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Ten of the best whiskies for Christmas 2020

Here is a Christmas top 10 that you won't want to miss; whisky expert Richard Woodard picks some of his favourite whiskies for you, or Father Christmas, to enjoy this festive season.

Once the meal and family games are over, there’s nothing better than relaxing with a dram or two of special Christmas whisky. These 10 best whiskies for Christmas offer something for everyone.

Christmas whisky that you won’t want to miss…

Ardbeg Wee Beastie 5 Years Old

A festive firecracker of a whisky from Islay. As the age suggests, it’s youthful but by no means immature, with the mix of ex-bourbon and ex-oloroso Sherry casks delivering enough wood influence to round out all that peppery smoked meat, tarry rope and cough sweet punch. With smoky whiskies as good as this, age really is just a number. Alc 47.4%

Compass Box Peat Monster Arcana

Looking to conjure that festive fireside atmosphere but lacking a hearth? This is a slightly more polite version of Compass Box’s much-loved and richly smoky Peat Monster blended malt, with French oak adding a touch of refinement. The final recipe is heavy on Talisker with a dollop of Ardbeg, making for an intriguing combination of smoke and pepper. Alc 46%

Dartmoor Whisky Ex-Bourbon Cask Single Malt

It’s an unlikely mix: single malt made from Dartmoor barley, using a Cognac still in an old town hall, overseen by Frank McHardy, legend of Springbank in Campbeltown. But this is a hugely promising young whisky: sweet, smooth, redolent of stewed apples in golden syrup and with a bit of grip from the oak. A ‘discovery set’ comprises three mini bottles of this, plus ex-Bordeaux and ex-Sherry cask variants. Alc 46%

Drumshanbo Single Pot Still Whiskey

From rural Connacht, this is a zippy, zesty, vibrant take on the quintessentially Irish single pot still style. Pin-sharp flavours of ripe citrus and stewed apple, melded with light red fruits, mulled wine aromas and a slightly drying cereal finish. Made with malted and unmalted Irish barley and Banna oats, it’s clearly youthful but hints at greater things to come. Alc 43%

Glenmorangie A Tale of Cake

Designed as a fun whisky to evoke that Friday feeling, this has Glenmorangie Original at its core, but with a finish in ex-Tokaji casks. It’s sweet – but not that sweet – with the wonderful Glenmo flowers-and-fruit tasting riper and more luscious than usual, veering into tropical and dried fruit territory. There’s also a nutty, savoury note to stop it becoming overblown. Alc 46%

John Walker & Sons Celebratory Blend

In 1820, 15-year-old John Walker opened a grocery shop in Kilmarnock; two centuries later, Johnnie Walker is the most famous name in whisky. One of a series of bottlings to mark the bicentenary, this is a wonderful blend that offers a rich take on the Walker style: expect dried fruit, baking spices, gentle smoke and a decadent dark chocolate finish. Alc 51%

Kilchoman Machir Bay Cask Strength Festive Edition

If you’re looking for a way to keep the cold at bay, this Christmas special from Islay offers brooding layers of maritime smoke and a mouthfilling mix of tropical fruit. Coal tar and custard might not sound like a winning combination, but it delivers to powerful effect here, as the fruit recedes into light citrus and the smoke takes over. Alc 58.6%

Lagavulin 12 Year Old (Diageo Special Releases 2020)

Laga 12 is a traditional part of Diageo’s annual Special Releases, and this showcases the Islay distillery’s trademark savoury smoke and camphor, wrapped up in green apple, quince and – on the palate – a charming fresh vegetal note. Then smoke, chilli, black pepper and dry spices kick in, building to a mouthwatering finish. A dizzying ride that just stays on the rails. Alc 56.4%

The Glenlivet 12 Year Old First Fill Sherry Butt

Part of the 2020 Distillery Reserve Collection – a range of single cask single malts available direct from the distilleries (and, in this case, from The Glenlivet’s online shop), this is the Speysider in festive mood: richly vinous, sumptuous Christmas cake flavours with lots of savoury spice. It’s punchy, but somehow the distillery’s apple and pineapple character muscles its way past all that Sherried richness. Alc 58%

Wolfburn Silent Night

A Christmas special bottling of Wolfburn Northland from this excellent Thurso distillery, this would make a zesty Boxing Day pick-me-up. Green apple segueing into citrus, a slightly meaty edge and always a waft of smoke in the background. It’s gentle, maritime (you can almost smell the ozone), but the smoke and spice give it enough structure to hold everything together. Alc 46%

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