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 Black Bottle Showdown!

Black bottle Blended Scotch Whisky (NAS new bottle) – 40% ABV


This is the Black Bottle you will typically find on shelf at your local liquor store(and one you should definitely have on your bar at all times) It is simply a fine bottom shelf whisky that holds its own, neat in a glencairn, or even cooked up in your whisky cocktail of choice as well. Its been a bartender favourite for decades in the industry.

Nose

This one starts off sweet. Like burnt caramel or brown sugar on freshly made porridge. There is a slight maltiness. Some citrus notes are found but they are almost hidden behind the brown sugar notes. It reminds me of a young sherried highland malt.

Palate

Again starts off with caramel/brown sugar sweetness. It then ups the spice a bit, with some fresh baking like spices. Vanilla spread over a slice of wheat bread. There is a familiar aspect to this.

Finish

The finish makes me think of Bunnahabhain with that hint of smoke mixed with a nutty, and lightly spiced fruit. Like I mentioned, this is something everyone should have. It’s head and shoulders above most blends and for the price it is really hard to beat.

Black Bottle Blended Scotch Whisky (NAS Old bottling – green bottle) – 40% ABV


This is the fabled old bottle of black bottle. All but a ghost now. Said to be a blend of islay malts and mainland grains.

Nose

Anyone familiar with Islay blends will know this nose. The usual ashy smoke and brine hints are welcomed and prevalent. Followed by a beautiful sweet vanilla and honey note. A little further nosing finds light pear and green apple notes.

Palate

Starts with that ashy Islay smoke but lighter than most Islay malts. This quickly hands the torch off to orange peel and a lemon fruit note. A little bit of honeyed sweetness comes through just before the spice and heat from the peat comes back.

Finish

The finish is rather short but full of smoke and a nice lingering and pleasant peatiness. It was much lamented when the black bottle recipe changed from this blend to the current one which I can clearly understand why. This is a beautifully Islay influenced blend that is as balanced and good as most I have tried from the region but always at half the price. It sad to see these older bottlings work their way into extinction.

Black bottle 10 year Blended Scotch Whisky (2019/20 limited edition release) – 40% ABV

This was a surprise release when it came out, but for lovers of the cult classic, Black Bottle, it became a must have. Unfortunately for most, it was only released in the UK and a couple select countries.

Nose

The first element separating itself from the others is it’s age. There is oak in the nose that you didn’t get with the NAS releases, but not fresh oak, a rich soggy oakwood that been sitting next to a firepit all summer. Accompanying the oak, is a reduced brown sugar sweetness and floral honey.  A little bit of peat and smoke are evident as well.

Palate

This one has both the sweet and smoke, standing side by side. On the sweet side you have honey, vanilla, apple and sweet bready like notes. Like hot cross buns dripped with honey. On the other side you have some baking spices, fragrant peat smoke, and an almost gingerbread spice/sweet mix.

Finish

This one has that balance of sweet and smoke, peat and fruit. It’s a shame the stock was so limited and they couldn’t do a wider release. This shows just what a blend can do if left to age properly instead of being bottled as soon as it legally is allowed to be. A great dram if you can get your hands on it!

Conclusion
All three of these bottles are fairly different from one another. I wish it was possible for everyone to try all three but I know sadly, that is almost impossible. If you come across any of these bottles, do yourself a favour and pick it up. You will be hard pressed to find a better bang for your buck whisky on the market.

  • Review written by Sean Kincaid

Eau Claire Single Malt Batch 003

This is the 3rd single malt release from Alberta’s own Eau Claire Distillery. A distillery operating since 2014, located the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Turner Valley, Alberta. This single malt comes from 100% Alberta grown Barley and is aged in New European oak and American ex-bourbon casks. Non-chill filtered, natural colour and weighing in at 43% ABV.

Nose


A fairly subtle nose with nothing immediately jumping out. Digging a bit deeper though, there is some sweetness shining through. Red fruits and caramel sweets. Following that comes a rich, almost earthy note mixed with some woodiness. Almost like sawdust covering a fruit basket sitting on a warehouse floor. The youthfulness of this malt may be why none of the flavours immediately jump, but once you get your schnoz deep into the glass, you can pull out some wonderful notes from each cask types used in the aging of this whisky.

Palate


Surprisingly nothing too sweet right up front. Youthfulness again shows up but this time as a bit of heat. When the heat subsides an oaty semi-sweet note comes through followed by a hint of the caramel from the nose. Maybe even a bit of vanilla or possibly very light banana. That slight earthy note again comes up way in the back with some bitterness. A sweeter note shows towards the finish like a chalky sweet candy, similar to those rockets that come lined up in the transparent wrapper. As the finish goes on (medium to long) more of that caramel lingers with a bit of non-citrus fruit.

