Gift Guide: 7 Of The Best Whiskies Over 18 Years Old To Buy (Or Receive) This Holiday Season

Gift Guide: 7 Of The Best Whiskies Over 18 Years Old To Buy (Or Receive) This Holiday Season

Looking for a special bottle to enjoy this winter? Or perhaps an exceptional dram to ring in the new year? Look no further. We’ve got you covered.

News | 23 Dec 2022 | By Christopher Coates

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It’s the season of giving, and what better gift could there be than a bottle of whisky? While all experienced Scotch drinkers know that older doesn’t always mean better, it remains a fact that many whiskies become especially complex around 18 years old — and often become even more so from there on out.

As whiskies approach their second decade in cask, distillery character tends to be fully integrated with cask influence, and this means the experience usually reaches new heights of elegance, complexity, balance and sophistication. Of course, only a small proportion of all the spirit produced at any distillery is aged for this long. As a result, the best whiskies aged 18 years and over often come with a corresponding hike in price, when compared to younger drams. But when the time calls for a special gift for a friend or loved one, you feel like giving yourself a treat, or perhaps to mark a special occasion like Christmas or the New Year, the exceptional quality of some of the best whiskies aged between 18 and 30 years old means that the value – in terms of complexity, scarcity, and depth of flavour – generally far outweighs the price tag.

The real attraction of whiskies with age statements ranging from 18 to 30 years old is that some of the best quality liquid available can be found here at prices that are still reasonably accessible – that is to say, one doesn’t need a bank balance fit to pay for a private jet and a yacht to build a respectable collection of truly remarkable aged whiskies. We’ve picked seven that have really impressed us in 2022, so whatever your reason for seeking out a special dram, the bottles on this list of great Scotch whiskies over 18 years old is sure to fit the bill.

The legendary dram room at Ardbeg Distillery.

Ardbeg Traigh Bhan 19 Years Old (Batch 4)


Named for Islay’s Traigh Bhan, a beach known locally as the ‘Singing Sands’, this 19-year-old single malt was announced as the new permanent addition to Ardbeg’s line-up in August 2019. Pronounced ‘Tri-Van’, this Ardbeg expression is released annually (usually around September) and is the second-to-oldest whisky in the distillery’s core range — the superb 25 Years Old being the eldest.

The Ardbeg Traigh Bhan is notable for the fact that the cask make-up is deliberately altered for each annual release, in order to present whisky fans with an evolving picture of aged Ardbeg. Though peat-derived aromas and flavours tend to diminish with age, the Ardbeg Traigh Bhan 19 Years Old remains distinctly smoky on the nose, with beautiful floral notes evocative of lychee and melon. Overall, the 19-year-old has been the most delicate expression in the core range across all four of its batches, and it has just a hint of the tropical notes found in the 25 Years Old. The whisky is, of course, non-chill-filtered and has been bottled at 46.2% ABV.

The most recent batch had an RRP of £210, though its limited availability has led most retailers that still have stock listing it for £220 to £250 per 70cl bottle. Thankfully, it appears at auction regularly and, including fees and postage, it can be won for close to the RRP.

We recommend tasting it side-by-side with the Ardbeg 5 Years Old ‘Wee Beastie’, Ardbeg 10 Years Old, and, if you’re a committee member (you should be – it’s free), the Ardbeg 8 Years Old For Discussion to get a feel for quite how significantly the better part of two decades in cask tempers the distillery’s rambunctious, heavily peated but fruity and subtly floral style.

Ardbeg Traigh Bhan 19 Years Old (Batch 4) is available online and at good whisky specialists.

 

Ardbeg

Traigh Bhan 19 Years Old (Batch 4) Single Malt Scotch Whisky
LVMH
 
ABV: 46.2%
BOTTLING: Distillery
STYLE: Single Malt
REGION: Islay
PRICE: £210
AVAILABILITY: Limited.
 
 
Nose: Lychee, honeydew melon, brioche, vanilla pod, fresh blueberry and smoked pears. Delicate daffodil florals, fresh red apple, and fennel. Thick brandy cream, a whiff of diesel, pickled radish, chive and charred green peppers.
 
