With plans to make Christmas 2013 closely resemble a night out with Charles Bukowski during his downtime, I’ve been thinking hard about what booze I want. Historically, I would have written to Santa Claus, but I recently read a thought-provoking essay by biologist Dickie Dawkins and now no longer believe in his existence. This, then, is an open letter to anyone who knows me and wants to get me the boozes.
I’ve thought carefully about each bottle o’ liquor I want, detailing my wishlist and motives for each item below. Also, I’ve been ever so good this year, not getting into trouble with the Old Bill even once. And, no, this isn’t one of those posts in which a retailer promotes a load of high-margin stock; this is genuinely a list of “stuff that I want”. I can assure you I’m being deadly serious, and in fact implore you to go and order the following things for me:
5. Glenfarclas 15 Year Old
When I was just a wee lad (of legal drinking age in my country of residence #DrinkAware), Speyside whisky was my first true love.
Someone: “Look mate, it might not last forever, don’t wear your heart on your sleeve.”
Someone else: “No you heartless bastard! I’m going to marry her and we’ll live together forever in a cottage in Dorset and have cats named Marbles and Missus Honeyworth.”
So it went, until one day when I discovered the smoky, sultry character of peaty whisky and its come hither eyes and whisperings of “she never has to know”. Nevertheless, Speyside single malts still have an inexplicable effect on me. Particularly, I might add, the spicy, raisin-like sweetness of a good sherried Speysider. When I first tried the sublime Aberlour a’Bunadh, for example, it was an overwhelming sensation. All that fresh Oloroso sherry influence rendered it more like a mince pie than a whisky, and at cask-strength it’s a real belter.
Clearly the Christmas-like flavours of a rich, sherried Speyside dram are the perfect match for the days of Yule. So, with this in mind, I’m going to request you buy me a bottle of Glenfarclas 15 Year Old. I’ve thought long and hard about it, and this is what I really want.
The whisky itself is aged in top-quality sherry casks, and the result is rife with notes of marzipan, gingerbread and treacle on the nose, followed by a palate redolent of chocolate malt, Christmas pudding and spice. It’s so good that Jim Murray even awarded it a whopping 95 points.
It retails at £41.20… hopefully you’ll agree I’m worth every penny.
4. Laphroaig Triple Wood
Once sufficiently seduced by that smouldering temptress that is peated Islay malt whisky, it wasn’t long before I discovered Laphroaig. In fact, Laphroaig 10 was the first bottle of whisky I ever bought, back when I was just 19. There was something uniquely intense and medicinal about it, and I must confess it took me a little while to acquire a taste for a whisky reminiscent of tar and sticking plasters. It’s only with a bit of experience that one can fully appreciate all the sweetness and spice from the fine bourbon barrels used in the maturation.
Laphroaig Triple Wood, then, is a mouth-watering prospect, and I really think someone should get me some. Originally released as a Travel Retail-only whisky, its popularity soon saw it included in the official range, and it’s not hard to see why.
The new make Laphroaig spirit is initially aged in bourbon barrels, giving it a creamy, sweet core. Next up is a transfer into Quarter Casks. The smaller cask-size increases the whisky-to-wood contact massively and results in tons of intense spice. The final stage is a third maturation in Oloroso sherry butts. Here we get some of those Christmas-y, fruity flavours.
The result melds the three different woods with Laphroaig’s signature overtones: a molasses-driven, toffee-sweet nose develops with cool wood smoke and almond oil. This precedes a dry, medicinal palate with musty wood shed notes, sherry, fruitcake and plumes of elegant, Scottish smoke.
Oh, and at £44.32 it’s great value-for-money considering the complexity of both the whisky and its maturation.
3. Smooth Ambler Old Scout 10 Year Old Bourbon
Whether it’s my love for blues rock or the desire to spend my days riding horses through undulating wheat fields, bourbon has always been a uniquely evocative proposition. If I even get a whiff of an Old-Fashioned Cocktail, I immediately hear a Dr. John tune or a Mark Twain tale of jumpin’ frogs and mirth.
As you may know, I’ve just got back from seven months in Africa and can confirm that England is a cold and dreary place. Thus, a warming glass of bourbon goes a long way.
Produced by TAG Galyean and John Little, Smooth Ambler Scout is a rather interesting little whiskey. The two chaps set up their own craft distillery in West Virginia, and already have hundreds of barrels of spirit maturing away. Whilst we await the first bourbon from the distillery, they’ve scouted out (thus the name) whiskeys from elsewhere to produce a delicious blend for us to enjoy. This one is classified as a straight bourbon and it was aged for a minimum of 10 years before bottling.
It’s £53.19, which is pretty decent considering what I’ll be getting: a nose of calves leather and sugar cane, thick vanilla and butterscotch, followed by a rich, creamy palate of Demerara sugar, heavy spice, manuka honey and oily rye.
2. Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 Year Old
Produced in Guatemala, Ron Zacapa 23 is quite possibly the best rum I’ve ever tried, at least in my humble(ish) opinion. It’s a unique prospect too, considering it’s literally aged above the clouds, at 2,300 metres above sea level. Chicago’s scientifically named Beverage Testing Institute awarded it a whip-stonking 98 points, so there’s additional confirmation that this will make a very good gift for me.
Aged in a heady mix of bourbon and sherry casks, the nose offers up honey, milk chocolate, hints of flavoured pipe tobacco, and molasses. The palate is simple, uncomplicated stuff: Demerara sugar, cooked fruit, hints of spice… The consistency is mellifluous and fantastic. Buy me this and I’ll be able to proudly dust off my straw hat and chaqueta, rum copa proudly in hand.
At £61.48, this is the priciest gift on my wishlist. I would expect a bottle only from my very dearest of friends/people I have blackmail material on.
1. Blanton’s Original Single Barrel
Neil and Joel from Caskstrength.net and Ben from Master of Malt will all remember the intellectual discourse I once engaged in when in a cold cottage on Islay some years ago. I carefully examined the arguments for and against the statement: Blanton’s is the best thing.
I’m not even going to give you the tasting notes. Suffice to say it really is the best thing.
“The smooth, sweet taste of Blanton’s Bourbon,” I said proudly.
“Mike, go to bed.”
“But… but the smooth, sweet taste!”
For just £58.50, you can give me the gift of real happiness this Christmas.
So that’s all folks. Once you’ve made your selection, simply include the note “Christmas Gift for Mike” in the order and the delivery guys will pass it on to me…
Thanks in advance.