2021 Christmas Gift Ideas

Its snowing here for the first time this season in the mighty northern Alberta. It also looks like multiple pages of various Christmas decorating magazines have come to life in my house due to over eager kids super excited for Christmas to arrive. I was more than happy to oblige their wishes to make the house more festive as soon as Remembrance Day was complete. My wife also sent me daily texts and post-it note reminders to have my Christmas wish list ready asap. 

That leads me to writing this first part of the Whisk(e)y Lovers gift guide. The first part here today I will focus on what I call whisk(e)y adjacent gifts. What I mean by that is not actual bottles of whisk(e)y, but gifts that any lover of the water of life would enjoy receiving to possibly have more fun, or enhance their love for uisce beatha. I will preface this list with the caveat that these are gifts (pricing, websites, availability) that are in my market of Canada. It doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be found in other markets but different channels may be needed to find these or similar gifts for the whisk(e)y lover in your life.

1. Mini Barrels

www.urbanbarrelcompany.com

Various sizes and price points

Topping my list, for the simple reason that I received my first one as a Christmas Gift from my loving wife, is one of the most unique and fun gifts you can buy a whisk(e)y lover. A mini barrel that can be used in various ways. The best part of this gift is it can be used as often as you want and multiple times. I have had mine less than two years and I have done 4 separate experiments with it. i strictly use mine to do “finishing” projects, where I will season the barrel with a wine or other spirit, and then dump that and add the whisk(e)y to it and have the flavour of the initial seasoning product affect the whisk(e)y. I will be writing an article in the near future that will delve fully into my process of how to use a mini barrel for finishing projects. You could also take it to another extent and actually use a mini barrel to age new make or young whiskies. These mini barrels will affect the contents in a hyper quick fashion (even when using it as a finishing project) so attention and care is a must. I know a few people that have done this with “white dog” or unaged spirits. Yet another use, and one familiar to Steve (@parkwhiskeysociety) is using a mini barrel to age and/or marry a cocktail. Steve did this with a 8 Litre barrel that had been seasoned with sherry previously and made the BEST cocktail I have ever had in my life. When ordering from my preferred supplier as noted above, they offer a few different options to make the mini barrel you order a simple or deluxe as you wish. You can pick from a plain wood barrel or a “alligator” level charred barrel. You can also choose to have a wooden spigot or a metal one. And the coolest way to make the gift of a mini barrel even more special is to have an etching done on the barrel end. My wife chose to have our family Coat of arms and motto put on the end of my barrel, so even when its sitting idle or in the process of an experiment it looks great on my shelf. Urban Barrel Company not only sells the mini barrels, they also sell various other products as well so peruse their site and see if anything else captures your fancy. I highly suggest looking at adding some of the cleaning tablets to your order as they will “clean” the inside of the barrel before each additional use and ensure a safe and fun project each and every time. One more thing I love about Urban Barrel Company is not only do they have amazing products but they have even better people behind the products. They helped my wife through every step of the process from ordering to delivery and were amazingly friendly and helpful. They also did not hesitate to offer up a couple 2L barrels as donations for prizes for the Irish Invasion 2 tasting I co-hosted to raise a ton of money for charity. Amazing People, Amazing Products and guaranteed to be an Amazing Gift.