Palate: Medium. Baked green apple, smoked vanilla, blueberry pie, eucalyptus oil, baked fennel, cardamom custard, and charcoal. Some kiwi and delicate mandarin, too.
 
Finish: Medium. Delicate, on charcoal and dried mango. Just a hint of ripe tomato skin.
 
Comments: This is a nuanced dram that will wow those who can appreciate the nuances of aged Ileachs. However, those looking for big and bold peaty flavours would be better to look to younger expressions, like the Ardbeg 8 Years Old For Discussion.



The Balvenie 27 Years Old "A Rare Discovery From Distant Shores"

The Balvenie 27 Years Old ‘A Rare Discovery From Distant Shores’


A limited release that is planned to be on shelves for around two years, The Balvenie 27 Years Old ‘A Rare Discovery From Distant Shores’ is part of the Speyside distiller’s popular ‘Stories’ range, which is made up of whiskies that tie into tales from The Balvenie’s past. This particular expression is remarkable for having had a particularly long ‘finishing’ period of seven years in ex-Caroni rum casks — a duration that is perhaps better thought of as a second maturation.

Though this could be seen as a ‘spiritual’ older sibling of The Balvenie 14 Years Old Caribbean Cask, the distillery’s core rum-cask offering, the whisky-making process for this Stories edition was actually quite different. The Caribbean Cask is produced using 14-year-old whisky that’s been matured in traditional American oak ex-bourbon barrels and hogsheads which is then given a finishing period in ex-rum casks for less than a year.

Generally, short finishes deliver a pronounced influence from the product that was previously in the finishing cask. As a result, many rum-finished whiskies have a distinct ‘rummy’ aroma that can be picked out on the nose immediately – but that isn’t the case for this 27-year-old. Instead, ‘A Rare Discovery From Distant Shores’ offers a fully integrated experience that shows The Balvenie’s spirit off at its best, with the distillery’s trademark honeyed character remaining front and centre, while the rum casks have enhanced and emphasised grassy, white fruit and tropical notes.

Reportedly, 400 nine-litre cases have been released, which is roughly 5,142 70cl bottles. (Though the real number will be less as it’s also been bottled for the US market in a 75cl format.) Importantly, the brand has indicated that there’s no more ex-Caroni cask stock waiting in the wings to supply another batch — so when it’s gone, it’s gone. For now, The Balvenie 27 Years Old ‘A Rare Discovery From Distant Shores’ can be found online and in a few specialist retailers.

The Balvenie

27 Years Old ‘A Rare Discovery From Distant Shores’ Single Malt Scotch Whisky
William Grant & Sons
 
ABV: 48%
BOTTLING: Distillery
STYLE: Single Malt
REGION: Speyside
PRICE: £1,120
AVAILABILITY: Limited
 
 
Nose: Floral honey, mandarin segments, crème brûlée, and distinctive strawberry and kiwi notes. Coconut ice, white chocolate, and caramel too. Under it all, a delicate grassiness, with some dried pineapple and passion fruit notes. Some cinnamon, clove, and distinctive root ginger.
 
Palate: Medium-full. Immensely juicy, with a notably tropical character. Very ripe pineapple, passion fruit, lemon drizzle cake and candied lime. The honeyed distillery character, present in all of the distillery’s expressions, is here in abundance. Ripe nectarine, delicate almond, apple pie and custard.
 
Finish: Long, with an ending on apple pie and some slightly tart peach.
 
Comments: An excellent example of a fully integrated rum-cask maturation that delivers real complexity.



Ron Welsh, master blender at Bowmore, with last year"s Masters" Selection 21 Years Old.

Bowmore Aston Martin Masters’ Selection 22 Years Old


It’s accepted as fact among disciples of Bowmore that something special happens when this elegant Ileach’s spirit reaches its late teens and early 20s. While pleasing enough at 10 and even 15 years old, the distillery’s lightly peated style seems to develop exponentially around its second decade in cask. Delicate tropical notes that are subtly present in the younger spirit become more evident in the 18 Years Old and are distinctly pronounced by the early 20s. Meanwhile, the distillery’s trademark ‘sweet peat’ morphs into liquorice and aromas reminiscent of maduro cigar wrappers.

