A Christmas top 10 you won't want to miss. Richard Woodard picks his top 10 whiskies for you - or Father Christmas - to enjoy this festive season...
Top Christmas whisky
Redbreast is a survivor, dating back more than a century, although production ceased for a short time in the 1980s. A single pot still Irish whiskey, it is made using a mix of malted and unmalted barley, which gives a uniquely oily texture and a rich mix of mouth-wateringly juicy fruits and weighty spice. The use of first-fill Oloroso Sherry casks (plus Bourbon barrels) dials up the complexity and structure. Sumptuous. 94
At first, this appears self-contradictory: a blended whisky built to showcase a defunct single malt – the fabled and soon-to-reopen Port Ellen on Islay. But this riff on the core Blue Label expression never allows Port Ellen’s funky maritime smokiness to dominate, working in layers of waxy fruit and a beguiling creaminess that owes much to the presence of two more ‘ghost’ whiskies: grains from the closed Caledonian and Carsebridge distilleries. 94
When the first Midleton Very Rare blend was launched on a rainy Cork day in 1984, Irish whiskey was at a low ebb and the asking price of IR£40 was thought a touch steep; by the time that this, the 34th annual release, hit the market, a full-scale revival was in full swing. MVR remains the Irish standard-bearer for spirit quality and blending skill, wedding glorious tropical fruit to rich, dark chocolate and a lightly floral touch. 92
Carsebridge again. This single grain – one of the 2018 roster of Diageo Special Releases – thrusts the little-known distillery into the spotlight. Like Port Ellen and Brora, the Alloa plant was another casualty of the ‘whisky loch’, closing in 1983. Aged grain can be too woody and rum-like for some tastes, but use the right cask and you get something like this: delicate, fragile, with a heart of pure cassis and a veneer of old polished wood. 92
Don’t be fooled by the ‘sour’ reference: this is a sweet, spicy, creamy delight that owes its name to its production process, which is a bit like making sourdough bread. Legally, it’s neither a Bourbon nor a rye, and in flavour terms it transcends both styles: toast dripping with butter and honey, dark fruits, a wisp of smoke from the cask and an accompanying delicacy that you don’t often find in Kentucky. 91
Created by James Eadie in the 1850s and discontinued in 1947, this rich and smoky blend has been revived by Rupert Patrick, Eadie’s great-great-grandson. Its component malts and grains include some distinguished names – Lagavulin, Littlemill, Caol Ila, Aberlour, Cambus, Craigellachie – offering a rewarding balance of island smoke and tangy Speyside fruit. If you know someone who thinks blends are bland and samey, give them this. 90
Glenmorangie’s famously tall stills – the same height as an adult giraffe – look stunning but, more importantly, all that copper makes for a spirit high on finesse, flowers and light fruit. Think of Astar, revived last year after a five-year hiatus, as Glenmorangie Original turned up to 11, thanks to the use of bespoke American oak casks sourced from the Ozark mountains. Ripe Amalfi lemon, then creamy vanilla spiked with jasmine and white pepper. Pure decadence. 90
It’s more than a decade now since Anthony Wills founded ‘Islay’s farm distillery’, and Kilchoman has built a loyal following for the linear purity of its peated whiskies, which are utterly delicious from an early age. Sanaig, named after a rocky inlet north of the distillery, balances Kilchoman’s trademark smoke – briny, supple in the mid-palate – with the rich dried fruit of Sherry casks and the sweet lift of Bourbon barrels. 89
The original idea for Taiwan’s Kavalan distillery, when it opened in 2006, was to make a whisky with echoes of The Glenlivet. But, while the whisky-making process owes much to Scotch, ageing in a sub-tropical climate aids swift maturation and creates a style all its own. Podium is only four years old or so, but that’s irrelevant; instead, focus on the gorgeous balance of sweetly honeyed oak with tropical fruit and an underlying grassy character. 87
Disclaimer: legally, this isn’t whisky because it’s too young, but don’t let that bother you. It’s a triple-distilled rye spirit that’s ‘briefly rested’ in American oak, made at an Oxford distillery that for once really does embody that over-used word, ‘craft’: heritage grains, grown locally, and idiosyncratic stills made by South Devon Railways. Not complex, not challenging, but a sweetly festive flavour combination of peppery cinnamon, nutmeg and gingerbread that’s a lot of fun. 86
Richard Woodard is contributing editor at Scotchwhisky.com.