12 Whiskies Perfect for Sipping This Christmas
December 14, 2022 –––––– Julia Higgins
For us whisky lovers, ’tis the season for indulging in delicious drams that evoke the holiday spirit. The possibilities span all sorts of decadent scents and flavors—Christmas cookies, candied nuts, cinnamon spice, gingerbread, warm apple pie, and pine needles–that are all comforting this time of year. So here is our Christmas list for you, which includes whiskies that deliver seasonal and festive flavors that have scored at least 90 points. No matter what you’re celebrating this holiday season, it’s a perfect time to grab a glass and share any one (if not all!) of these 12 whiskies with family and friends to make the holidays that much merrier. The whiskies are listed in alphabetical order.
Our Holiday Dram Selections
93 points, Arran 18 year old Scotch Single Malt, 46%, $160
The interplay of floral and sherried notes creates an elegance that other scotches surely envy: candied rose petal, dried orange peel and apricot, sugared almond, raisin, nougat, and dark chocolate on the nose, then candied violet, raisin, date, milk chocolate, dried ginger, candied orange peel, and gingerbread on the palate. The maturity shows in tropical fruit flavors and a deep, probing complexity. It finishes with chocolate, coffee, candied rose petal, and tobacco-laced oak. Seamless.
92 points, Auchentoshan 18 year old Scotch Single Malt, 43%, $160
Slightly smoky on the nose, with notes of mesquite wood and cigar ash, coupled beautifully with Whoppers, vanilla bean, coffee stout, and cookies and cream ice cream. There’s more sweetness on the palate in the form of creamy milk chocolate, alongside café con leche, and spiced Christmas cake. That richness carries over to the finish which is long with smoked meats and espresso. A touch light, but well-balanced and approachable.
92 points, Compass Box Flaming Heart Scotch Blended Malt (2022), 48.9%, $155
After a four-year absence, the new edition brings aromas of earthy peat, chocolate, Brazil nut, peppercorn, ground cumin, paprika, ginger, peppered mackerel, seasoned oak, and cigar wrapper; it’s more a slow burner than a momentary dazzling firework. Baked lemon, roasted chestnuts, chocolate ganache, peppered steak, and rich smoke, plus gingerbread, sultana, raisin, and dates, as the mouthfeel glides from oily to waxy, leaving an invigorating spicy finish.
92 points, GlenDronach PortWood Scotch Single Malt, 46%, $90
This iconic sherried single malt scotch gets an extra-generous helping of fruit from maturation in port pipes at the hands of GlenDronach master blender Rachel Barrie. The result is a decadent and chewy dram that starts off with fig, dried cherries, and glazed banana chips on the nose. The mouth-filling flavors boast rich fruit, with chocolate-covered cherry and spiced Christmas cake before a lingering finish of drying cocoa and gingersnaps. Lush, creamy, and moreish in the extreme. Number 18 in our 2021 Top 20.
92 points, Glenmorangie 14 year old Quinta Ruban Scotch Single Malt, 46%, $55
This Quinta Ruban succeeds the 12 year old version, adding two additional years of finishing in port casks, while maintaining the same bargain price. The result is a symphony of understated opulence. Marzipan, fresh apple and pear, milk chocolate, red berries, candied ginger, and praline on the nose build slowly, leading into a fruity, spiced palate. Flavors of soft gingerbread, molasses cake, cherry pie, spiced plums, almond nougat, and dark chocolate intermingle with faint strains of pipe tobacco. It sings on the finish, with a parting crescendo of hazelnut, spice, cigar wrapper, and lengthy oak. Number 9 in our 2019 Top 20.
92 points, Highland Park 18 year old Viking Pride Scotch Single Malt (2019 Batch), 43%, $155
Christmas warmth in a glass, its maturity showing in complex aromas of baked apple, poached pear, Christmas cake, cinnamon, gingerbread, and cloves, enlivened by a tropical note of lime and a hint of peat. More baking spices on a rich palate that offers milk chocolate, melted caramel, and strawberry jam, with water bringing out notes of candied fruit, chocolate, and more light peat. Nimble, spiced, and replete with flavors to treasure.
91 points, Johnnie Walker 18 year old Blended Scotch, 40%, $85
Complex, elegant textures from the get-go; woodsmoke from a bonfire of green twigs, ashy peat embers, grain stores, vanilla cream, and honey drizzled over baked apples. Golden syrup flapjacks, vanilla fudge, candied apricot, orange peel, Quaker oats, gingerbread, pepper, and a catch of smoke that bridges into the finish, where hints of citrus and golden honeyed grains are found. Classical allure, but eminently accessible.
93 points, Kentucky Peerless Double Oak Bourbon, 54.35%, $85
Double Oak was born of a happy accident, when a leaky barrel forced the distilling team to transfer its liquid to a new charred oak barrel. Exposure to that second barrel gave the whiskey amped-up flavors and lots more complexity. This is a bourbon that has gone into overdrive, and it handles the road just fine. Its syrupy sweet texture is checked by the oak influence, and the palate opens to flavors aplenty—dried peaches, warm apple pie, Christmas spice, gingerbread, raisin cake, chocolate, and pumpkin purée. Perfect as a holiday warmer or a backyard barbecue sipper, this is a whiskey for all seasons. Number 8 in our 2021 Top 20.
90 points, New Riff Red Turkey Wheat Bottled in Bond, 50%, $50
Dry on the nose at first, but opens up to reveal sweet notes of Christmas cake, raisins, banana chips, toffee, and coffee cake, with water bringing lots of vanilla. The palate is smooth, offering flavors of cinnamon cake, baking spice, dried figs, and white pepper. The finish has good length and balance, and is loaded with spice. Adding water brings out spiced chocolate. A big, hefty whiskey that is very approachable.
92 points, O.H. Ingram River Aged Bourbon (Barge #IN068518), 52.5%, $70
Flavorful on the nose, offering fresh orange and red berries, strawberry tart, marzipan, and sweet coffee. A rich chewy palate offers tiramisu and chocolate syrup, with impressive depth and balance chocolate, spice, cinnamon, and cooked fruit, all melding well. This is a big whiskey, exuding winter warmth in the glass, warm bakery shop, and lively spice. Excellent length on the finish, ending with a dessert-like rush of chocolate cream pie and babka.
93 points, Old Overholt Bottled in Bond Rye, 50%, $25
Old Overholt Bottled in Bond bottle. This veteran rye never managed to ascend from the bottom shelf. Perhaps a new generation of enthusiasts couldn’t get behind the staid name, or found the price too low to believe. But having persevered for over two centuries, Old Overholt’s time has come. This new version (indicated by its red cap) eliminates chill-filtering, resulting in greater flavor and depth. Aromas of Christmas spice cake, cinnamon, apple, and toasted grain lead to a mouthful of berry fruit, with seductive allspice, cacao, and walnut notes. What’s old is new again! Number 12 in our 2020 Top 20.
94 points, Wheel Horse Straight Bourbon, 50.5%, $30
Made at Green River Distilling Co. in Owensboro, Kentucky, this shows maturity far beyond its 2 to 4 years in the barrel, with a winning combination of proof and price. Root beer spice, candied pineapple, wet walnuts, clementine, and Christmas cookies on the nose. A velvety texture on the palate brings butter pecan ice cream, cinnamon toast, maple syrup, and vanilla custard. There is tremendous length on the finish, with a cola-like syrupy sweetness throughout. As debuts go, this one impresses. Number 19 in our 2021 Top 20.