Examples of single casks around this age, like those that can sometimes be tried during the legendary No.1 Vaults cask tasting tour at the distillery, show that these characteristics are common to both ex-bourbon and sherry-matured Bowmores, while those cask types also lend the expected coconut-vanilla and raisin-almond notes respectively. There’s little better than Bowmore at this age – and that’s before master blender Ron Welsh has worked his magic. In the right proportions, these two traditional cask types yield some of the most delicious whisky being made today, and this partnership release with Aston Martin is no exception.

A successor to the 21-year-old edition of Masters Selection released in 2021, this year’s offering is the result of the second year of collaboration between Bowmore master blender Ron Welsh and Aston Martin chief creative officer Marek Reichman, and the duo have upped the ante once more in terms of quality. Made up of whisky matured in American oak hogsheads and sherry butts, distilled in 1997 and 2000 respectively, the Bowmore 22 Years Old Masters' Selection is immensely complex and impeccably balanced, with full integration of spirit and oak.

Sold out almost everywhere, the Bowmore Masters Selection 22 Years Old will now have to be sought out by most whisky fans in the secondary market, where it is currently trading for just above its RRP (including average fees and postage). Given the quality of the liquid and Bowmore’s present trajectory, we recommend buying one to drink and one to keep.

Bowmore

22 Years Old Masters' SelectionSingle Malt Scotch Whisky
Beam Suntory
 
ABV: 51.5%
BOTTLING: Distillery
STYLE: Single Malt
REGION: Islay
PRICE: £390
AVAILABILITY: Limited
 
 
Nose: Liquorice, ripe mango and dried pineapple. Wood smoke, chopped almonds, heather honey and maple-coated smoked bacon. Rich raisin, dried fig and maduro cigar wrapper. Baked fennel, eucalyptus and subtle tea tree oil. Violin rosin and peach, too.
 
Palate: Medium-full. The ABV and intense tropical fruit make for a mouth-watering dram, with almost no heat. Superbly integrated smoke, ripe peach, very ripe pineapple and mango. Amarena cherry, baked banana, sweet and juicy blackberries, and amaretto biscuit.
 
Finish: Long, on smoked banana, heather honey and juicy mango.
 
Comments: Immensely complex and incredibly moreish — a real whisky lover’s whisky that is faithful to the exceptionally high standards and luxury credentials of Aston Martin.

Deanston"s master distiller, Brendan McCarron, and master blender, Julieann Fernandez.



Deanston Organic 21 Years Old Fino Cask Finish (Distilled 2000)


This whisky would be remarkable enough simply for being made up entirely of spirit distilled in 2000 that’s certified organic, as organic certification for whisky distilleries was practically unheard of at the time and remains uncommon today. The reasons for this are twofold. Firstly, organic barley tends to result in a lower overall alcoholic yield because, simply put, conventionally grown grains tender to be bigger and packed with more starch, the key component that the spirit-production process converts alcohol.

Secondly, organic production upsets the usual workings of the distillery, and of course, interruption of the routine in any factory generally leads to loss of productivity. This is because organic certified products must be made using barley and casks (including any other wines or spirits used to season those casks) that are also certified organic, and the distillery must have undergone inspections of ringfenced, dedicated organic spirit production that guarantees no chance of contamination by non-organic elements. So far, the finance director is not happy.

That these logistic and regulatory hurdles had already been cleared at the time of this spirit’s distillation at the turn of the new millennium, long before organic produce had been properly accepted as a viable commercial offering for the mainstream, shows considerable foresight on the part of the team at Burn Stewart Distillers, then the owner of the Deanston Distillery Company. It’s also worth remembering that, at the time, the Scotch whisky industry was still recovering from the devasting slump of the 1980s to early 90s, and it had yet to enter the present boom time, so undertaking any activity that incurred extra headaches and expense shows real commitment.

