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

Penelope Four Grain Bourbon

When I was asked to review a couple of samples from Penelope,I was excited.  I had been seeing these bottles all over social media and the first thing I was noticing was the eye-catchingdesign.  The bottle is a beautiful elongated design that is reflected in the simple and elegant foiled letter ‘P’ on the label. 

Just a quick foreword, I take a bit of a different approach when tasting a new whiskey and writing notes.  I do this as blind as possible.  I do not read up on the whiskey until I have captured my notes and had two different occasions to sit down and explore the whiskey in front of me.

Penelope Bourbon Four Grain 40%

This whiskey has a soft golden syrup color as I swirl the glass around. It is intriguing how golden the color is.

On the nose, there are those immediate soft hints of vanilla, straw, lemon, powdered sugar, and wax candy wrappers.  When I let this sit and come back an hour later, some faint oak notes had developed.

The palate is very surprising, having a hot and light spice to it with a dry snap. Not as sweet as you would expect with the nose. There are hints of warm strawberries in straw with a gentle citrus note. There is a lovely dry leather and dusty finish to the whiskey. Very unexpected and intriguing.

I tried this whiskey also in a rocks glass and found that there were additional cereal notes and tart green apples.  There was more of that corn sweetness when water was added to the whiskey.  The finish retains that dry snap on the finish.

Now the facts about this whiskey.  This is a blend of 3 bourbon mash bills comprised of 4 grains – corn (75%), wheat (15%), rye(7%), and malted barley (3%).  This whiskey has been aged 2-3yrs with #4 char on the staves, #2 char on the heads.

Penelope Bourbon Barrel Strength 58.3%

The color on this whiskey has a burnt orange quality, which has me thinking I will be greeted by some strong bourbon flavours.

On the nose, there is that immediate push of caramel, butter, and an interesting underlying mustiness that makes me think oak barrels and leather – that worn leather of horse bridle.  At the edge of the nose, there is a faint hint of menthol.  With some time, I get additional sweet notes of caramel popcorn and honey glazed nuts.

The palate for this whiskey I do find to be hot and with a dry note to it.  There are some sweet notes of candied fruit peels, citrus notes and some of that bitter of the pith from an orange.  On the finish, the orange notes becomes more pronounced with a medium-dry finish.

When I tried this whiskey in a rocks glass, I found that the nose did indeed go sweeter, with tones of Roger’s syrup and warm toast.  With a bit of water, there are some beautiful chewy leather notes and dark chocolate (92%) notes – that dry and bitter bite from the cacao.

Now the facts about this whiskey.  This is a blend of 3 bourbon mash bills comprised of 4 grains – corn (76%), wheat (15%), rye (6%), and malted barley (3%).  This whiskey has been aged 3-4yrs with #4 char on the staves, #2 char on the heads.

To catch-up on the idea behind these whiskies.

The back-story to this whiskey is rather interesting.  Two friends who had a passion for drinking bourbon and taking that passionand translating their knowledge of the restaurant industry, supply chain management, tech, and e-commerce into a brand.  Rather than building a distillery, they took the approach of working with established businesses to produce their product.  This includes sourcing their distillate from MGP Inc. and working with Castle & Key on the bottling and blending of their end product.  If you don’t know about MGP – do yourself a favor and go read up on them!  

Seeing the craft distillery explosion happening in Canada currently, we are seeing this start with the building of distilleries,so having a company develop a brand and sourcing each stage of their product from other producers is intriguing. Without a doubt, it will be worth watching how this bourbon develops further.

Review written by Nichole Olenek @blackcatwhisky / https://blackcatwhisky.com

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

Old Forester Prohibition 1920

This Old Forster 1920 is easily in my top 5 bourbons and checks off a lot of the boxes I love most when it comes to this category of whiskey. Old Forester has created this bourbon to best resemble the product they sold during prohibition as they were one of only ten distilleries legally still capable of producing whiskey for “medicinal purposes”. I can promise you though, it doesn’t taste anything like cough syrup, but… I bet it will sooth your scratchy throat over the course of the evening.

Until recently, Old Forester products have never been sold in Canada and it wasn’t until September 2019 that, friends of the club, Wine and Beyond made some room on the shelves for a singe barrel they selected the spring prior. A month following that, they stocked this 1920 expression. Although, the space it occupied the morning it was released, was once again vacant by the time the store closed that same day. Needless to say, we are pretty starved for new and exciting bourbons so I was not surprised at all to see that happen. Luckily for me, I frequent the liquor store enough that the Cheers theme song plays when the doors open, so needless to say, I was able to snag a hand full of bottles before it disappeared.

Here is the info from Old Forester’s website.

The Volstead Act of 1920 which initiated Prohibition in the USA granted permits to six distillers in Kentucky to continue to bottle bourbon for medicinal purposes. Through one of these permits, Old Forester continued to be produced as medicinal whiskey on Louisville’s famed Whiskey Row. It is the only bourbon continuously sold by the same company that has been available for sale before, during and after Prohibition.

