Holiday Buying Guide - Part I

It's that time of the year - awards and buying guides time (speaking of which, our printed 2012 K&L Exclusive Single Malt guide just hit the store so come and pick one up). I'm going to try and make this a bit more interesting, however, and give you an actual list of bottles you would normally never buy. We all know about the hot new whiskies out there. Heck, the distilleries are probably emailing you directly! We know Lagavulin 16 is a classic malt. We know the Handy Rye is now the best whiskey in the world (factually and literally). But what about some of these guys below? With so much booze landing everyday, it's easy for a really good bottle of whisky to get lost in all the shuffle. We're a drinking culture that's fascinated with the latest releases, so we continue to look towards the new and exciting, rather than last month's calendar girl. So, without further ado, let's get going.

Part I - The Really Good Shit That People Either Forgot About, or Never Knew About to Begin With that Costs Less than $100

Rattray's Selection 19 Year Old Batch No. 01 Cask Strength Blended Single Malt Scotch Whisky $89.99 - In order to make a serious splash in the independent market, the Morrison family started offering some serious older whiskies at ridiculously low prices. Do you all remember that 20 year Auchroisk we had at cask strength for like sixty bucks? Then there was the 21 year old Auchentoshan for around $70. I'm always calling up Stan Morrison and telling him, "You're giving this stuff away!" Not that I'm really complaining, but I want to see this family succeed. As the former owners of Bowmore, Auchentoshan, and Glen Garioch, they've got some serious stocks and, while they specialize in the single barrel releases, their best product is probably the 19 year vatting of four different malts: '91 Auchentoshan, '90 Balblair, '89 Benriach, and '91 Bowmore.

Everyone I know who's tasted this whisky has absolutely loved it. Not just liked it, but loved it. For the price, it's a no brainer. Bottled at 55.8% cask strength, the malty flavors are powerful and intense, with a splash of water really opening up the fruit aromas. There's a pinch of smoke from the Bowmore, but this whisky is really about the layers of richness and the concentrated core of malty goodness. When we did an in-store tasting some time ago with Stan, we were selling cases of this every week. Since then, however, people have moved on to newer, flashier releases that have big hype or glowing reviews.

This whisky is still sitting here, however. The Morrison's are working on Batch 2 right now because they're getting to the end of this inaugural release. This is an easy choice for your single malt lover because it's very traditional in flavor, it's interesting and unique, and I guarantee you they've probably no idea as to what it is. An easy choice for the sub-$100 shopper.

Arran 14 Year Old Single Malt Whisky $69.99 - This whisky is so under-the-radar that I just realized we don't even offer any notes about it on our website, other than a printed review from the Whisky Advocate. Arran has really been stepping it up as of late, offering single cask barrels of impeccable quality, a light and mellow peated expression, and a solid core built around the 10 and 14 year expressions. The richness of the 14 year is quite delightful, full of dried stonefruit with waves of vanilla and salt. I'm a big fan of this whisky. It tastes good and it comes from a good place.

Benrinnes 12 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $75.99 - We're never going to get through this barrel, I fear. It doesn't matter how good it is (and it's really good) because no one is excited about 12 year old Benrinnes. We weren't either.  While we were stumbling around the Signatory warehouse we asked Des, our very own Liam Neeson lookalike, if there was anything exciting we should know about. He mentioned this 12 year cask of Benrinnes that was particularly stunning. Whoopie. We were not really too blown away by this suggestion, but we tasted it out of politeness. What lovely richness, concentration of fruit, and subtle sweetness. This whisky is delicious! Hopefully our word is enough. We called Des later and said the Benrinnes was "about to get taken." He didn't get the joke.

Macallan 13 Year Old Hart Brothers Single Malt Whisky $75.99 - It's probably not worth an entire entry because I only have a few left, but this whisky is freakin' delicious. Really, really classic Macallan.  Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay better than the standard 12 year, hence the higher price. One of my best customers has pretty much bought all of it himself. He'll be mad I'm letting you in on the secret. Lots of supple toffee and chewy caramel going on here. Yum.

Suntory Hakushu 12 Year Old Japanese Peated Single Malt Whisky $54.99 - How are we not selling cases of this stuff everyday?! It's delicious, smoky, elegant, and dangerously drinkable whisky from Japan - the hottest epicenter of single malt in the business right now. I'm really shell-shocked that this whisky doesn't move faster. I've polished off at least three bottles of Hakushu myself and I almost never drink whisky at home anymore. Nor do I buy the same bottle twice. This whisky is a double exception!

That's it for today. Just a few things to think about here.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll