It’s been one helluva sleigh ride from last year’s holiday season to this one, but we made it. Along the way, one of the best friends we’ve had is whiskey. Throughout the year we’ve been sampling the new, relying on the old and marveling at the myriad of options available from smoky single malts to small-batch bourbons to barrel-proof ryes to Japanese newcomers. Now, it’s time to spread the cheer, so we’re sharing our favorite bottles that we think will make outstanding gifts for the whiskey—or whisky—lover in your life. Here are 21 bottles of the best whiskey, bourbon and rye to give away this holiday season.
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Shibui Pure Malt Japanese Whisky
It has long been a semi-guarded secret than many Japanese single malts are actually blends of Japanese and Scotch whiskies. This has only recently come to light, but Shibui, as part of an import company co-founded by sisters Lauren and Rachel Simmons along with Nicolas Pollacchi, has never made a secret of the practice, as their slogan plainly says, “We don’t distill. We discover.” The premise being that they take the best of pre-existing whiskies and combine them to produce the optimum results. In this case, their Pure Malt is blend of 100 percent malted barley—mostly from the Niigata Region of Japan—along with a smaller portion of whiskies from the Scottish Lowlands, all of which have been aged in ex-bourbon, oloroso sherry and mizunara casks. The result is a slightly hefty candied walnut, maple and marzipan countenance with a spicy finish.
Coalition Barrel Proof Straight Rye Whiskey
This Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey has been individually finished in Margaux, Pauillac and Sauternes wine barrels to enhance its flavors. The concept was formulated by a “coalition” of three whiskey professionals (hence, the name): Leonid Yangarber, former CEO of Russian Standard Vodka USA; Steve Thompson, owner of Kentucky Artisan Distillers; and Ludwig Vanneron, a veteran vintner and wine consultant. But as any distiller knows, it takes a premium rye whiskey to handle the power locked into these three specific Bordeaux barriques. That is why, although bottles of the individually wine barrel-enhanced rye whiskeys are available at $90 each, the base whiskey, at $140, with its full barrel strength of 108.8 proof, offers the purest flavors of a 100 percent rye whiskey’s deep and sweet spicy richness.
Pendleton Director’s Reserve
This 20-year-old blended Canadian whisky is the official whisky of the Pendleton Round-Up rodeo. In fact, the very spirit of the American West is personified by this ultra-premium whisky’s distinctive bottle, which is wrapped in a leather sleeve with a tooled design by third-generation Pendleton saddlemaker Randy Severe. With warm notes of oak, cinnamon and orange zest, this whisky has been distilled from the finest Northern grains, aged in American oak barrels, and cut with the finest glacier-fed spring water from Oregon’s Mt. Hood. It is a fitting annual salute to the Pendleton Round-Up’s directors—and anyone else who enjoys a rewarding pour at the end of a hard day’s ride.
Robb Report Rare & Fine x WhistlePig
The only thing better than an impeccably crafted fine spirit is one with a unique story to tell. Which is why our friends at WhistlePig helped us create this bespoke, Single Barrel rye whiskey bottled exclusively for Robb Report Rare & Fine at the distillery’s farm in Shoreham, Vermont. Aged for 12 years and expertly finished in Spanish brandy casks, this 86-proof whiskey is a deep red amber in the glass, with an extra-creamy mouthfeel, floral and roasted-fruit notes on the palate and a long, lingering finish with a fiery kick of black pepper—a complex and exceptionally satisfying sipper that you can’t find anywhere else.
Benriach Smoke Season Single Malt
Although Speyside single malts aren’t noted for being overly peaty, back in the 19th century it was one of the hallmarks of Scottish whisky. Benriach revived this mainland tradition about 50 years ago and this year, it has reached a crescendo with their peatiest whisky to date, thanks to master blender Rachel Barrie’s use of intensely peated malt, and using first-fill bourbon barrels combined with a high proportion of charred and toasted American virgin oak casks for aging. The Highland peat delivers an intensely smoky and sweet flavor intermingled with Benriach’s stone fruit notes.
Johnnie Walker Year of the Tiger
Not since 2010 has the Chinese Year of the Tiger made its appearance. Prowling the Chinese Zodiac calendar from February 1, 2022 until January 31, 2023 this winged symbol of strength and courage high in the clouds above a booming metropolis is personified by Johnnie Walker’s latest Blue Label limited edition. With a striking blue and gold design by artist Shan Jiang, the bottle and box portend a celebratory whisky composed of single malts as old as sixty years, many of which are from no longer existing “ghost” distilleries. In fact, only one in 10,000 casks make the grade for this exceptional blended Scotch.
Widow Jane Decadence Bourbon
Bourbon and pancakes? Not so much. But bourbon and maple syrup? Now, there’s a flavorful interlocking that served as an inspiration for this distillery’s president and master blender, Lisa Wicker. It’s a simple premise: take Widow Jane’s signature 10-year old small batch bourbons and then finish them in American oak barrels that once held Upstate New York’s Crown Maple artisan maple syrup. Vanilla, burnt sugar, cinnamon, shortbread and a bit of tobacco are the creamy-rich results. Serve it neat, over one large rock or as an Old Fashioned.