However, this whisky’s organic credentials are only one piece of the puzzle: the second being its finish in fino sherry casks. Unlike the more commonly used oloroso, which is an oxidatively aged sherry that usually has an alcoholic strength between 18-22%, fino is biologically aged under a layer of flor and, in order to keep those microorganisms happy, its ABV is generally around 15% ABV. Its flavour profile is also radically different. While oloroso is notable for its distinctive peanut nuttiness and dried fruit characteristics, fino tends to be evocative of crisp green apple and blanched almond, with slight salinity and a distinctive ‘yeastiness’ similar to sourdough bread.

On the rare occasions fino casks are used for whisky making, many of these characteristics seems to be present in the whiskies, along with some slightly vegetal and herbal aromas – both of which this 21-year-old Deanston has in spades. The fino casks play spectacularly well with Deanston's fruity and wonderfully waxy spirit. The result is an immensely complex whisky that exhibits characteristics usually found only in whiskies double, or even treble its age. This is certainly a dram for those who like a little of the ‘old whisky funk’, without breaking the bank.

Availability of the Deanston Organic 2000 21 Years Old is limited. It is sold online and by specialists.

Deanston

21 Years Old Organic Distilled 2000 Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Distell
 
ABV: 50.9%
BOTTLING: Distillery
STYLE: Single Malt
REGION: Highland
PRICE: £180
AVAILABILITY: Limited
 
 
Nose: Sticky toffee pudding, muscovado sugar, coffee cake, plum wine, and tomato skin. Gingerbread with lots of nutmeg. Black treacle, liquorice and clove-studded oranges. Beeswax and black cherry. Pipe tobacco and quince jelly. Subtle oyster mushroom, sourdough doughnuts with cardamom and cinnamon sugar, and a touch of milk chocolate.
 
Palate: Coffee cake, Medjool dates, pistachio butter, and plum and black cherry jam. Subtle sage and tarragon bring a herbal edge. Black miso umami is lightened by the freshness of candied orange. Cinder toffee and golden syrup-doused flapjack, with apricot pieces. Waxy red apple and proper honeycomb.
 
Finish: Long and waxy, with chewy muscovado and slight earthiness.
 
Comments: Immensely complex. Great value at twice the price for spirit of this quality.

 

The Fettercairn 18 Years Old



Fettercairn 18 Years Old



Even dedicated whisky enthusiasts would be forgiven if they hadn’t heard of Fettercairn four or five years ago. Though the distillery was founded in 1824, it was only in the past couple of years that it has been earnestly marketed as a brand of single malt, having previously predominantly supplied stock for blending to its parent company Whyte & Mackay. And boy were whisky fans missing out.

This Angus-based distillery has a spirit character quite unlike any other: it’s simultaneously bready and totally tropical. Its cereal-driven, biscuity base notes are joined by fragrant pineapple, mango, passionfruit and guava, with some more traditional apple and pear notes in there for good measure. Thus, before even entering a cask, Fettercairn already boasts one of the most characterful new spirits to be found in the country.

Then comes maturation, which for most of this whisky’s 18 years of ageing was conducted in traditional American oak casks, which tend to deliver lots of vanilla, coconut and a touch of baking spice. Generally, the tropical notes found in Fettercairn are emphasised by this style of maturation, while its inherent biscuit notes develop into flavours reminiscent of pie crust and apple crumble.

However, what makes this whisky particularly remarkable is its finish in casks made from 100% Scottish oak – a style of maturation that has never before been applied to a continuously available, core-range product. Before Fettercairn master whisky maker Gregg Glass came on the scene, there was no existing stable supply chain to direct Scottish oak to cooperages, and only one or two coopers in the entire country who had the skills to build a cask completely from scratch. Thus, in order to guarantee a supply of Scottish oak casks, Gregg had to set up a network – dubbed the Scottish oak programme – that connected the dots between various estates across Scotland, a local sawmill and a partner cooperage.

Scottish oak is not widely grown for forestry in Scotland, on account of its slow growth, and most of the old trees that remain are scattered sporadically across the country. On account of its scarcity, many that do remain are protected. However, this wasn’t always the case. Centuries ago, oak was abundant in Scotland and was a key species found in woodlands known as ‘temperate rainforests’, which once covered much of Scotland’s landmass, though they were also deliberately planted at various points throughout the country’s history, especially on Victorian estates.

