 2022
The world of whiskies has exploded in recent years. Here’s our pick of the latest and best, with recommendations for those who want to give gifts (or drop hints) that go beyond the mainstream
RICHARD WOODARD

Whisky fans can be a grumpy bunch at times, often far too fond of luxuriating in a kind of moany nostalgia – the idea that whisky was ever-soslightly better in the past, and that anything touted as ‘innovative’ should be viewed with suspicion or outright hostility. Which is a shame, because the world of whisky has arguably never been as exciting as it is today.

When you find you’re tasting new whisky from Wales (Aber Falls) and Mexico (Abasolo) on the same day, you know there’s something afoot. There are impressive whiskies being made right now in New Zealand, France, Denmark, Taiwan – and yes, even, to the horror of some Scots, England. A new £109m malt whisky distillery, Emeishan, is starting up in China’s Sichuan Province as you read this.

But far from falling complacently into the role of tired old relative, the historic leading whisky brands in Scotland, Ireland and the US are fighting innovation with innovation, creativity with creativity. A new wave of iconoclastic distillers is shaping fresh styles and exciting flavour profiles, while established producers are embracing change at every stage of the whisky-making process.

How you view this cornucopia of whisky riches when it comes to planning for Christmas depends on your view of the world. Visit a specialist website such as The Whisky Exchange or Master of Malt and the thousands of products on offer can make your head spin, but it only becomes a minefield if you forget this: you are in control.

WHAT TO BUY

Start offwith a simple question: what’s the purpose of the whisky you’re buying? Is it a gift for a loved one, a bottle to share at a party, or is it just a treat for you and yours?

If it’s a gift, who’s it for? What do they like? It’s easy to play it safe here: if Uncle Phil loved that bottle of Laphroaig you bought him last year, then you could just repeat the dose – but where’s the fun in that? There’s a whole symphony of riffs to be played on the peated whisky theme, from the take-no-prisoners coal tar explosion of Bruichladdich’s Octomore bottlings to left-field choices such as Connemara from Ireland or Westland Peated from Seattle. These aren’t just ‘smoky’ whiskies; they take that concept and enhance it with their own unique sense of place.

Nor should you be afraid to challenge ingrained views of whisky. Within Scotch, single malts are the product of one distillery and made using only barley, water and yeast; blends combine spirit from more than one malt distillery (often a large number) with grain whisky, made differently and from a range of cereal grains. But never mind the minutiae – it’s the flavour that matters.

SINGLE MALTS OR BLENDS?

You’ll often hear the lazy ‘malts good, blends bad’ prejudice expressed, which isn’t just wrongheaded, it’s perverse. By ruling out classics such as Johnnie Walker Black Label, Chivas Regal 18 or Ballantine’s 30, you’re missing out on some of the greatest whiskies ever made, often offering astonishing value for money as well.

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