What whiskey should I buy as a gift?
November 17, 2011 7:43 AM   Subscribe

What bottle of whiskey should I give to my PhD supervisor?

I want to give my tremendously awesome supervisor a gift, along with a copy of my thesis. I'm thinking whiskey.* I know nothing about whiskey and have no particular wish to know more about it, but I want to give him something special and reliably good. I'd be grateful for a specific brand/year which I can pick up at the airport (Logan/Heathrow). I have very little sense of price ranges of whiskey, but I would spend more rather than less (within reason). Many thanks in advance!

* Which he might need to get through any more iterations of my thesis than he already has.
posted by idlethink to Shopping (45 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Macallan 12 or 18 is a good choice. Any single malt that you don't recognize should work.
posted by eggman at 7:50 AM on November 17, 2011

Best answer: Here are some threads that might help.

Also, try the scotch tag.
posted by insectosaurus at 7:53 AM on November 17, 2011

You can't really go wrong with single malt Scotch whisky. Unless you know your supervisor's tastes, I'd stay away from anything super-peaty. I agree with eggman's suggestion of the Macallan 12. I'd also recommend Highland Park 12.
posted by Shoggoth at 7:54 AM on November 17, 2011

Huge fan of Lagavulin. There's a few fancier versions if you want to spend more money, I've only had the 16.
posted by gregvr at 7:56 AM on November 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

I agree stay away from anything extra peaty (like Ardbeg or Laphroig).

I find the Glenlivet 12 to be delightful, balanced, and reasonably priced, as well as slightly cheaper than Macallan 12. But for an extra boost of deliciousness go for the Glenlivet Nadurra (16 year, non-chill filtered, oh so good). It's ... so good.
posted by alleycat01 at 7:58 AM on November 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

I know that the Auchentoshan Three Wood has gone over really well with a lot of my friends, including some who don't typically like scotch. It might be a safe bet if you aren't particularly sure of your supervisor's individual tastes.
posted by asnider at 7:58 AM on November 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Just came in to say The Macallan 12 would be good, and probably easy to find in the duty free shops. I'm also really fond of Talisker.
posted by blurker at 8:00 AM on November 17, 2011

(I think Lagavulin is pretty peaty too, if you're trying to steer away from that.)

Now I want to try the Auchentoshan that asnider linked to ...
posted by alleycat01 at 8:02 AM on November 17, 2011

Lagavulin is the perfect gift for those of us who pretend to know something about whisky.
There have been many, many threads on scotch on the blue and the green. I even made some of them.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:04 AM on November 17, 2011

I was always fond of the Macallan 12 as opposed to the older Macallans. The reason being that was just a little lighter taste. It really depends on the drinker though.

It also wasn't so "scotchy" and a little more inline with standard whisky.
posted by lampshade at 8:21 AM on November 17, 2011

Best answer: Oban is always nice. I also really liked the Balvenie Doublewood.

Generally, if you don't know someone's tastes, you might want to stay out of the smoky zone on this map (which was linked on one of the prior whisky threads, and that I printed out and carry with me everywhere).
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:35 AM on November 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: You're getting a lot of good recommendations for scotch, but I'm here to encourage you to consider bourbon. Much less intimidating, if your person isn't perhaps an ambitious drinker. For a medium price range, you want Woodford Reserve. If you want to spend a little bit more, go for Pappy Van Winkle.
posted by jbickers at 8:41 AM on November 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Plain-vanilla Macallan or Glenlivet do not really seem "special" to a regular whisky drinker. And Talisker and Lagavulin are great treats for people who like peaty whisky, but some people don't like peaty whisky, so they're a little dangerous if you don't know the recipient's taste. For a "special"-seeming scotch at a duty-free shop, I'd suggest looking for a "Distiller's Edition" bottle — these are special bottlings of unusual-tasting whiskies, often quite different in taste, older or smoother or woodier, compared to the usual whisky under the label. A Distiller's Edition from virtually any scotch brand will be a gift that seems more special and unusual than yet another bottle of something like Glenlivet, even if that's the recipient's favorite whisky.