Because of this, all of the Scottish oak directed to cooperage by the Scottish Oak Programme is wind-felled or has been felled due to the tree coming to the end of its natural life. What’s more, a planting scheme has seen over 15,000 young oaks planted in nursery fields, helping to secure the future of Scottish oak, and the economic impact of the Programme has helped support local artisans, woodworkers, and the nearby Fasque sawmill.

Perhaps most importantly, Scottish oak casks impart unique characteristics to the whisky – principally, aromas of apricot and spice – that make the Fettercairn 18 Years Old a truly remarkable dram.

Fettercairn 18 Years Old is part of the distillery's core range and is now available online and from good specialist retailers.

Fettercairn

18 Years Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Whyte & Mackay

 

ABV: 46.8
BOTTLING: Distillery
STYLE: Single Malt
REGION: Highland
PRICE: £175
AVAILABILITY: Core Range
 
 
Nose: Dried pineapple and mango pieces, fresh passionfruit and cantaloupe melon. Heather honey, fresh apricot, baked fennel, porridge, and vanilla sponge cake. Candied peels and fresh root ginger.
 
Palate: Medium bodied. Intense and concentrated fruit, especially passion fruit and nectarine. Physalis and candied ginger. Blackberry and cherry jam on wholemeal toast.
 
Finish: Long. The fruits subside leaving sweet cereals — like porridge with lots of honey.
 
Comments: Beautifully balanced, with all the elements that make Fettercairn great honed wonderfully by age. The Scottish oak plays its part but does not overwhelm or steal the show, which is a mark of a well-executed cask finish.

 

The Glenfiddich Grande Couronne 26 Years Old

Glenfiddich Grande Couronne 26 Years Old

 

Glenfiddich’s ‘Grand’ series of spirits has coalesced over the past four years and now includes a line-up of three Speyside single malt whiskies aged for over 21 years. Originally a standalone product, the original member of the family was the rum cask-finished Glenfiddich Gran Reserva 21 Years Old, which was later joined by the French wine cask-finished Glenfiddich Grand Cru 23 Years Old – itself notable for utilising casks previously used to ferment the base wine that later becomes Champagne. Finally, in March 2021, the Cognac cask-finished Glenfiddich Grande Couronne 26 Years Old joined this collection of whiskies made to be enjoyed on special occasions and during moments of celebration.

Crafted by Glenfiddich’s malt master Brian Kinsman, this Speyside single malt is made using whiskies matured in both American and European oak casks, which are likely to be ex-Bourbon and casks seasoned with dry oloroso sherry respectively, before an extended finish of up to two years in French oak ex-Cognac casks.

Cognac is, of course, the most famous of France’s national spirits – a grape brandy that can only be made using directly fired, swan-necked copper pot stills to rigorous regulations and within a limited production zone around a southern French town of the same name. Though Glenfiddich has been tight-lipped about the source of the Cognac casks, what we do know is that they have imparted distinctive notes of spice and delicate floral characteristics reminiscent of the very best Cognacs.

In this case, the result is an opulent and heady expression of the Glenfiddich house style, retaining all the distillery’s usual ripe orchard fruit and delicate maltiness.

Part of Glenfiddich's Grand Series, it is a permanent expression that's sold online and by whisky specialists.

Glendiddich

26 Years Old Grande Couronne Single Malt Scotch Whisky
William Grant & Sons
 
ABV: 43.8
BOTTLING: Distillery
STYLE: Please select
REGION: Speyside
PRICE: £460
 
 
Nose: Fragrant. Violet, plum jam, Amarena cherry, caramel biscuit, manuka honey, and polished oak furniture. A whiff of pot pourri. Under it all, there's pears and apples stewing in brandy. Raisins, dried apricot and delicate chopped peanuts, too.
 
Palate: Light-bodied. Baked green apples and pears, with brown sugar. Honey-coated granola, with dried fruit pieces — sultana and barberry. Marzipan and butter icing. Orange cake and elderberry jam. Delicate maltiness, like malted milk.
 
Finish: Medium-short, on pear and malted milk.
 
Comments: Remarkably fresh and sprightly for a whisky of this age. The cask finish has brought extra complexity while doing nothing to diminish the Glenfiddich spirit's strong sense of identity.


