What to give the whisky lover who has everything? This is a question The Goblet gets asked a lot at this time of year and it’s a difficult one to answer – people’s tastes can be so particular. But I’ve yet to meet a whisky fan who doesn’t have a bit of a soft spot for the well-turned single malts of The Balvenie. You can pick up Speyside’s honeyed Balvenie 12yo for as little as £43, but if you really want to blow someone’s socks off this year, then the bottle to give would be the new Balvenie 1961, the oldest Balvenie ever released. At first this 55-year-old whisky is all leather-bound libraries and fireplaces, but a drop of water blows the dust off, revealing amazingly sprightly blackcurrant, citrus and a hint of Parma Violets (a hallmark of 1960s Balvenies).
The 1961 is part of a quintet of single-cask whiskies that make up the Third Chapter in the Balvenie DCS Compendium, a 25-bottle epic that’s being released over five years to celebrate the 55-year career of Balvenie’s softly spoken malt master David Stewart. A complete Third Chapter will cost you £57,000 for five bottles, but 15 bottles of the 1961 have also been released on their own, priced at an eye-watering £35,000 each.
Another prize all whisky nuts will hope to see under the tree this Christmas is the new Yamazaki 18yo Mizunara (£1,000), a Japanese single malt aged exclusively in Japanese oak, which makes it very unusual (whisky is usually aged in American or European oak). All types of oak have their own flavour profile – Japanese oak, or mizunara, produces exotic notes of incense and spice that mingle deliciously with its more generous Madeira cake and orange marmalade characters.
The most sought-after of the American whiskies will undoubtedly be the latest Antique Collection (£100-£120) of five limited edition bourbons and ryes from Kentucky’s historic Buffalo Trace Distillery. The Sazerac 18yo rye is one of those real life-changing whiskies that should be in every collection, and this year’s iteration is no exception.
I also often recommend giving something from whisky blenders Compass Box, which has a knack for combining excellent liquid with eye-catching packaging. Its latest limited editions include the heavily peated No Name (£100) and Phenomenology (£150), which has no information about the whisky on the label so that one can taste blind, before going to the website to get chapter and verse on the make-up of the blend. The aim is to challenge preconceptions around whisky, but I think they might have just come up with a game that will keep everyone occupied this Christmas.