Top Ten Single Malt Holiday Picks

This is going to go out to the gigantic K&L email list very soon, but I thought I'd give you all a sneak preview here first. 

Now that K&L has become the nation’s premier destination for unique spirits, we’re receiving more inquiries from single malt fanatics in search of something new and interesting for their whisky-drinking loved ones.  To help ease the process of gift-giving this year, we’ve asked our two energetic spirits buyers to rank their top ten single malt picks for the holiday season: in order – factoring in quality, price, exclusivity, and general drinkability.  The following list comes straight from our in-house experts with updated notes and commentary!

10.  Blair Athol K&L Exclusive 11 Year Old Provenance Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $74.99With all the cask enhancement flavors and super-smoky aromas coming out of the single malt world these days, it’s nice to find an old-fashioned, “they-don’t-make-em-like-this-anymore” type of whisky.  Blair Athol is not known as a single malt distillery, but rather for its role in Bell’s Blended – one of the most widely-appreciated blends in the UK.  It has wonderful fruit, classic malted barley flavors, and lovely whisps of vanilla and syrup. We found this cask in a Glasgow warehouse and immediately fell in love.  At cask strength, a dollop of water works wonders – bringing out new flavors in the malt and adding complexity with every drop.  This is a rarely seen whisky that should make plenty of new friends while it lasts. -DD

9.  Ardbeg Uigeadail Islay Single Malt Whisky $58.99Our continuous work with what has become Islay’s most beloved distillery has been incredibly successful.  We’ve managed to turn hundreds of new whisky drinkers on to the high-octane flavors of Ardbeg at an incredible rate, while continuing to deliver great new pricing at the same time.  The Uigeadail was voted the world’s best whisky in 2009 and has never looked back since.  Loads of peat moss, iodine, smoke, salt, and brine make this a “love-it-or-hate-it” type of malt, but judging by amount we’ve been moving this year, it seems that most people are loving it.  While many people consider Lagavulin 16 to be the standard of peated Islay malts, the Uigeadail just seems more alive – zippier, zestier, and always enjoyable. -DD

8.  Lagavulin 16 Year Old Single Malt Whisky $64.99 - Okay, so not every top ten single malt can be from the casks we brought back from Scotland.  Lagavulin is a pillar of quality in a single malt market filled with excellent brands.  I would call Lagavulin the consummate classic. While some critics swear it was better twenty years ago, most honest observers have to admit that this is still one of the finest malts available.  While Lagavulin is not known for their exciting or avant-garde bottlings, they are noted for being incredibly consistent over the last 50 years of whisky production.  The small distillery outside of Port Ellen is a living legend.  The 16 year exemplifies everything that is great about single malt whisky.  It’s familiar and inviting.  It’s unusual and nuanced.  This is the perfect whisky to cut your teeth on, but is just as good every time you come back to it.  It just NEVER gets boring. -DOG

7.  Compass Box Great King Street Blended Whisky $39.99With single malts dominating the boutique market for the past few years, it was time for someone to create a hand-crafted blend that really highlighted the strength of what grain whisky could bring to the picture.  Dubbed by Compass Box guru John Glaser as the “Johnnie Walker killer,” this whisky was created to drink on the rocks with a splash of soda.  The fruit really opens up with the addition of ice and the sweet grains mingle beautifully with the vanilla.  If you’re an “on the rocks” person who has been scolded for ruining fine quality whisky, this is your bottle.  Straight sippers might be a bit underwhelmed, but those of us who love a good Highball will be in whisky heaven. -DD

6.  Glenfarclas 17 Year Old Single Malt Whisky $89.99 - What can I say about this whisky that every critic hasn’t already?  Glenfarclas is one of the Highlands’s finest distilleries.  Nestled behind a beautifully lush outcrop of pines on the road between Keith and Inverness, this historic family owned distillery is in the top tier.  The boys at Glenfarlcas pride themselves on delivering incredible value for the money.  The house style is richly sherried.  Their 17 year is the flag ship and represents one of the finest values anywhere in single malt.  Here you’ll get plenty of that sherry character, but with a lot more depth than one would expect for the price.  Freshly roasted coffee beans, orange marmalade, cacao, and honey, the complexity is near infinite.  With a bit of air, a different set of aromas express themselves, sandlewood/cedar, dried fruits galore, the sweet caramel intensity nearly completely masking the tiniest hint of fresh mint.  Truly a gem, please don’t tell anyone how good this is! -DOG