 

The Royal Salute 21 Years Old Blended Grain.

Royal Salute Blended Grain 21 Years Old


Originally created to mark the coronation of HM Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 and named for the famous ’21 gun salute’, the Royal Salute name has become synonymous with some of the best-quality, old blended Scotch whiskies available on the market. Its Signature Blend 21 Years Old, which was originally created with single malt from Strathisla Distillery in Speyside at its heart, remains highly sought after and is now joined by other high-age expressions, including The Malts Blend 21 Years Old (a blended malt) and The Lost Blend 21 Years Old (a blend using a proportion of whiskies from closed distilleries).

The brand is notable for only releasing whiskies with a minimum 21 years of age, though it is evident upon tasting the blends that many of the components are far older. This whisky-making philosophy seems to suit master whisky maker Sandy Hyslop well, as the brand has gone from strength to strength under his leadership. It’s also an approach that’s especially suited to grain whiskies, which tend to shine their brightest after around two decades of ageing. Thus, it seems inevitable that the Royal Salute brand would eventually turn to blended grain as a whisky style fit for its stable.

Though, of course, this isn’t without some risk. There are very few blended-grain Scotch whiskies on the market and even fewer that are continuously available products, and as a result, few whisky drinkers know the style. Though this is not the first time Royal Salute has dipped its toe into the category (2019’s limited-edition Royal Salute Snow Polo was also a blended grain), the introduction of the Royal Salute 21 Years Old Blended Grain as a permanent expression is not only something of a milestone for the brand but for the entire Scotch category. Hopefully, we'll see other brands follow suit.

Little known and often under-appreciated, even by seasoned whisky drinkers, grain whisky is distinct from malt for a few reasons. First, it is generally made from a mixture of different grains in addition to malted barley – wheat is commonly used these days, though corn was common in the past. Secondly, it is generally distilled on continuously operating column stills, instead of the copper pots used to make single malt Scotch whisky, and to a far higher strength – often as far as the high 80s, in comparison to around 70% average ABV for malt spirit.

The result is a light-bodied and delicately flavoured style of spirit that is perfectly suited to being the core of blended Scotch, but at young ages is often somewhat bland (apples and icing sugar are common tasting notes) when tasted alone. After more than two decades in cask, however, grain whisky blossoms, often yielding some of the sweetest and most indulgently creamy whiskies around – and this expression from Royal Salute is no exception.

Though we don’t know exactly which grain whiskies have been used to create this blend, we can assume that spirit from Strathclyde Distillery – the grain distillery owned by Royal Salute’s parent company, Pernod Ricard – features in the blend. It has also been rumoured that grain whiskies from closed grain sites like Dumbarton may also feature, though this has not been confirmed.

Matured predominantly in American oak casks, the Royal Salute 21 Years Old Blended Grain is smooth as silk, as sweet and creamy as panna cotta, as chewy as a toffee apple, and as moreish as one’s favourite dessert, with delicate white fruit and spice notes evocative of cinnamon sugar. This is sure to go down a treat with those new to grain whisky and seasoned connoisseurs alike.

The Royal Salute 21 Years Old Blended Grain is available from selected luxury retailers.

Royal Salute
21 Years Old Blended Grain Scotch Whisky
Chivas Brothers
 
ABV: 40%
BOTTLING: Distillery
STYLE: Blended Grain
PRICE: £110
AVAILABILITY: Core Range
 
 
Nose: Delicate. Peach segments, elderflower, pear drop, and strawberry cream filled white chocolates. Lime zest, Madagascan vanilla, and all-butter croissant with apple and lemon compote.
 
Palate: Light-medium bodied. Smooth as silk. Peaches and cream, vanilla custard, butterscotch, elderflower and the zing of lemon and lime cordial. The bite of juicy red apples and ripe plums, with fresh pear, too.
 
Finish: Medium-short. The fresh fruit subsides, leaving pear drop and vanilla, with some cinnamon sugar.
 
Comments: Pour this for any grain whisky skeptics you encounter. The proof that the style can be moreish, complex, and accessible all at once.

 

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