With December in full swing, it’s time to offer you our Gift Guides for 2020. In case you missed it, we published our American Whiskey Gift Guide 2020 last week so make sure to check that out if you’re in the market for whiskeys from the US. Even though this year presented its set of challenges, releasing great whiskeys was not one of them.
And while picking a favorite spirits category is akin to picking a favorite child, I must admit that Scotch whisky holds a special place in my heart. As a result, that makes this particular gift guide even tougher to create. But choose I did.
These Scotch whiskies were selected for their value as well as their flavor profiles and individuality. As an added bonus, many of these Scotch whiskies are around the $100 mark so you won’t be breaking the bank with most of these bottles. And there’s something for everyone here, even if you think you don’t like Scotch whisky.
There are whiskies here that are great for mixing and others which are best to enjoy on their own. And like the Scotch whisky category itself, there are peated and unpeated whiskies represented here. Some have unique finishes and others are more traditional. Nevertheless, they are each worthy to be given as a gift this year. Additionally, most of these will be available globally so you shouldn’t have much trouble tracking these bottles down. Presented from lowest to highest SRPs, here’s Distiller’s Scotch Whisky Gift Guide 2020!
The Glenlivet Caribbean Reserve was released this past spring as a no-age-statement release. The Speyside single malt finishes its maturation in ex-Caribbean rum barrels sourced from Jamaica. It is bottled at 40% ABV.
The rum barrel finishing definitely makes a presence on the nose, but it’s more of a background note than hitting you on the fore. Malty notes play well with the orange, coconut, and a slight char smoke. Fruity and sweet with that rum back note, the finish is a bit on the short side. But while Caribbean Reserve is present, it’s pleasant. One doesn’t usually think of a single malt Scotch whisky with tropical drinks, but it works surprisingly well with fruit juice cocktails. Try this in a Whisky Sour. Great value and glad to see a brand having some fun (especially this year)!
Flavor Profile: Fruity & Sweet
This single malt is the first of an expected series from the Orkney Islands brand. Highland Park Master Whisky Maker Gordon Motion selected and then married the casks for this batch which includes single malts of various ages. The casks featured in this batch are predominantly American oak sherry-seasoned casks. Batch No. 1 was released globally as of September 2020 and is bottled at 63.3% ABV.
The peat is moderate on the palate with a bit of spice and moss. Fruit surrounds the dram, primarily citrus and orchard fruits. Despite the proof, the dram has plenty to show without adding water. However if you do, you’ll bring out more spice on the nose and a little chocolate. The finish is bittersweet and tangy with a mix of fruit, moss and peat. It’s a nice bang for your buck!
Flavor Profile: Fruity & Sweet
Port Wood, crafted by Master Blender Dr. Rachel Barrie, is a single malt which initially ages in Pedro Ximénez and oloroso sherry casks. Then the whisky is finished in port casks for three years for a total of 10 years of maturation. It’s bottled without chill filtration or added color at 46% ABV. Port Wood was first released in the UK in June 2019, but the US finally got its hands on the release in November 2020.
GlenDronach specializes in sherry cask aging and with the port wood finish, the fruity notes are intensified. You get more of the raisins and other dried fruits along with a mix of bright cherry and orange zest here. Just a rich and fruity experience for a not so large price point. Serve with dessert or a nightcap.
Flavor Profile: Fruity & Rich
Compass Box Peat Monster Arcana is one of the bottlings released by the brand to celebrate its 20th anniversary. The blend includes: Talisker single malt matured in refill hogshead (72.9%), Miltonduff single malt matured in first-fill bourbon (10.6%), Ardbeg single malt matured in re-charred barrels (6.9%) and Compass Box Peat Monster at cask strength matured for over 2 years in refill custom French oak barrels with a heavy toast (9.6%). Incidentally, this is the first Compass Box whisky to include peated whiskies which were experimentally matured in the brand’s custom French oak barrels.
As you can expect from a product called Peat Monster, the peat shines here with a smoked meat quality as well as tar and iodine. There’s also a fair amount of fruit and vanilla which gives some sweetness to the whisky as well as dark chocolate and menthol. The whisky is full-bodied. Meanwhile, the finish comes back around with the smoke and toasted barrel spices. It’s a solid dram you that you can pair with foods such as smoked fish or meats or even chocolate desserts.
Flavor Profile: Smoky & Oily
A Tale of Cake is a limited-edition whisky created by Dr. Bill Lumsden, Glenmorangie’s director of whisky creation. The single malt first ages in former bourbon casks before finishing maturation in ex-Tokaji wine casks. In short, Tokaji is a dessert wine from Hungary which is made using noble rot grapes. These grapes provide for a sweet, honeyed flavor in the wine.