2. RagProper Glass Flasks

www.ragproper.com

Various sizes and Price Points

Next up on our gift guide is another one I have a lot of experience with. These are the hip flasks produced by RagProper. These are the “modern glass flask” and they claim that you can taste the difference and I fully agree. A little bit of backstory before I explain exactly why these are the absolute best flasks available. I came across this company long before they ever produced a flask when they launched a campaign on Kickstarter. It immediately caught my attention and everything they were claiming seemed to me to make sense so I backed them on their project, and kind of forgot about it. Once the project was fully funded and after a delay or two in production (they made sure they were as perfect as possible) I received my flask in a beautiful box with two lids (more on that in a bit) and a silicone funnel to help fill, as well as an extra silicone sleeve that I added on to my initial Kickstarter order. From the very first time I used my flask i knew for a fact their claims were true and this changed the flask game forever. Here’s what makes this so. The main thing is that these are made of the same glass that almost all premium spirits are bottled in. Therefore their is no metallic “taint” to the taste of whatever you put inside. This glass is also very durable (as I have repeatedly found out myself) and adding on the silicone sleeves or the higher end leather “jacket” there is an added layer of protection. All their sleeves leave open a space for their “Easy Pour Window” which is literally as it sounds, a window that allows you to see the contents of the flask so you know when it needs a refill, as well as, and more importantly, allows you to see the level when filling to prevent any over-filling and wasting any of the precious liquid gold you are putting into the flask. This window also allows you to see inside and ensure the flask is clean before filling again, which no metal flasks allow you to do. As I mentioned above, they also come with two lids. One is metal and for looks alone is my pick, however for some specific uses, they include a plastic lid as well which makes the entire flask undetectable from say metal detectors when entering certain events or venues. Both lids come lined inside with cork as most bottles are sealed with and this cork is high grade and have stood the test of time in my experiences. I also mentioned that you can pick from a removable silicone sleeve or a non-removable leather encasement. I in fact have one of each and each one has it use but I do feel the leather bound flask is classier and just has a better feel. My silicone cover flask I use for keeping in my golf bag or on hikes etc. The last part that comes included in the package is a silicone mini funnel with an air breather built in which makes filling extremely easy and fool proof. The only choice you really need to make once the sleeve and colour are chosen, is what size you want or need. These flasks come in 100ml (3 ounce) or a 240ml (8 ounce) version. There are also gift packs that come with one of each size which I love. The RagProper website also does offer accessory packs that include extra lids, lid seals, funnels and cleaning accessories. If a new portable drinking device is something your whisk(e)y lover could benefit from or if their old beaten and gross metallic flask needs to go, this is the place to go for a new and better (in all ways) flask.

3. Tuath Irish Whiskey Glass

www.giftofspirits.com

$40

When it comes to the way we all enjoy our favourite drams, there are so many choices for the vessel we use to pour from bottle into, and then from the vessel to our senses that awaken with each nosing, each sip, each swallow. Some are befitting of a certain time or event style, while others are more apt for specific reasons like diving deep into the dram itself, say for reviewing or even the first experience with a new whisk(e)y. Just as there is no “right” way to drink whisk(e)y, there is also no “right” glass to choose to use. There is a new glass that has come out in the last couple years that I personally find to be a step above for various reasons. Its the Tuath (pronounced TOO-AHH) and it was specifically rolled out as THE IRISH Glass. The glass is conical in shape like most copitas, Glencairns etc. The Tuath is slightly taller in stature than a Glencairn and with a slightly wider opening. These help promote more of the abrasive alcohol vapours out of the glass while keeping more of the flavour notes concentrated inside the glass. Yes, I know, most nosing/tasting glasses also claim this and I, myself, was skeptical of these claims…until I tried one for the first time. I was surprised as it did concentrate the pleasant notes inside the glass, while also having a better feel in the hand. The less-rounded sides of the Tuath along with the flared lip and the outstanding base all come together in harmony for a glass that is both classy in looks and practical in use and feel. Now that base itself is a true work of art both in style and usefulness. It is styled after the island Skellig Michael, which is just off the coast of my all time favourite place in this world. The base is also a perfect fit for your thumb whether left handed or right handed, and makes for a perfect little perch to hold the glass and swirl the whisk(e)y to your hearts content. Its this base that truly makes the Tuath stand out from any and all other whisk(e)y glasses. I truly love this glass and i sing its praises whenever I get the chance. And of course it works well with all types of spirits, not just Irish Whiskey.

4. Various Items From Whiskey Craft Ireland

www.whiskeycraft.ie

Various Items at Various Price Points

If there was ever a one-stop-shop that could handle all your shopping needs and wants for the whisk(e)y fanatic in your life, this is it. Yes it is definitely geared towards the Irish whiskey fans more than anything else, but there are fantastic items throughout this amazing website that I guarantee would make any fan of this wonderful liquid smile for ear to ear. This entire wessite has items big and small, budget conscious and super high end. Items you would expect a whiskey merchandise store to carry and even more unique items you wouldn’t expect or that may surprise you. There is a whole line of Fine art prints that include a type of splash art that has images of different brands of whiskey. There is a variety of branded wall clocks, glassware and home decor like wooden coaster sets and piggy banks and candle holders. They have messenger bags and miniature metal distillery figurines and full on home bar set ups. I truly ask if you are looking for something truly unique for a gift, something that you know will be unexpected and cherished, you must visit this site and take a look around. They do ship to North America I know that for a fact as I have received a couple packages myself. The quality of the items and the true passion for whiskey from the owners is exuded through their products and is second to none.

5. Sample Bottles

Richards Packaging (Various Locations) or Uline or Amazon

Prices vary depending on quantity and size

One of the absolute coolest aspects of diving headfirst into my local whisk(e)y community was seeing first hand the generosity of the people involved in it. One way that this was shown was the constant wanting to share “samples” of whiskies with fellow enthusiasts. If someone had a bottle open of something I wanted to try or vice-versa, we would strike up a conversation, and agree on a trade, or sometimes even just bottle up a few and drop them off. This especially became an important facet of the whisk(e)y fabric when the pandemic hit. Most of us increased our buying habits and also had no real way of sharing stuff with each other. None of this would even be possible without the unsung hero of the whisk(e)y community that is the almighty sample bottle. The “brand” of sample bottle that seems to be the go-to and preferred style is called the Boston Round. These come in a huge variety of sizes, colours etc. with the most common being clear or the brown variable. For sizes the 1 ounce or 29ml size are by far the most common sizes, but some like to have larger ones for sharing larger portions with each other and then on the flip side there are plenty of half ounce sizes that are used for the super premium (read: expensive) alcohols that are shared. I cant tell you how many friendships have blossomed through the simplicity of the sample bottle and exchange between new friends. I myself have been lucky to have shared some absolutely fantastic whiskies I wouldn’t ever otherwise have been able to try and I forever savour those that people share with me and I know everyone else in the whisky fabric feels the same. One last word of personal advice, if at all possible try to get the bottles that come paired with the “poly-cone” lids. These lids allow for a tight seal and will not leach any unwanted foreign notes into the contents. The other option are usually lids that look identical from the outside but inside just have a glued in seal that kind of looks like the rubber seal in the top of a pop lid. The glue used in these lids will leach into the whisk(e)y contents inside the bottle. Don’t worry about buying too many sample bottles as a gift. There is no such thing and no matter the quantity purchased there will always be the need for more some time in the future.

This is just part one of my gift ideas for the whisk(e)y lover in your life. In part two i will summarize a handful of actual unique alcohol products that may be new to the market or maybe unheralded or under the radar of most people. This list above encompasses a few ideas that i know personally i would love to get as gifts.  I know one of my favourite things about christmas and the days that follow is seeing all the gifts my fellow whisk(e)y enthusiasts opened. Hopefully i will see some of these under the trees of some of you out there. 

Sean Kincaid aka The Dark Cloud

The Whiskey Silk

The ‘Whiskey Silk’ is my first personal creation, using a Sweet Lemon Ginger shrub that is the key ingredient to this cocktail. Shrubs are typically created with equal parts fruit/spices – vinegar – sugar but that is merely just as suggestion because the possibilities are endless. They can be used to flavour your cocktail, mocktail, smoothie, soda water or any beverage for that matter.

Sweet Lemon Ginger Shrub

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • Chamomile tea bag
  • 1 cup raw sugar (or white sugar)
  • 2 lemons – cut in half inch cubes (approx 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup of fresh grated ginger
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 cup Apple Cider Vinegar

Instructions

1. Heat up the water in a pot / sauce pan on medium heat and steep chamomile tea for 4-5 minutes.

2. After the tea is steeped, remove the tar bag and combine the remainder of the ingredients into the pot / sauce pan.

3. Bring the mixture up to a light boil for 1 minute, stir well and then turn the heat down to a low simmer.

4. Let the mixture stew and simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

5. Let cool for 15 min and then add the Apple Cider Vinegar.

6. Place the mixture into a container (mason jar) and then in the fridge for a minimum of 2 – 4 days, up to 7 days.

7. After that, use a fine strainer or cheese cloth and filter the contents so all you have left is the juice with no solids.

8. Ready to use for cocktails or mocktails!

Now, let’s make the cocktail!