Blue Run 14-Year-Old Small Batch Bourbon
Jim Rutledge, the former master distiller of Four Roses and Bourbon Hall of Fame inductee who “retired” a few years ago, now serves as Blue Run’s liquid advisor. So when he personally approved the barrels that comprise this limited edition small batch bourbon, we had to take notice—especially when we learned just how limited these bottles would be, although as of this writing they can still be found. At 113 proof, it is a compilation of barrels sourced from various undisclosed distilleries. Big and bold, it is slightly buttery, with a dusting of white pepper, tart cherries and a hint of caramel. Just the thing with a cube of ice on a cold winter’s night.
The Macallan Harmony Collection Rich Cacao
Everyone talks about sustainability, but Macallan has now dedicated a whisky to it. In fact, this is the first limited edition in an innovative new series of single malts that will see the brand progress towards even more sustainable packaging. In this case, the bottle labels and the recyclable and biodegradable presentation outer box are made from organic cacao shells, while the box ribbon is made from 81 percent virgin wood pulp. To create the whisky itself, Macallan whisky maker Polly Logan embarked to Girona, Spain, where she collaborated with renowned pastry chef Jordi Roca of El Celler de Can Roca, visiting his chocolate factory, Casa Cacao, while also working with chocolatier Damian Allsop. Combining European sherry and American oak casks, Logan created a whisky reminiscent of chocolate fondant, honey and oak, perfect for pairing with…chocolate.
Fuji Single Grain Whisky
One of the newest Japanese whiskies to be imported to the United States, this is also one of the few whiskies to use snowmelt from Mount Fuji as its water source, as the Fuji Gotemba distillery is located at the base of the mountain. The snowmelt’s 50-year journey from Mt. Fuji’s peak to an underground aquifer sourced by the distillery results in a uniquely soft and pristine water that forms the foundation for this distinctive whisky. A blend of three different grain whiskies, each individually distilled, using American, Canadian and Scottish methods results in a delicate combination of floral and fruity nuances.
Aberfeldy 18 Year Old Limited Edition
Dewar’s Distillery malt master Stephanie MacLeod made history when she became the first woman to be awarded Master Blender of the Year in the 2020 International Whisky Competition (IWC) and she has made it again in 2021 with the distillery’s just-released flagship single malt that has spent 18 years in a combination of first fill, re-char, and refill casks. After that, the whisky, with its signature honeyed fruit and nut-like notes, was finished for up to five months in Côte Rôtie French wine casks, which added a silky, sensuous raspberry, lingonberry (not to be misconstrued for loganberry; lingonberries have a cranberry-like taste) and red current texture to an already excellent whisky.
Crown Royal Noble Collection Rye Aged 16 Years
This limited-edition Canadian rye whisky is the fifth and newest addition in Crown Royal’s multi-award-winning Noble Collection, in which the master blenders in the Gimli, Manitoba, distillery push the boundaries of the brand each year with a new and innovative release. This is, by far, their best effort to date. Composed of 90 percent rye, this elegant whisky, suitable for either sipping or mixing, has a bold and spicy rye aroma that is slightly softened by creamy vanilla, sweet caramel and hints of stone fruit, with cherries, cinnamon and anise coming out in the finish. The heavy, crystal-cut bottle and its iconic purple cloth pouch add to this whisky’s elegance.
Eagle Rare 10 Year Old Bourbon
It seems that every bourbon Buffalo Trace Distillery puts out becomes collectible. Their twice-a-year Stagg Jr. is currently sold out (although a new 18th edition is coming before the end of this year), their recently released Experimental Collection Baijiu-style spirit is so limited the 375ml bottles can’t even be tracked down on e-commerce sites, and, of course, their Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year Old is legendary. But there are still a few gems from this distillery that can be found, one of which is Eagle Rare 10 Year Old. It’s a bargain if you can score a bottle, with its easy-sipping notes of candied almonds, orange peel and leather.
Courage & Conviction American Single Malt Whisky
The phrase, “Have the courage of your convictions” originated in France but it was also a favorite saying of the late Dr. George G. Moore, who founded the Virginia Distillery Company that produces this craft spirit. Consequently, it became the name of Dr. Moore’s original whisky, which he purposely spelled without an “e,” as a tribute to the Scottish style of whisky making. Still family owned, individual bottlings taken from the trio of casks used in creation of the flagship single malt whiskey—bourbon, sherry and red wine—are available, but we favor the original whisky, which is composed of spirits aged in 50 percent ex-bourbon casks, 25 percent sherry casks and 25 percent red wine casks. This double copper pot-distilled spirit is bursting with spicy notes of fruit, cocoa, caramel and butterscotch, with a smooth and creamy finish. Befitting its name, each bottle comes with a magnetically held Courage & Conviction medal that may be removed and carried as an inspirational pocket piece.
