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For drinkers, a good bottle of whisk(e)y makes a great gift, perfect for any occasion. But with so many options across a wide range of styles and flavors, it can be a bit of a challenge to pair the right expression with the right person.
If you’re struggling with choosing the perfect bottle, we have an answer to the riddle. Whether you’re buying for a Scotch lover or one who prefers bourbon, rye, Irish, or Japanese, here are the best whiskeys (and whiskies) to give your friends and loved ones.
To put it quite simply, Signet is simply one of the best whiskies you’re apt to find at any price. While Glenmorangie uses some of its oldest stocks in the recipe, Signet’s anchor is a special chocolate malt barley spirit the brand distills especially for this expression and then ages in custom-made American white oak casks. The feel is unreal and the flavors complex: Layered notes of bitter chocolate, sherried fruits, and a punch of spice make it a scrumptious dram—one any lucky enough to receive a bottle will enjoy.
It's spelled "whiskey" when it's made in America or Ireland and "whisky" when made anywhere else.
Beyond a splurge, The Macallan 25 is an indulgence full of a flavorful grace not easily found on this side of the river Spey. Sure, for the same price, you could pick up 30 bottles of The Macallan 12 Sherry Cask instead. But this single malt does more than twice as long sleeping in Jerez sherry casks. The result is sublime; subtle layers of fruit and spice unfold with every sip. If you’re feeling particularly generous, it’s a gift that won’t soon be forgotten.
For the price, it’s hard to find a better rye than High West’s Double variety. The Park City, Utah-based maker produces a few expressions, but the entry-level Double Rye is a fun and flavorful addition to even a highly curated bar. Not only is it lovely neat or on the rocks, but it's also vibrant in a rye-based cocktail like a Manhattan. The spice-forward rye contains notes of apple, honey, mint, and cinnamon, making it a splendid, budget-friendly gift.
Whiskies “bottled in bond” have to meet a few requirements. They must be 100 proof, poured from barrels filled in the same season by one distiller, then aged a minimum of four years in a supervised warehouse. This year’s Master’s Keep release from Wild Turkey is aged well beyond that and kept in the barrels for a staggering 17 years. All that time in the wood has yielded a jaw-dropper any bourbon lover will adore. A righteous cherry note pairs with vanilla, toffee, and oak to titillate the palate, while a spiced cocoa finish might charm you into another glass.
Few gifts are more exciting to open for Japanese whisky lovers than a bottle of Yamazaki 18 year old. It’s a challenge to find and intensely expensive, but the sight of its iconic black and gold label instantly warms the heart. Aged in ex-bourbon, ex-sherry, and Japanese Mizunara oak, it’s full of dark fruit notes and big pops of nuts and spice.
One of the most sought after of the year, Michter’s 10 Year rye is one to write home about. It’s big, it’s spicy, and it’s well balanced. If you can, snap up a bottle now—even if you’re going to wait till the holidays to gift it. As with most Kentucky ryes, the spice is the thing. But that heat is amazingly balanced with sweet notes of vanilla, toffee, marzipan, and a subtle pop of orange.
For fans of blended whiskies, we’d recommend Johnnie Walker’s flagship Blue Label. The folks at the Striding Man take a secret selection of grain and malt whiskies from the Diageo portfolio from across Scotland, including Cardhu and Clynelish, to create a phenomenal bottle that many retailers will engrave. Vanilla and honey rise to meet cacao and sherried fruits that lead into a signature smoky-sweet finish. It’s a crowd-pleaser that any whisky drinker would be proud to display on the shelf.
Every year on September 2, in honor of founder George Garvin Brown’s birthday, Old Forester drops another of the most anticipated releases of the year. Old Forester Birthday retails for a shade over a C-note, but if you can find one for under 10 times that, you’ve done well. Always mouthwatering and never disappointing, a bottle is sure to please any bourbon lover. This year’s release is a 10 year, clocks in at 98 proof, and is made up of scant 95 barrels. In the mouth, traditional caramel notes swirl around tropical fruit notes with a hint of macadamia and a snap of licorice on the finish.
