Holiday Drinking Ideas

So while I'm sitting around watching cheesy holiday movies, I like to sip on Christmasy-flavored things. I like whiskies that taste like cakebread and baking spices, so if I'm drinking single malt I'm going to pick something heavily-sherried (by the way, if you like cheesy things and want to watch an entire documentary about guys not watching something cheesy in an ironic fashion, watch the film Bronies, which follows grown men who honestly and truly love the show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic). Since we just got our two new Glenfarclas expressions into stock, I think I'll probably pony up (no pun intended) for one of each this Xmas season.

These are not single cask expressions, but rather marriages of casks that we picked out at the distillery some time ago. The 1990 vintage is a soft and supple whisky bottled at 100 proof that really captures the rich, cakey, textural elements of Oloroso sherry. It's not a complicated whisky, by any means. It's straightforward, easy-to-like, and delicious. When you're thinking about 24 year old, sherry-aged single malt it's exactly what you hope it will be. Not big, not powerful, not overly-sweet, not sulphured or bitter from too much time in wood, and not all that spicy. Just flat-out awesome in the most basic of ways. The Faultline Casks expression is deceptive in that the 57% alcohol overpowers the sherry at first, to the point that you get mostly malt and grain. With water, the magical flavors are immediately unlocked and all the Christmas cake and fudge begin oozing out of their hiding place. Super fun stuff and very holiday-oriented.

1990 Glenfarclas K&L Exclusive Single Malt Whisky $169.99 -We've always loved Glenfarclas. As you may or may not know, this distillery is one of the last independently owned in all of Scotland. It's owned by the Grant family. It also happens to be on most knowledgeable people's list of top distilleries and has consistently provided us with excellent sherried Speyside offerings at incredible prices. We've had success finding single casks in their vast warehouse system, but found that current market conditions have made purchasing a single cask from the Grants rather cost-prohibitive. Negotiating the price down on those casks is also out of the question as wholesalers worldwide are privy to the price structure and the Grants are very loyal and fair. With that option off the table we decided to get creative. Those single casks have a set price list, but picking multiple casks for one bottling afforded us some flexibility. We knew we were onto the next crazy value, but we never imagined how versatile a multi-cask bottling could be. So, into the warehouse we went. George bragged about the quality of the 1990 vintage, but we had no idea how special they were until we were standing in front of the barrels. These casks are from a sequential lot of first fill Oloroso sherry butts at 24 years old. Without a doubt, 'Farclas fans will be pleased, but this bottling is approachable enough for even the most novice whisky lover to appreciate.

Glenfarclas "The Faultline Casks" K&L Exclusive First Fill Oloroso Sherry Casks Single Malt Whisky $109.99 -When George Grant offered us the opportunity to take multiple casks for a special exclusive bottling, we were over the moon. The creative juices began flowing. We talked about doing an ultra-aged expression, but we didn't feel we could match the outrageous cask from the 1970 vintage, which we'd acquired a couple of years back. Instead, we decided to focus on a NAS (no age statement) mixture of casks from earlier vintages. The goal was to create a high proof, heavily sherried 'Farclas that we could sell for around $100. After tasting multiple vintages from 8 to 15 years of age, we settled on three of our favorite casks in the 9-10 year range. At no other distillery is vintage so important and the importance of their vessel was clear when tasting these younger expressions. We've ended up with a mixture of young casks that surpass even our own high expectations. This is full fledged and powerful, yet tempered by the strong influence of that special wine of Andalucía. If you love sherry, if you love high proof single malt, if you love powerful flavors and massively textural whisky, then this bottling is for you.

Seeing that I just got another healthy drop of Willett 8 Year Old Rye into the Redwood City warehouse, I figured it was something I could actually talk about on the blog (as in something you can actually get!). This new batch is so Christmasy in flavor that I immediately threw down my C-note and just bit the bullet. It's an explosion of baking spices and rich vanilla with just a tad (just a smidge) of that dill note on the finish. Love, love, love this. I'll be sipping this while watching Bad Santa, or perhaps mixing it with our next item.

Willett 8 Year Single Barrel Cask Strength Rye 750ml (1 bottle limit) $99.99

The Bittermilk cocktail mixers have been an absolute delight in my house lately; especially considering the fact that I don't generally enjoy whiskey cocktails. I've never been a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned guy. I'll drink them, of course (because I will drink anything and everything), but they're never my first choice. The Bittermilk products have totally changed my view on Bourbon and rye cocktails, however. There's a delicious Barrel Aged Old Fashioned sweetener that uses chinchona bark. You just add a little dollup into your whiskey, stir it with ice, and strain it into a glass (or leave the ice in). The New Orleans Style makes a Sazerac-esque cocktail in that it uses wormwood like an absinthe, but then adds in gentian root along with lemon peel. Again, you don't need much: about a half ounce for every two ounces of rye. These two Bittermilk products are so good I hardly mix with anything else at this point.

Bittermilk #1 Barrel Aged Old Fashioned Cocktail Mix 8.5 oz $14.99

Bittermilk #4 New Orleans Style Rouge 8.5 oz $15.99

Of course, there are a few other important ingredients to holiday cocktails besides the Bittermilk products, so I can't rely on those alone. I wanted to try making a White Russian variation that was lactose-free for my non-dairy friends, so I tried doing a combination of Orgeat and almond milk and that really did the trick. Jennifer Colliau's entire Small Hand Foods lineup is indispensable, but the orgeat is maybe the best trick in her bag. I often use it in place of simple syrup to add texture and viscosity to cocktails that wouldn't normally have it (like a Daiquiri). You might want to plop in a few cherries as well. We've got these new Italian delicacies from Amarena that are like dessert. You might end up just eating them out of the jar.

Small Hand Foods Orgeat Syrup 8.5oz $12.99

Amarena Cherries Ceramic Vase (600g) $19.99

Of course, as I was making my White Russian variation I started thinking about other flavors I could use to change the recipe. Then I remembered my bottle of Giffard Banane de Bresil; maybe the only banana-flavored liqueur I've come across of an incredbily-high quality. So then I started mixing it with the orgeat and the almond milk and suddently I had this alcoholic version of Banana Quik. You can imagine where that went. I was plopped out on the couch, eating pizza, drinking banana-flavored Xmas cocktails and watching Hallmark Channel specials until I fell asleep.

Giffard Banane Du Bresil Liqueur $32.99 - This magnificent banana liqueur makes me rethink all my preconceptions about, well, banana liqueur. It's fabulously aromatic, the perfect ripe banana, peel and pulp. On the palate, it's restrained in its sweetness and has the subtle hint of tart potassium. A lovely effort using bananas of the highest quality sourced from Brazil.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll