Forget the tinsel, mistletoe and dreidels; it wouldn’t be the holidays without a glass of Scotch. The delicious whisky is, of course, Scotland’s thoughtful gift to the world. But with an unprecedented selection of bottles on store shelves, how do you find a great present? To help you out, we asked Mike Ryan, head bartender at Chicago’s Sable Kitchen & Bar (which offers more than 180 different single malts and blends), for some of his favorites.
Looking for a classic Speyside whisky? Ryan recommends Aberlour A’Bunadh, which is “uncut and unfiltered, resulting in a bold, nutty, deeply complex malt that will captivate.” Add a few drops of water, and you’ll release notes of fruit, ginger and dark chocolate.
“This is the kind of whisky that makes me weak in the knees,” says Ryan. While the distillery is secretive about the type of casks the 19-year-old spirit was aged in, according to Ryan, “it’s all about what’s in the glass: big spice, round and robust body, long and complex finish.”
Some of the most unique bottlings come from boutique Scotch brand Compass Box. Ryan likes its complex The Peat Monster, which “is, surprise, a smoky blend, primarily of Caol Ila and Ardmore, but with a smattering of other malts tossed in.”
Highland Park comes from the windswept Orkney Islands at the northern tip of Scotland. The distillery’s fine 15-year-old whisky is “lightly peated, spicy, bold and peppery, with underlying honey and pear notes that build toward a rousing, long finish,” Ryan says.
Ryan calls Laphroaig Quarter Cask a “throwback,” since it was aged in traditional smaller barrels that are rarely used today. These casks allow for more wood contact. The result? “A richly bodied, highly aromatic, very direct malt that plucks at the heartstrings of anyone who has an ounce of whisky love in them,” he says.