Impression.

After sourcing out a sample of Batch 001 and a bottle Of Batch 002, this Batch 003 offering is noticeably different. In a good way. It leaves me waiting impatiently to see what Batch 004 and 005 and 010 and 020 will herald. If the quality keeps increasing from Eau Claire and the kindness and hospitality from their people behind the scenes doesn’t disappear they are quickly going to ascend to the top of the Canadian spirits landscape.

– Reviewed by Sean Kincaid

Check out their website for more information on their distillery and all the quality spirits they have to offer.

Talisker 15 Year (2019 Diageo Special Release)

Diageo’s “Rare by Nature” 2019 special release. “Limited” to 42000 bottles worldwide and sounding like very few made it to Canada. “Natural Cask strength” at 57.3% abv. Matured fully in freshly charred American oak hogsheads and comes in a tin with beautiful art prints of oysters and seaweed as found near the distillery around the Isle of Skye.

Nose

While it has the typical notes of spice and herbs and brine that Talisker is known and loved for, the smoke is rather faint on the initial nose. Digging deeper though, the smoke starts to present itself more firmly but the drill sergeant here seems to be the sweetness. As a mixture of flame melted and burnt sugar hits the top of my sinuses, a faint citrus fruit note poke it’s way through. Citrus like orange peels, and a freshly peeled peach. The high ABV doesn’t really show up too much on the nose which I like as it allows a lot of time searching around for ever changing notes without tickling those nostrils with high alcohol.

Palate

Immediately rich and clingy in the mouth. Spices and herbs literally fighting their way to the tongue. A touch of the smoke clears the way. A nice campfire style smoke. A second sip and the sweetness shines through. Salted caramel without the crunch and a touch of the citrus arrives again. Lemon rind and brown sugar dance together, muddling the high ABV which is present, but not obnoxious at all. Maritime brine and seaweed round of the profile but again, that sweetness is surprising refreshing.

Finish

Not the longest finish and medium in length. Starts heavy on cinnamon and smoke and the “tongue tingle” copyright… sticking around for a bit as the finish fades from salty spiced smoke to more fruit and burnt sugar sweetness again.

Talisker for me is always a fairly consistently, decent to great distillery with very few misses, with a lot of releases I have really enjoyed over the years. This one particularly, while not as typical as some other releases, really impressed with its subtle differences. That sweetness is such a welcoming surprise, as I previously mentioned, which offers a beautifully balanced and complimentary quality to those maritime and peat notes Talisker has become known for. If you can find this bottle and like this style of whisky, do not hesitate to buy one. 

Outside of my recommendation to purchase this Talisker release, I have some other advice to share….

Please always wear socks when Steve asks you to come help him with a few photos, just encase he asks you to walk through waist high snow banks! I learnt my lesson.

  • Review by Sean Kincaid

Blackadder – 2001 Ledaig 17 Year Old

Raw cask…. One of the best bottling styles there is. This is as close to straight outta the cask as you can get. Non-chill filtered? This is barely even filtered, period. There are damn “floaties” in this bottle! Lots of them!! Char bits, fatty oil deposits, you know… all that stuff flavour comes from. This bottling literally has it all.

Nose

The first thing I noticed in this dram, this is not the huge funk bomb style of Ledaig we are all used to. Don’t get me wrong, there is funk, it’s just not smacking you across the face as much as it typically is. There is a peculiar sweetness to the nose. A kind of fruit sweetness. Like opening a can of fruit salad, you know the ones with those little red fruit pieces that everyone tries to get but there’s only about 3% of the entire fruit salad made up of these red fruits. With the Ledaig-ness added in, it noses just like that fruit salad with some pepper added in all while sitting down next to a simmering fire, ready to eat it.

Palate

Woah. Sweetness immediate on the tongue. Like a thick oatmeal with brown sugar spread over. Quickly followed by all kinds of brash flavours. Maritime influence shines through. Briney, peaty and heavy. Almost an ashy or smoked vanilla note slips out from the back. The Ledaig shows itself here. That musk and funk comes through but slightly different than in most Ledaig.

Finish

The finish is like fireworks in your mouth. A ton of noise being made all over but trails off fairly quickly. That spicy peat and musky maritime note holds on and a menthol note shines. Like smoking a menthol cigarette after eating a spicy peppered chicken wing….while sitting on a beach beside a fishing boat and a fire flickering away.

  • Review by Sean Kincaid
Look at those FLOATIES!!