Christmas whiskies for all

glass of whisky with festive decorations

It’s 20 years since US psychologist Barry Schwartz wrote The Paradox of Choice – Why More is Less, a book which addresses a particular anxiety prevalent in modern society.

Schwartz argues that having more choice, rather than opening up opportunities, instead leaves us with a sense of powerlessness. It’s a sentiment that will be familiar to anyone who’s scrolled through Netflix menus or Spotify playlists… What should I choose? How do I choose? And what if I miss out on something great?

Whisky lovers know that feeling, too. There are more whiskies, from more places, with more flavours and styles, than ever before – and never is that phenomenon more evident than at Christmas, when we are bombarded with a multitude of tempting bottles.

The good news? Whether you’re hunting down present options for loved ones, self-gifting with a special treat, or just looking for a tasty dram to offer Santa on Christmas Eve, the perfect whisky does exist.

Not objectively perfect – that’s probably impossible, not to mention dull – but ideal instead for a particular occasion, or person. The perfect whisky is really a perfect whisky moment: a coming together of people, place, time and liquid to give joy. And what better time for that than Christmas?

The Bruichladdich distillery on the island of Islay

The Bruichladdich distillery on the island of Islay. Credit: Iain Masterton / Alamy Stock Photo

The perfect whisky for novices

Everyone’s beginning in whisky is different, but there’s usually a dram that converts you from curious outsider to devoted fan. It may not be a light whisky – for some, an Islay peat bomb will be the clincher – but your flavour preferences can help light the way. So, if you love lipsmacking, zesty fruit, then Glenmorangie 10 Year Old (Alc 40%, £27-£40/70cl Widely available) is a classic gateway malt. But those who hanker after something darker might plump for Glenfarclas 105 Cask Strength (60%, £52-£70/70cl Widely available), a big, friendly Sherry giant.

Green Spot Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey, Ireland
A modern classic, this is a fantastic example of single pot still Irish whiskey, with singing, tangy orchard fruit, a dry cereal backbone and an appealing finish of toffee and spice. Pure drinking pleasure. Alcohol 40%

The perfect whisky for Scotch lovers

Finding a whisky that universally pleases fans of Scotch is extraordinarily tricky, if not downright impossible. Do you go smoky – but not too smoky – with the peat/fruit/oak poise of Highland Park 18 Year Old Viking Pride (43%, £115- £139/70cl Widely available)?

Or veer towards the super-fruity with a classic expression from a sometimes overlooked distillery, such as Longmorn 18 Year Old Secret Speyside Collection (48%, £103-£111/70cl Widely available), positively dripping with juicy mango and pineapple?

Compass Box Artist Blend, Scotland 
True Scotch lovers never dismiss blends – especially not when they’re as appealing and balanced as this beauty from John Glaser at Compass Box. A tribute to Edinburgh, its malt-heavy recipe (55%, Linkwood to the fore, alongside Balmenach and Clynelish) offers a whistle-clean all-rounder, with punchy orchard fruit, caramel and a mouthwatering salinity. Alc 43%

The perfect whisky for single malt fans

Single malts are all about character, and place. It’s hard to separate the taste of Laphroaig, Ardbeg or Lagavulin from the seaweed reek of Islay’s Kildalton coast. But associations between flavour and locale can shift. Speyside is a kaleidoscope of styles, from lightly fruity to heavily funky. For that reason, I adore Mossburn Vintage Casks’ bottling of Benrinnes 2008 (54.9%, £73.95-£80/70cl Widely available) for its softening of the distillery’s meaty distillate via an ex-Moscatel cask.

Meikle To?ir 5 Year Old The Original, Scotland
Doubly exciting: the first peated GlenAllachie (near Dufftown in Speyside) from Master Distiller Billy Walker, and the first release since he opted to extend fermentation times to a formidable 160 hours….

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