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 ounces Whisk(e)y
  • 1 ounce Sweet Lemon Ginger Shrub
  • Token Lavender Bitters and/or Aromatic Bitters
  • 1 egg (whites)

Instructions

  1. Crack the egg and separate the whites into the shaker.
  2. when a cocktail includes egg whites, always shake them on their own for about 10 – 15 seconds to get them nice and silky and frothy before adding the other ingredients.
  3. After that add the bourbon or any whiskey you desire, the shrub and the bitters.
  4. Shake all the ingredients together for 20-30 seconds, making sure the shaker is nice and cold on your hands by the end of it.
  5. Grab your Hawthorne strainer and pour into a low volume glass. I chose to use a coupe glass because they are a person favorite of mine.
  6. Enjoy like I know you will!
  • Cocktail created by Steven Shaw

Barrel Aged Old Fashioned

Dumping the Barrel to serve at our Club Tasting (Feb. 21, 2020)

How to age an Old Fashioned Cocktail in a Oak Barrel…? Good Question. I am by no means an expert but fortunately for me, my experience went great and the cocktail turned out to be maybe the best Old Fashioned I have ever had. So… that being said, I can certainly tell you how I managed to make that happen and try and help you out!

First thing first, I recommend you to read multiple people’s articles about different experiences because chances are, everyone’s barrel and ingredients are going to be a little different.

The Barrel…

So… To start off, I used a 8 Litre (2 gallon) Ex-Sherry Barrel. Reason being, ordering a new oak barrel to Edmonton, Alberta is not an easy task as there are no reputable manufacturers close so by the time it was shipped to me, it would have been past the tasting it was intended for and I was not that proactive and also have a tendency to procrastinate and to try and accomplish things last minute. Luckily for me, when I reached out to some friends, it just so happened my pal, Whisky Joe had just ordered a handful of smaller barrels for a crazy Tullibardine aging experiment (we will get into that story another day). Anyways, the barrel that I was able to get my hands on from Joe, like I mentioned, is ex-sherry and not new oak, but because it had to meet certain health codes prior to being shipped here, it had already been thoroughly rinsed and prepared. As far as I understand, this allowed me to skip an important step of having to clean the barrel beforehand but, I still filled the barrel with warm water, letting it sit for a few hours to make sure there wasn’t any leaks. If you are using a previously used barrel then please search around for cleaning and rinsing techniques prior to dumping in your ingredients. If you are using a new oak barrel then there will most likely be some simple preparation instructions that come with it.

The Cocktail…. mmmmm

When it comes to selecting your whiskey cocktail, you want to stick to the ones without any perishable ingredients that will go bad during the aging process. Personally, I love a good Old Fashioned so it was a natural choice for me. Other good options are, a Boulevardier, Manhattan, Vieux Carre, Sazerac, Rob Roy or similar. You also have to be careful with using simple syrup, especially if it home made as the shelf life at room temperature isn’t a long one. Store bought syrup tends to last quite a bit longer or using maple syrup which is what I did, works a lot better. I wouldn’t recommend aging the cocktail longer than 3 – 4 weeks though when there are sugars in the ingredients. Also, keep in mind, you don’t need to use as much syrup as a recipe normally states. You will draw sweetness and complexity out of the wood and you will not want to mask those flavours with the extra sugar. For mine, because it was an ex-sherry barrel, I used about 1/2 of the quantity I normally would, knowing that the sherry was also going to contribute to the sweetness. I also matched my syrup quantity with water, pouring in equal parts of both so that the cocktail wouldn’t become too concentrated after the aging process.

From there, it’s just a matter of picking your favorite lower shelf whiskey and your bitters of choice. Calculate the quantity of ingredients according to the volume of barrel and start pouring it all in!

Make sure to set the barrel in a place slightly cooler than room temperature and out of the sunlight and then make sure to be taste testing you cocktail every 4 or 5 days to make sure you don’t miss the mark and over age it.

The Pouring

The reason I decided to do this in the first place was to pour out for our Park Whiskey Society members at our most recent tasting. Usually I am making cocktails for everyone after the tasting with the help of my buddy David, but the idea of just pouring it all out into a dispenser and having everyone pour their own drinks for the evening was a pretty awesome one. I was pretty nervous at first but also confident because lucky for me, I consume a lot of cocktails and was relatively sure that, if it tasted good for me then it was going to taste good for everyone else. Lets just say… it was a massive success! Well… at least the fogginess and empty barrel can suggest so. Like I mentioned, one of the best Old Fashioned Cocktails I have ever had. The sherried wood lent such a beautiful character, creating a bold flavoured, yet very smooth cocktail.

This was seriously a ton of fun and something I definitely recommend trying and will be doing again!

If you have any questions please reach out and I’ll be glad to help! Cheers everyone!