Whisky gifting made easy
Words by Natalie Norman, Pics by Marc Pendlebury & Andrew Howes Photography
Finding the perfect gift can often turn into a daunting task because it’s not always easy to find something that shows how much thought you’ve put into the gifting process. Whether the recipient is a connoisseur or brand new to the whisky experience, the world of whisky offers an intricate and diverse gift range to explore.
Marc Pendlebury, renowned whisky blogger and owner of the WhiskyBrother speciality whisky store, chats about the different ‘personalities’ of whisky and how you can find the right match for that special person in your life.
“What many people don’t know is that whisky is considered to have the greatest range of flavours out of all the spirit categories,” he says. “If you’ve tried one or two different whisky flavours, it’s not to say that you necessarily know what whisky tastes like. Similarly, just because someone has tried a whisky or two that they don’t like, doesn’t mean they can’t like whisky.”
Whisky, or whiskey, depending on the country it is produced in (or the spelling the producer chooses to adopt if the country doesn’t dictate the spelling), is the result of distilling a grain mash and then maturing the resulting clear spirit in oak casks for several years. Different countries have traditions of different types of whiskies, and the variance in flavours is as diverse as the countries that make it these days, including places such as Taiwan, Finland, France and even two producers on our very own South African soil.
Currently, the most widely drunk category of whisky across the world is blended whisky. Blended whisky is the result of carefully blending whisky together that has been made at more than one distillery, and includes both malt whisky that is made entirely of malted barley and grain whisky that usually includes grains like corn, rye, wheat and unmalted barley. You’ve no doubt come across brands such as Johnnie Walker, Chivas Regal and Famous Grouse - these are blended whiskies. Single malts are the product of just a single distillery, which only uses malted barley to make their whisky. Single malts account for only approximately 10% of whisky consumed globally and include big names such as Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, The Macallan and Lagavulin.
Pendlebury explains that even within each brand of whisky there can be a diverse range of unique flavours, which makes it difficult to broadly categorise across the range. Sixty to seventy percent of the whisky’s flavour comes from the casks that were used to mature the whisky. Depending on the age of the cask, the previous contents it held (if any), the origin of the oak, the size of the cask and how long the whisky is matured in it, a distillery can produce many different variances of whisky from their single distillery.
Due to the large selection of whisky and its many flavours on offer, Pendlebury maintains that what is important to keep in mind is that, like food, your choice of whisky at any given occasion should be based on the time of the day, season, company and mood. You need to select a flavour to fit the occasion.
Finding the perfect fit
When purchasing whisky as a gift for someone else, there are three main factors to bear in mind. Most importantly, do they prefer single malts or blends? Are they already invested in a preferred brand or are they more adventurous and game to try something new?
These factors can help you select the right whisky as a gift for that special person. If the recipient is stuck in their ways, then there is nothing wrong with giving them the brand of whisky they most favour. Alternatively, one could consider whisky accessories such as proper whisky tasting glasses or an informative whisky book.
If the person you are looking to spoil is more open-minded, then feel free to have fun selecting something more unusual and lesser known. Look for interesting packaging, bottle shapes or unfamiliar names. Just make sure the labelling on the whisky clearly discloses its provenance, and there is no shame in asking an attendant for a second opinion or a recommendation.
Ranging in price from less than R200 to several thousand rand, you’ll be able to find an appropriate gift on any budget. “It’s good to be aware that just because a particular whisky is more expensive, it doesn’t mean that it is of a higher quality,” cautions Pendlebury. “Similarly, age is not necessarily an indicator of quality either. Young whiskies can be fantastic and older whiskies can be over wooded and unbalanced. Worry less about age and more about quality and flavour.”
A whisky’s age is determined by how long it stood in a cask patiently maturing. Each year in Scotland, a cask will experience approximately 2% evaporation, commonly referred to as the ‘Angel’s share’. Over the years, the Angels can get quite thirsty and consume large volumes of the whisky, resulting in a significantly reduced output. This is one of the main reasons old whiskies are more costly.
Three top gift choices from the expert himself:
1. Balvenie Single Barrel 15 Year Old, single malt: Geared more for the serious whisky enthusiast, this whisky is an absolute stunner and because it is always the output of just a single cask, each batch varies slightly from the previous one.
2. Great King Street, blended whisky: Introduced into the market last year, this is a fantastic blend from the boutique whisky blender called Compass Box, which has consistently produced award-winning whiskies.
3. Bruichladdich Classic, single malt: If the attention-seeking, bright aqua packaging doesn’t catch your attention, then the authentic single malt inside will. A fine whisky indeed and suited to the newcomer just as much as the ardent connoisseur.
Visiting a store such as WhiskyBrother is an ideal way to learn about whisky and ensures you come away with the right selection. Stocking whisky from around the world, the WhiskyBrother store boasts the largest selection of whisky in the Johannesburg, as well as a complementary range of merchandise such as glassware, books and magazines. Browsing one of the most prominent whisky outlets in the country is an experience all in itself.
If you would like to find out more about whisky, then pop into the WhiskyBrother shop at Hyde Park Corner, check out their website, www.whiskybrother.com, or follow Marc on twitter @WhiskyBroShop.
Source: DO IT NOW