Whiskey fans can be hard to please. For every Talisker fan, there’s someone who thinks that Taiwanese Scotch is the only dram worth drinking. And of course, if your giftee is a big whiskey drinker, then it’s likely that whatever whiskey you do buy them, it will already be on their radar.
So consider gifting something a little more creative. We asked 13 whiskey experts across a number of disciplines — from luxury buyers to award-winning bartenders to celebrated restaurateurs — a simple question: What would you give to someone who loves whiskey? They came up with a list of recommendations for every kind of whiskey drinker — from the best whiskey glasses and whiskey ice trays to the best kit for whiskey drinkers, best books for whiskey lovers, and even the best distillery tours to book in the U.K.
Best whiskey glasses
Most expert tasters agree that the perfect whiskey glass has a thin stem, to keep your hand away from your nose, and a bowl-shaped, narrow-rimmed glass to properly channel smells. A Glencairn glass offers both, which is why three of our experts chose it. “Glencairn whiskey glasses are the industry standard, and absolutely the best for getting the most out of your whiskies,” says Katie Groves, from London’s oldest whiskey specialist Milroy’s of Soho. “You can get bespoke ones, or they’ve just launched some colourful ones which are so cool — you can buy them individually or in a set of six, perfect for blind tastings.” David Beaufort-Dysart, restaurant manager at Liverpool’s Panoramic 34, says the Glencairn is “the best glass for whiskey,” as “it keeps the concentrated aromas in the glass for longer,” while Nick Bell, spirits and beers buyer at Harvey Nichols, goes as far as saying that the glass “revolutionised whiskey tasting.” He recommends the travel case, which comes with two glasses in a faux-leather holder: “Perfect for weekends away, long train journeys, picnics, camping trips, and watching the sun go down on the beach with a dram in hand.”
Of course, the best glass for Scotch might not be the best for tasting Irish whiskey. According to Ciarán Smith, co-founder of Islington Irish bar Homeboy, that accolade goes to the Túath. “It’s perfect for nosing and tasting whiskey,” he says. “The flared rim softens the hot alcohol notes and delivers the whiskey right onto the centre of your tongue, letting you identify the subtler notes more easily.” Callooh Callay’s Emily Chipperfield, who says she’s “known for drinking whiskey out of anything but a Glencairn,” is another Túath fan. “In a lot of professional tastings, we have to drink out of the same type of glass, so at home, where I get to choose, I’m drinking out of Túath glasses,” she says. “The lip of the glass is slightly wider and bent to be more comfortable to drink out of, it’s designed in such a way that it can rest on its side while the whiskey is opening up, and … it’s beautiful!”
If you’re not looking for a tasting glass, a classic tumbler is your best bet — Sandy Jarvis, managing director of London pub company The Culpeper Group, recommends a pair from Royal Doulton as a showstopping gift. “If you’re going to enjoy whiskey at home, you’ve got to have good glasses for it — it’s part of the fun and adds to the experience,” he says. “I like something with a bit of weight, and I’m a sucker for the old-school diamond cut.”
Alternatively, Mia Johansson, whose bar Swift was recently ranked the second-best cocktail bar in the U.K., recommends mixing things up by ditching the tumbler for a Riedel Vinum brandy snifter. “They’re beautiful to look at and so much more fun to drink out of,” she says. “Makes it a treat to enjoy all the aromas and hard work in that uisge beatha.”
Best accessories for whiskey lovers
“While this might be anathema to whiskey purists, I like a cube of ice with my single malt,” says Ed Templeton, owner of award-winning culinary hub Carousel. “But it has to be a proper ice cube, so it doesn’t melt in seconds.” Johansson agrees. “Ice isn’t just for cooling; it’s a garnish that enhances the experience,” she says. “Impress with a large ice block straight from the freezer that doesn’t overdilute your beautiful tipple, but keeps it silky smooth.” Templeton recommends OXO’s large ice cubes, while for Johansson, the perfect cooler comes in the form of Ticent & Co.’s oversize ice balls. As for the method? “Ideally use spring water instead of tap,” says Templeton. “And make sure you wash the tray thoroughly before its first use, so your cubes don’t taste of freezer.”
Everyone enjoys their whiskey differently. For those who dilute with a little water, Beaufort-Dysart recommends a glass pipette. “You only want two or three drops of soft mineral water,” he says. “Too much water is a sin!” This version, from Glencairn, should please even the purists.
