A bottle of whisky is a bit of a Christmas present cliché, isn’t it? It’s right up there with a pair of socks. But it needn’t be. There are all sorts of ways to make whisky giving at Christmas more imaginative.
Drinks by the Dram does a brilliant range of advent calendars with a different, wax-sealed 30ml dram for each day: the one I’m sure every spirits lover is secretly hoping for is the £9,995.95 (don’t forget that 95p) Very Old and Rare Whisky Advent Calendar, which contains treasures including a 48-year-old malt from the “silent” Japanese distillery Karuizawa, a 1958 Glenfarclas and one of this year’s big releases, the Talisker Bodega Series 40yo, of which there are only 2,000 bottles worldwide. Handmade by Kent cabinetmaker Simon Jewell Designs in ebony or walnut, this is one gift you might want to keep for yourself.
If 24 rare miniatures won’t cut it, then how about an entire cask of whisky? Rare Whisky 101 is one of the leading brokers for valuable Scotch by the barrel. Cult American distillery WhistlePig also recently launched a “customised whiskey program” whereby you can select and bottle your own barrel either remotely – from a shortlist of samples picked by chief blender Pete Lynch – or in person at the WhistlePig Farm in Vermont (the bottles can be delivered throughout the world, price on request). If that sounds OTT, a bottle of WhistlePig’s Boss Hog Fifth Edition Spirit of Mauve, a rye whiskey finished in calvados barrels, wouldn’t go amiss, either. Intense and spicy, with ripe notes of apple and prune, this £650 limited edition hits the shops at the end of this month.
If you’ve already got the whisky in the bag, how about a cocktail masterclass? Fitz’s bar at the glitzy new Principal in Bloomsbury does a whole menu of mixological tutorials for up to 12 people, but bar manager Sean Fennelly – who confesses to being a bit of a whisky nut – will also devise a whisky-themed session if you ask nicely.
“In a ‘sky’s the limit’ scenario, we’d probably gravitate towards older, rare bottles, potentially sourcing some vintage bottlings, given enough notice,” says Fennelly. “It’s great fun to put together ‘period’ cocktails, for example, tracking down bottles of 1970s whisky, vermouth and bitters to taste a Rob Roy as it would have originally been made.” You could take a jaunt through the history of Scotch, have a lesson in the art of the Japanese Highball or perfect your Old Fashioned – it’s up to you.
I also love the Perfect Measure Christmas tree baubles (£27.95 for three) at The Whisky Exchange. Each contains a miniature of something delicious: Clynelish 14yo, Evan Williams Extra Aged bourbon, Nikka blended whisky from Japan. Nice on the tree, but even better in your glass…