The aroma is of medium intensity with toasted malt notes, cinnamon, Granny Smith apples and a dollop of honey. The tartness and the spiciness found on the palate help to cut the dram from being overly sweet. In fact, there’s a little bitter note there too. Overall, a pleasant experience with a decent proof makes this a good one to have for an after-dinner dram. Serve with a slice of cake if you like, but you would also do well to pair this with a cheese like Taleggio or Manchego.
Flavor Profile: Sweet & Fruity
Laphroaig Cairdeas 2020 Port & Wine Casks is a no-age-statement release. Typically, the Cairdeas releases coincide with the Fèis Ìle (Islay Fest), but of course, this year’s event was cancelled due to COVID-19. This 2020 release is a marriage of classic Laphroaig whisky rested in second-fill Ruby Port “barriques” along with whisky double matured in ex-bourbon barrels followed by ex-red wine casks.
The port and wine casks bring a lovely berry flavor to the classic Laphroaig taste. These fruity flavors are in no way capable of overpowering the smoky, iodine notes in the whisky, but bring an accent to the dram. It’s a full bodied whisky with moderate sweet malty notes in the mid-palate. Expect a smoky and sweet finish that’s perfect for a cold night in.
Flavor Profile: Smoky & Sweet
The Macallan Double Cask 15 Year was added to the brand’s portfolio globally in July 2020 along with Double Cask 18 Year. The Double Cask series features single malt whiskies which mature in both sherry-seasoned American oak and European oak casks. After 15 years in the respective casks, the whiskies are blended and bottled at 43% ABV.
The aroma shows a robust malty note, dried fruits (figs, raisins, orange peel), and mild aromas of vanilla and caramel. As you taste, the Macallan Double Cask 15 Year reveals a tangy, spicy profile. Then more dried fruits appear along with a moderate oak flavor. There’s a good length to the finish which displays a nice nutty and dark chocolate quality. The American oak casks here give the whisky a bright and lively tone, which is a good thing. And while the 12 Year and 18 Year versions are fine whiskies, the 15 Year version is my Goldilocks pick — for me, it just hits all the right spots.
Flavor Profile: Fruity & Sweet
Ardbeg Blaaack is named to celebrate the so-called “black sheep” members of the committee which is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2020. This bottling marks the first time that the distillery has matured its whisky in pinot noir casks from New Zealand. Ardbeg released two versions of the whisky: a committee release version is bottled at 50.7% ABV and a version sold at 46% ABV. Either version will make a fine purchase.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Ardbeg without hitting you over the head with peat, tar, iodine and savory smoked meats. But amidst all this, there’s a bit of baked apple and brûléed sugar as well. These notes continue on the palate along with seaweed and rubber. Overall it’s just a really fun ride discovering all the notes in the dram. The finish leaves you with the peat flavors and a desire to go back in for another sip. All in all, it’s not a baaad way to spend the evening.
Flavor Profile: Peaty & Spicy
The Balvenie Tun 1509 is a limited-edition series which features single malts selected and blended by Malt Master David Stewart. These whiskies are then allowed to mature further in the distillery’s Warehouse 24 in a large vat dubbed Tun 1509. For Batch 7, Steward married 21 “rare and precious casks” for 3 months in the Tun. These casks held single malts which matured in three different barrel types: refill sherry hogsheads, ex-bourbon American oak, and Doublewood refill sherry butts (used to finish Doublewood and then refilled with new-make and aged whiskies).
There’s no need to wait for a special occasion; when you pour yourself a glass, that becomes the special occasion. The nose and palate fill with dried fruits (cherries, oranges, apples, figs), sweet cream, vanilla and holiday spices. There’s also a nice toasted malt note present on the nose as well. Not to mention the finish is like an everlasting gobstopper. It’s just a fantastic whisky from beginning to end. Treat yo self!
Flavor Profile: Sweet & Rich
This edition is the eighth Black Art release and the fourth by current Master Distiller Adam Hannett. Distilled in 1994, this is an unpeated single malt aged for 26 years in a variety of undisclosed casks. Only Hannett knows the exact recipe. Matured entirely on Islay, this is bottled at cask strength of 45.1% ABV without added color or chill-filtration. This release is a limited-edition of 12,000 bottles worldwide.
The aroma is filled with fruits; particularly peaches, pears and orange peel. There’s also a nice toasted cereal aroma and milk chocolate. As you taste you’ll find the whisky to be creamy and a little slick. More of the fruit flavors come through again, but there’s a mild cinnamon spiced note as well as vanilla. The whisky is on the sweet side with just a touch of bitterness. It would be the perfect pick to end a meal and have either as dessert or paired with cheesecake or a fruit trifle.
Flavor Profile: Fruity & Sweet
Ready to grab a bottle from our Scotch Whisky Gift Guide 2020?
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