If your giftee is more of a cocktail fan, a bottle of Angostura Bitters is one of the most versatile companions to whiskey. “It’s a classic when it comes to whiskey cocktail–making, adding depth and character,” says Angelos Bafas, bar manager at SOMA, the new cocktail bar from the team behind Kricket. “It’s used, and needed, in many of the traditional whiskey drinks such as the old-fashioned and Manhattan, so it’s a bottle that needs to be part of every whiskey aficionado’s backbar.”
“Identifying aromas can be annoying, but this kit can help you to teach yourself to pick out notes like a seasoned connoisseur,” says Johnny Florea, bar manager at Peckham’s Smokey Kudu. “Within the kit, you’ll find 24 nosing samples covering a wide variety of aromas that you can find in whiskey, like vanilla or freshly cut hay, along with a handy booklet to guide you through the kit.” Other kits recommended by Florea include Master of Malt’s Home Blending Kit and Mature Your Own Kit, which will allow your giftee to try their hand at creating and naming their own unique whiskies.
Best books for whiskey lovers
Three of our experts recommended books by Tristan Stephenson, better known as the Curious Bartender. Sergio Leanza, owner of cult Peckham cocktail bar Funkidory, says he always turns to Stephenson’s books for “inspiration,” calling his eponymous book “an excellent gift for any whiskey lover.” Bafas agrees. “Every whiskey lover needs to read this at least once,” he says. “Written during the author’s tour of the most famous distilleries in the world, it transports the reader but also offers great knowledge and shares unknown facts about some of the world’s best whiskies.”
Johansson, another fan of Stephenson, prefers his Whiskey Road Trip of America. “It’s a coast-to-coast tour of the most exciting whiskey distilleries in the U.S., in a beautiful hard copy that has that old-worldly feel to it,” she says. “Fireplace on, whiskey in glass, and cosy up for a great read.”
Max Venning, co-founder of Dalston cocktail bar Three Sheets, recommends Dave Broom’s World Atlas of Whisky. “First published in 2010, this is the guide to whiskies from all over the world,” he says. “With tasting notes, distillery maps, and extensive coverage of every whiskey category, a whiskey lover need look nowhere else to keep their curiosity piqued.”
And if you’re looking for something a little different, Chipperfield is a big fan of Fred Minnick’s Whiskey Women. “When someone who thinks they know a lot about whiskey asks me with surprise if I like drinking whiskey, or tells me it’s unusual for a woman or someone of my age to do so … I understand that they don’t actually know much about whiskey,” she says.
Best whiskey subscription
Venning, whose bar Three Sheets was recently ranked the third-best cocktail bar in the U.K., says a subscription to Whisky Me would make the perfect gift. “It’s an incredible subscription service that will introduce your chosen whiskey lover to new whiskies each month,” he says. “Founded by the two owners of Black Rock, an East London bar that has been making whiskey more accessible for years, each month the subscriber gets sent a dram of a selected whiskey to try at home.” Recent “drops” have included Scottish distilleries like Jura and Oban, America’s Bulleit Bourbon, and even an English whiskey from the Lakes Distillery.
Best whiskey tours
“You could book a monthlong trip of distillery tours without even scratching the surface,” says Templeton. “But if you only have time for one, I’d recommend Bruichladdich.” The distillery, which is also home to the Botanist gin, is located on the Isle of Islay in the Inner Hebrides. “It’s breathtakingly beautiful and well worth the pilgrimage,” he says. “But if you’re going for the whiskies, they do not disappoint.”
Roberta Hall-McCarron, Scottish chef and founder of Edinburgh’s the Little Chartroom and Eleanore, recommends the Glenturret distillery in Crieff as another must-do whiskey pilgrimage. “It’s the oldest distillery in Scotland,” she explains. “Follow the tour up with a whiskey tasting and a meal in their amazing restaurant, and you’re onto an absolute winner of a gift.”
Alternatively, if you’re London-based and looking for a tour which won’t require a stopover, the Cotswolds Distillery offers a reasonably priced tour and tasting a little closer to home. “I love the distillery, it’s such a charming little place, they’re great people, and I’ve always enjoyed their whiskey,” Groves says. “This is a great gift for two people, even if only one of them loves whiskey, because they also make gin and liqueurs.”
And the best whiskey to gift
Lastly, if you want to give a whiskey, our experts suggest going for something superlative but off the radar. Nc’nean is a relatively young, female-founded distillery on the West Coast of Scotland, whose organic, ecofriendly single malt was the overwhelming favourite when we asked drinks experts to choose the best whiskey to buy right now. “I’ve only recently discovered them,” says Jarvis. “Their single malt is elegant and very well-balanced, with some soft notes of citrus.”
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