Christmas is a time for... well, drinking whisky. But more than that, it is a time for buying whisky, with many shops and supermarkets discounting core range offerings.
And we aren’t going to complain with that. In fact, as much as there have been some premium purchases at Caskstrength Towers this year, there are always bargains to be had.
In a week where Chelsea footballer and Egland captain John Terry, on something mental like £150,000 per week, is spotted shopping in PoundLand, we know all too well, coming from a music business background, that a ‘bargain’ is too often associated with, erm, stock that doesn’t sell. The bargain bin is the last place you want an album or a DVD to end up. However, when it comes to whisky, we’ll always take a bargain.
This week, as the Christmas shopping began to get into full swing, I found myself in my local Waitrose.
Having developed a partnership with uber-chef Heston Blumenthal over the past few years, which included sell-out items such as a Christmas Pudding with a hidden candied orange in the middle, so popular that in their first year they ended up on eBay for up to £200, the supermarket doesn’t shirk away from playing in the premium arena.
However, despite it’s ‘#middleclass’ appeal, Waitrose is not afraid of a bargain. Both of us have picked up some excellent items over the years in Waitrose, with a Port Ellen 3rd release at a shade over £100 and a Laphroaig 30 Years Old at around £150 as two examples of great whisky-steals!
But it doesn’t have to be all top-end whisky; no Sir. In fact, this week there was an opportunity at Waitrose to start a whisky cabinet with just two statement whiskies, for less than £60. If you don’t live in the UK, or near a Waitrose, look away now.
The first bottle is a stalwart of the whisky fraternity; one which people hail often as turning point for them in their journey to discovering peat and, once in, will graduate up to their sublime 18 year old offering. The whisky in question is Highland Park 12 Years Old, which
Waitrose has on sale for just £24.68 for 70cl. I'll repeat that: £24.68p.
Highland Park – 12 Years Old – Single Malt Whisky – 70cl – 40% abv
Nose: a delicate waft of peat comes out of the glass, but this is not turned up to 11, but sitting comfortably at about a 6 or a 7. This allows complimentary aromas of sweet honey, crunchie bar (honey comb and milk chocolate), freshly cut grass and some menthol to sit on a bed of light peat; the opposite way around to most smoky malts.
Palate: vanilla peat is the first flavour to come through with light orange cream, dark chocolate this time and some elements of parma violets. A good slug of malted milk / maltesers and that delicate peat again at the death.
Finish: sweet with a peaty roundness.
Overall: probably the introduction to smoky whisky which doesn’t drag you down a dark alleyway and mug your taste buds, but takes it out for dinner for an eloquent chat.
Now, if you choose to fork out twenty five of you hear earned pounds on the HP12, you’ll have one of the trinity of great Scotch expressions that you need for the foundations of a good whisky cabinet. The third and final piece of the jigsaw is a cracking blend, but we’ll come to that in another post in a few days time, with the missing link being, of course, a great non-peated whisky, from the Lowlands, Highlands or Speyside region of Scotland.
And again, Waitrose is the place to turn for a true bargain here.
It’s no secret that we have a love for The Balvenie 12 Year Old Doublewood and I don’t know many people who don’t love, love, love this easy drinking dram. But at the moment, forget the 12 year old as The Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14 Year Old is on sale for £33 at Waitrose.
Considering the 12 year old Doublewood is £32 and this older expression is over £10 more at other whisky-specific outlets, this really is an absolute steal.
The Balvenie – 14 Years Old – Caribbean Cask – 43% abv
Nose: So, this whisky has been ‘finished’ in rum casks, hence the name... and this fact is immediately obvious as a huge sweetness rises from the glass; but not an ordinary saccharine sweet. This is very much a darker, molasses-based sweetness that you’d find in a Navy Rum. Rich and enticing, this is about as sweet as whisky gets without being sickly or false.
Palate: the flavour delivers exactly what the nose promises: strong, malty, sweet tones that saddle strong Navy rums with a mix of the more elderly Armagnacs I’ve tried. Very bold, yet balanced, this really is a step up from the 12 Year Old Doublewood, but be warned, if you like a full-on American oak influenced heavy vanilla palate, this isn’t for you. The vanilla is there, but this is old, rich, real Madagascan vanilla sweetened with heavy brown sugar.
Finish: a wonderfully rich, smooth finish which, again, leans towards an old French brandy than a teenage Scotch.
Overall: For under £35? Are you having a laugh? Do what I did and buy, buy, buy.
So there you have it; great Scotch does not have to be expensive and if you’re one of those muttering about age statements disappearing and the price of Scotch rising, here are two great examples of single malts which will quite rightly prove you wrong!
Of course, you could always go for the best December bargain of all, and order one of the few bottles of 3D Whisky left...