Tuesday, 3 December 2013

How do you buy whisky as a gift? Part 2

Mrs Cake and I were discussing Christmas present budgets the other week and, while we’re comfortably off we agreed that we would have to be a little more cautious this year. So an upper limit was set. “Just so you know,” continued Mrs Cake, ”I won’t be buying you any whisky this year.”

Yes, I was slightly disappointed, but I took it quite well. I probably will get some whisky from someone, but even so, I know we’re going to Canada for Christmas and that I’ll be looking to pick some whiskies up there anyway, so in all honesty, I didn’t really need to receive any as a present. I’m thinking one to drink while I’m there, a bourbon and a Canadian whisky to bring back, possibly along with a Canadian pomace brandy to if I can find one.

A couple of days later, Mrs Cake said “I wouldn’t know how to buy you whisky anymore anyway. I used to just go into a shop and ask for a recommendation, but now you’ve tried so many more and there are ones you like and ones you don’t like – I just wouldn’t know what to go for.”

Well, I don’t ever want anyone to be discouraged from buying me whisky, so having already written a beginner’s guide for buying whisky as a gift (see last week), it occurred to me that I had some advice for Mrs Cake, and that you might be able to benefit from it too. So, how do you buy whisky as a gift for someone who is enthusiastic about whisky? Here are some suggestions for things you can do.

  1. Determine whether there is a genre of whisky that they are less familiar with, e.g. bourbon, Irish, Indian, grain (many whisky enthusiasts are yet to try a single grain whisky). Yes it requires a bit of research (read: ask them), but you can find a way to do it without giving the game away. Even if you give the game away, it’s just going to make them look forward to getting some whisky for Christmas.
  2. Find out if they have an absolute favourite that they would be happy to receive all the time – I, for example, am known to be a fan of the Caol Ila 12, but I never buy it for myself because there is always something else I want to try. It makes sense then, that for me Caol Ila 12 would make a perfect gift [hint, hint].
  3. Still not sure? Try this: new whisky expressions are being released all the time, so one thing you can do is get a new expression. Your local whisky specialist should be able to point something out, or there’s Master of Malt, The Whisky Exchange or Single Malts Direct.
  4. If that doesn’t help, or it doesn’t narrow down your choices enough, or you’re having trouble choosing between candidates… just get one that is non chill-filtered and/or greater than 40% ABV. If it isn’t chill-filtered, that alone is cause for celebration for a whisky enthusiast, while I just find whiskies bottled at higher strength more intriguing.

Now, some people say there is no such thing as bad whisky. I don’t subscribe to that view, having had one or two bad ones in the past, but the important thing to remember is that different people experience the same whiskies in many different ways, such that no matter how much preparation you do, you can never be absolutely sure you’re going to score a hit with your purchase, hopefully these suggestions prove useful to you in some way. I would be delighted to hear whether they did or if you have anything to add.


There are now just two weeks before we head to Canada for Christmas, so that means just two more posts before 2014. Next week is likely to be a photo feature about a drink-related activity Mrs Cake and I indulged in last Christmas. Come back and join me for that.

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