During this time, all whiskies had to be bottled at 100 Proof. With a barrel entry proof of 100, the “angel’s share” would have created a 115 proof whiskey after maturation. To pay homage to this era, Old Forester presents 1920 Prohibition Style Bourbon at 115 proof to represent the rich flavor profile this bourbon had nearly 100 years ago.

Please check out the Old Forester Website for more info on this and the rest of their line up. Their product is truly quality through and through. Even their entry level bourbon, the 86 proof, is one of my favourite whiskeys to use for cocktails as it’s versatility shines with any flavour it meets.

ABV – 57.5% / Age – N/A / Mash – 72% Corn / 18% Rye / 10% Malted Barley Region – Kentucky Bourbon / Cask – New American Charred Oak

Nose

Not typically sweet like bourbon tends to be. Powerful aromas of charred oak and burnt sugar followed by some dark fruits, cocoa, and banana. It is a higher ABV so naturally the nose will present some ethanol as well.

Palate

Bold, rich, chewy and delicious! More of the char, caramel and burnt sugar along with some rich dark chocolate and heavily roasted coffee. Following that, some vanilla and nuttiness comes in to round it off and send it to the finish. I love how the char presents itself as a real smokiness and adds a nice edge to the rest of the flavours.

Finish

The transition from the palate to the finish is accompanied by some nice peppery spiciness. From there, it carries on and lingers for a while with burnt sugars and an aftertaste similar to a earthy dark roast coffee.

All and all, my kind of dram! I want a pour that humbles me and forces me to appreciate its brashness with edgy, smokey, and rich bourbon characteristics, and this 1920 delivers exactly that. If you live in a region it is readily available, I suggest you get it now. If you live in Canada, keep your ears to the ground and eyes open because it won’t sit waiting for long on the shelves after it arrives. Be prepared to snag yours up quick!

  • Review by Steven Shaw

Glenmorangie 14 Year Quinta Ruban

The 12 Year Quinta Ruban has always been a steady ‘go to’ for me. It’s one of those bottles that I put on the table for all occasions because it is as palatable a whisky there is. It is sweet, succulent and smooth from the nose to the finish and carries just enough depth to please the experienced whisky drinker but not complex enough that it becomes too much to unpack for the inexperienced consumer to enjoy.

The name Quinta Ruban is derived from the estates in Portugal the wine was produced; Quinta, and the type of Port; Ruby or Ruban as pronounced in Gaelic. The more interesting part of this to me is that, Ruby Port is typically the most extensively produced and most simplistic in character out of all the varieties of Port and it’s normally aged in concrete or steel tanks to prevent oxidation so the lively bright fruity colour and flavours remain. Its not often a Ruby Port is aged in oak casks so they aren’t widely used by whisky distillers which makes this expression somewhat unique.

This whisky is first aged in ex-Bourbon casks which gives it a nice uniform sweetness and a perfect foundation for the Ruby cask finishing. Both of which lend perfectly to one another, creating a balanced dram until you reach the height of the palate where you’ll find a beautiful facsimile of those bright Ruby characteristics we talked about earlier.

Colour

I don’t typically talk about he colour unless its a real stand out quality and with this one, it will solely draw you into buying it without knowing anything else. Its a vibrant amber with a beautiful ruby red glow. Colour can be very important and in this case, it is always a conversation piece and generates some excitement prior to the tasting.

Nose

Somewhat mellow so you really need to plant your nose in the glass it find its true character. Once you sinuses are firmly invested, you’ll find that rich port sweetness accompanied by some malty milk chocolate, citrus and oak spice.

Palate

I love the balance of fruit, chocolate and spice in this dram. It starts off fruity for me, full of peaches and sweet citrus followed by almond and mint chocolate before the baking spices and oak take over up to the finish.

Finish

The spice continues into the finish with a pleasant tannic wine dryness. In between are some lingering hints of the chocolate and citrus remainng from the palate.

All in all, a superb dram. I would prefer enjoying it as an digestif but it by no means should be type cast as such. As usual, it is a great value by as we know and love Glemorangie for always being, so get out there and put one of these on your shelves!

Comparison to Quinta Ruban 12

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This tasting would be complete without doing a quick side by side with it younger version. I honestly wasn’t expecting a huge difference between the two, yet then found myself quite surprised. Don’t get me wrong though, the profile is almost identical but the vibrancy an extra 2 years of maturation attributed to this whisky is outstanding. Adding some needed life to the nose, more creamy maltiness, chocolate and oaky characteristics building some complexity and sharpness to the palate, and then subtly lengthening the finish. All great additions to an already solid drinkable whisky.

Another interesting thing is that they increased the volume to a 750ml bottle instead of the previous 700ml. Considering the Age increased and you get a few each drams out of the bottle but the price pretty much remained solidifies my earlier sentiment. Now, go get this bottle! Cheers!

  • Review written by Steven Shaw