Legent Bourbon makes a great gift for anyone who loves to experiment with whiskey cocktails. The expression is a collaboration between two whiskey juggernauts Fred Noe, seventh-generation Master Distiller of Jim Beam, and Shinji Fukuyo, fifth-ever Chief Blender of Suntory. The fruit of their union blends bourbons finished in sherry and wine casks with a smattering of Kentucky straight bourbon. Notes of caramel, vanilla, and oak play off subtle hints of dried fruit and spice. So the recipient can try it in a mint julep, an Old-Fashioned, or a new-fangled concoction of his or her own imagination.
What do you give your friends? Whisky. What do you give your best friends? Really good whisky. Cairdeas means friendship in Gaelic, and each year, distillery manager and fifth-generation Islay native John Campbell creates an expression for friends of the brand. This year’s version features whisky finished in ruby port barriques, spirit double-matured in ex-bourbon barrels, plus a smattering completed in ex-red wine casks. The denouement is heavenly. Laphroaig’s medicinal peat smoke is enriched with notes of marshmallow, berries, plum, and toffee with a hint of salt—a peat lover’s dream.
Port Askaig gets its name from a small village on Islay, the Scottish island from which the brand sources all of its whiskies. The brand only launched in 2009 and has slowly made its way to US shores and stores. You can now find a few expressions domestically, including the stellar 8 Year. The whisky is sourced mainly from Caol Ila with a smidge of Laphroaig, all aged in refill American oak. The result is a beautiful introduction to the label. Peaty and rich, the smoke leads to a fruity sweetness and pleasant brine. Whisky fans love to find new bottles, and exposing your peat fan to this one will earn ample endearment.
Family-owned-and-operated Glenfarclas is a label you won’t see on the shelf at many bars. The brand doesn’t quite get the respect this side of the Atlantic it deserves. The Speyside maker kicks out amazing jams, and its 25 year old is a steal at twice the price. Aged in Oloroso sherry casks chosen from a single Spanish bodega, this vintage is a brilliant sherried whisky, with flavors of fruit cake, spice, marshmallow, and oak.
If you’re buying a bottle for a drinker who prefers whiskey from the Emerald Isle, may we recommend Knappogue Castle 16 year old? It’s an Irish single malt gentle-aged, first for 14 years in ex-bourbon casks and then another two in Oloroso sherry wood. It’s a phenomenal and supple whiskey with swirling sherry notes on top of tree fruit, vanilla, chocolate, and baking spice.
Four times a year, Booker’s releases a shockingly strong and wonderfully flavored bourbon. It’s one of our absolute go-tos, as it likely is for any bourbon lover you might know. The current drop, called “Boston Batch,” is named for Boston, Kentucky, where Booker Noe, the expression’s namesake, got his first start as a distiller. It’s a 6-year-old bourbon that clocks in at a hefty 126.5 proof. Chock-full of big vanilla flavor and caramel, balanced against nutty notes, char, and spice, the “Boston Batch” is quintessentially Booker’s and a present that will be cherished.
Freddie Noe’s fourth installment in the much-heralded annual limited-release Little Book series, “Lessons Honored,” is a tribute to his father, Jim Beam master distiller Fred Noe, and the wisdom he has passed down. This year’s version is a blend of a four-year-old Kentucky straight brown rice bourbon, an eight-year-old Kentucky straight rye, and a seven-year-old Kentucky straight bourbon. The brown rice bourbon is a curveball in the recipe, but it works. The whiskey is loaded with vanilla and stacked with cherries and charred wood capped off with a spicy rye finish. It’s a bottle some recipients might want to sit on a bit, but we’d rather fill our glass and the one our friend is holding.
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Nicholas McClelland is a passionate whisk(e)y drinker who has written about spirits for Men’s Journal, Fatherly, and Inside Hook. His bar is deep with rare single malts, hard-to-find bourbons, and ryes, but he doesn't believe there's anything too precious to share with friends.