The Glenlivet Caribbean Reserve
This non-age statement single malt has been selectively finished in some barrels that had previously held Caribbean rum. And befitting an 80-proof whisky that comes from the tallest stills in Scotland, it is pleasantly light in texture and taste. Perhaps subliminally prompted by this whisky’s name, it evokes the distinctive aromas of pineapples and bananas. Those same essences continue into the first sip, followed by mandarin oranges, vanilla and honeydew lemons. Indeed, a Scottish Mai Tai immediately comes to mind. In fact, Glenlivet’s master distiller, Alan Winchester said, “By bringing rum barrels and Scotch together for the first time in our history, we have brought some bold and tropical Caribbean flavors to our traditional Speyside style.”
Michter’s 10 Year Old Single Barrel Rye
Just like Christmas, this is a whiskey that comes just once each year, mainly because of the rarity of the barrels used. After all, each barrel only yields from 150 to 200 bottles (depending upon the “angel’s share” of evaporation), and in the case of a single-barrel rye, each barrel’s spirit will have some very subtle—but often perceptible—differences in flavors. It should be noted that many of the rye whiskeys in this offering are much older than the age statement on the label. And thanks to the fact that the barrels were toasted and then charred, this particular release is rich with notes of vanilla, toffee and spicy pepper.
Blanton’s Gold Single Barrel Bourbon
Blanton’s—the original single barrel bourbon—was launched in 1984 and has been an award-winning favorite of bourbon connoisseurs ever since. But this year, for the first time, Blanton’s Gold Single Barrel Bourbon will be available in the United States in very limited numbers. Made from the same mash bill as the 93-proof version, this newest iteration is bottled at 103 proof to accent the hearty flavors of buttery apricots, honey and vanilla. To further differentiate this whiskey, the bottle’s distinctive “horse and jockey” stopper is gold in color and is available in eight different running poses. Each of the bottles also bear a single letter that when collected together, spell out the Blanton’s name. Needless to say, some dealers will be charging a premium for this hard-to-find bourbon, a practice that the distillery does not condone.
Although still triple copper pot-distilled by one of Kentucky’s oldest and smallest distilleries, Woodford doesn’t stop there with this bottle. This unique limited-edition variation has been given an extra three years of aging—over and above its average seven years of barrel maturation—in XO Cognac barrels, producing a unique balance of crisp American and French oak notes, resulting in a complex fruit character, with subtle spiciness and a touch of caramel and sweet, moist cedar in the finish. To showcase this French-American link, this 90.4-proof bourbon has been bottled in an elegant Baccarat crystal decanter engraved in gold with the Woodford and Baccarat logos and presented in a Baccarat red box with a crystal stopper featuring Woodford Reserve’s initials.
Aberlour A’Bunadh Alba Whisky
When Aberlour A’Bunadh, a non-chill filtered cask strength single malt made exclusively from first-fill sherry butts was introduced to the United States in the 1990s, it didn’t take long for word of mouth to spread (prior to that, it had only been available at the distillery). Still, it has always been a whisky flying a bit under the radar. But now, representing a unique variation of A’Bunadh, the new A’Bunadh Alba offers a completely different taste profile. Although it remains at cask strength, it has been matured only in first fill American white oak barrels, resulting in vanilla-soaked notes of sweet apples and tart citrus, with none of the resiny thickness associated with A’Bunadh. (Fittingly, Alba means “white” in Gaelic.). Destined exclusively for the United States, Alba will become a regular line extension of Aberlour.
Canadian Club 42 Year Old
In case you missed out on the Canadian Club 41-Year-Old when it was introduced last year—rejoice! This year the Canadian Club 42 Year Old makes its appearance, the second offering in the CC Chronicles series and, of course, another year older and noticeably deeper in flavor. It is, in fact, Canadian Club’s oldest expression to date. As a nod to this whisky’s historic past, Canadian Club 42 Year Old was created to honor the dockworkers of the 1930s, who ensured that only quality whisky was being delivered during a time when counterfeited hooch was rampant during Prohibition (which by this time, had ended in Canada). Having been aged for more than four decades in American oak barrels, this smoothly blended whisky showcases its robust rye, along with notes of malted barley, brown sugar and baking spices. It’s a perfect cold-weather sip to be shared with friends.
Laphroaig Sherry Oak Finish Single Malt
The salty, iodine and seaweed characteristics of Laphroaig are a perfect match for the sweet essences of citrus and slightly salted Spanish Marcona almonds that emanate from González Byass Alfonso Oloroso Seco sherry, so it is a welcome treat for fans of this ultra-smoky Islay single malt to find that Laphroaig distillery manager John Campbell has selected certain casks (only enough to produce 4,450 cases globally) of his ex-bourbon barrel aged 10-year-old whisky and matured them for an additional 12 to 18 months in barrels that formerly held Oloroso seco sherry. Indeed, the influences of the sherried Spanish oak slightly tames, enhances and sweetens the normally robust flavor of Laphroaig, but leaves enough of this best-selling Islay single malt’s characteristics to let you know that it is, indeed, Laphroaig.