5.  Kilchoman 100% Islay Barley Single Malt Whisky $99.99I know a lot of people have looked at the $100 price tag and wondered why what is essentially a three year old whisky should merit such a high price.  What most folks don’t know is that almost every distillery in Scotland uses pre-malted barley from the exact same source.  It’s almost the same as every winery beginning with the exact same grapes – the difference in flavor comes from technique rather than raw material.  What Kilchoman decided to do was grow their own barley next door to their Island distillery, harvest it, malt it at their facility in the old-fashioned floor method, and then distill it into a single malt that is 100% from Islay – the most beloved of all Scottish locales.  Brimming with zesty lemon, sweet barley, smoky peat, maritime saline flavors, and almost a blanco tequila-like aroma, the difference between their usual malt and the 100% couldn’t be more obvious.  For those interested in terroir, this whisky delivers it in droves.  It’s very unique, expensive to make, and all too rare. -DD

4.  Longmorn 18 Year Old Signatory Single Malt Whisky $79.99 - We don’t see a lot from Longmorn stateside because it’s generally not imported.  The Longmorn 16 year bottled at the distillery is good, but expensive!  This independent bottle from Signatory trounces the distillery bottling at a fraction of the price.  Powerful and classically Speyside, the balance here is incredible.  The nose is incredibly rich and brings the smell of fresh cereal grains with hints of sweet vanilla.  The slight sherry character (It's a Hogshead) is a forethought and not noticeable unless you look for it.  This is the perfect whisky to get for someone who you know loves single malt, but you don’t know which kind.  Even if they are a peat head they’ll have to appreciate this malts awesome viscosity and fabulous depth. -DOG

3.  1975 Banff K&L Exclusive 35 Year Old Duncan Taylor Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 224.99 - Banff is one of my favorite distilleries.  Before its demolition, it was located in the most extreme north east of Scotland and this fully mature Hogshead barrel was a treasure for us.  This whisky might not be for everyone.  It’s not for those looking for a cheap substitute for Macallan 30 year.  It is, however, an exceptionally introspective whisky, which needs to be examined thoroughly to full understand.  Coming in at a rather low 90.4 proof, this Banff doesn’t feel tired or expired despite its age.   The nose has a powerful fresh woodsy feel that remind me of going off trail in the forest, cracking dried twigs under your feet, the smell of moss on bark.  Leafy green and apple tart on the palate.  The finish is puckering and dry, but not austere.  So many of the people who pre-ordered a bottle have come back for second and even thirds.  Don’t miss out. -DOG

2.  1997 Springbank K&L Exclusive 14 Year Single Madeira Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $99.99 - I don’t know what to say about this whisky except that it makes me cry a bit every time I sip it.  I have to admit that I am not only a HUGE Springbank fan, but also a sucker for Madeira.  From the moment it pours out of the bottle you can tell you’re about to get the best flavors of both.  The shimmering golden color is matched by the utter viscous nature of the spirit as it pours from the bottle.  The nose is a complex mix up of sweet creamy icing, rich winter produce (persimmons and butternut), the richness of the Madeira influence totally covers the unique smokiness of Springbank.  Instead you get saline, fresh earth and a bit of warehouse floor.  On the palate, the smoke definitely takes the forefront.  The fruit is still there but plays a back seat to Springbank’s exceptional rich smoky malty core.  This is sure to go down as a classic.  -DOG

1.  Glendronach K&L Exclusive 16 Year Old Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $115.99Number one with a bullet! This is old-fashioned, old-school Scotch for people who love whisky. If you know someone who likes Macallan 18 or any other smooth-drinking, Sherry-aged single malt, then this is the ultimate alternative that will have their taste-buds singing. Imagine taking one single Sherry barrel out of the Macallan 18 blend recipe and isolating its concentrated flavor – big, chewy, raisined fruit with rich molasses and a hint of earth.  Add in a fuller-bodied, unctuous mouthfeel and a powerful backbone with a kiss of sweetness on the finish.  That’s this whisky in a nutshell.  We had them bottle it straight from the cask, so you’ll need to add some water to proof it down!  After that it’s smooth sailing into the New Year.  Very limited and sourced directly from the distillery warehouse.  -DD

-David Driscoll & David Othenin-Girard

David Driscoll