(PS: whisky doesn't have a vintage year, usually, since it stops aging once bottled. Some of these Distiller's Editions do, though it's basically just a gimmicky way of distinguishing the different individual batches they're made in.)
posted by RogerB at 8:46 AM on November 17, 2011

I was going to suggest Bourbon as well. Scotch is much beloved, but it's much edgier and I personally think it's harder to enjoy. Where Scotch tastes like... turpentine, Bourbon has a sweet burn to it. I like Basil Hayden when it's time for a fancy Bourbon. But jbickers sounds like he really knows his stuff, I've never tried Woodford Reserve or Pappy Van Winkle, but holy moly am I going to.
posted by pazazygeek at 8:47 AM on November 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

I came to second jbickers' suggestion for good bourbon over good scotch, but from the fact that you're buying this at an airport in the U.K., I assume that you have reason to suspect that your supervisor would rather get British Whiskey than American. If that's wrong, Pappy Van Winkle would be an awesome gift.
posted by willbaude at 8:48 AM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

If he does like bourbon, Woodford Reserve should make him weep with joy.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 8:54 AM on November 17, 2011

I was going to chime in and recommend Woodford Reserve as well. Super classy, but relaxed and unpretentious.
posted by iamkimiam at 8:57 AM on November 17, 2011

Best answer: Though I love the Macallan 12, I wouldn't recommend going with a "12" or lower of anything for your supervisor, they're not what I'd consider a special gift. Unless it's a special edition. Macallan 12 is something I'd pick up when I run out of it. A more special bottle is reseved for savoring and showing off to friends. Few people care about bourbon the same way, btw. Scotch has class.

I would stay away from Macallan, Glenlivet, or Glenfiddich, because they seem very common. Not knocking them, but you want special. Oban is pricey but I don't think it's anything special. I like flavor without fire (harshness), and have grown to appreciate a little peatiness, but I'm not a super-peat person. I would buy anyone Balvenie Double Wood though, because that's a lovely scotch and hasn't disappointed anyone yet.

On the quest ofr a special bottle... Look for something that's cask-strength, for a real special one. A distiller's edition is also unique. And then an 18 would be a good choice.
posted by lizbunny at 8:59 AM on November 17, 2011

Seconding Basil Hayden. Its a very drinkable (80 proof) bourbon in a good-looking bottle.
posted by chicxulub at 9:02 AM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Now, don't leave out Irish whiskeys. I hope for your supervisor's sake that Redbreast is available at the duty free. It's fairly affordable. And yummy.
posted by slmorri at 9:03 AM on November 17, 2011

Pappy Van Winkle has become my go-to gift bourbon.

Just a timing point, could I suggest that you don't give the gift until after the thesis is defended and signed off on? Academics tend to be a little conservative on this point, and nobody wants even the slightest hint of a quid pro quo going into a thesis defense. Gifts -- and thank you notes -- can be really nice, but make sure that they're well-separated from the defense.
posted by .kobayashi. at 9:07 AM on November 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: In response to lizbunny: if the OP is a typical grad student in the humanities or social sciences, a 12-year-old single-malt Scotch is already a generous gift. As a graduate supervisor in history myself, I'd be uncomfortable if a student gave me anything older. In fact, I'd prefer that the gift-giving wait until after the student had successfully defended the thesis, just to avoid any hint of quid-pro-quo.

To the OP: lots of good advice here. Macallen and Oban are safe choices. I personally think that 10-year-old Talisker is nice even for people who don't like the realy peaty Islay malts, but opinions differ!
posted by brianogilvie at 9:08 AM on November 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

Ohhh, Irish Whiskey ... didn't think of that! The duty free is pretty likely to have Black Bush, I imagine, which is the premium bottle of Bushmill's.
posted by jbickers at 9:08 AM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

So I'm in the Bourbon camp too, my preferences these days are Noah's Mill or Rowan's Creek (same producer Noah's Mill is going to be a good jump up in price from Rowan's). But these are likely not going to be found in an airport. For airport Bourbon, the previously recommended Basil Hayden over Booker (which is also good, but is harsher on my palette).

All that being said you're going to be in Heathrow, "when in Rome" and all that - you're probably going to have a better selection with scotches, and there's a lot of good leads in this thread.
posted by bitdamaged at 9:08 AM on November 17, 2011

After posting: What kobayashi said in paragraph 2.
posted by brianogilvie at 9:08 AM on November 17, 2011

(and oh yeah, the Pappy is obviously a fantastic choice, but its going to be pretty well up there in price)
posted by bitdamaged at 9:10 AM on November 17, 2011

Best answer: Yes, I've trotted the Redbreast out in these before. It's similar to the Jameson 12 year--very nice, very drinkable mellow Irish whiskeys.

I do agree with Lizbunny, though--we're generally recommending $40-70 bottles here. If the goal is to say, "thank you for going above and beyond," you might want to kick it up a notch to something really special in the $120-150 range (about which I know nothing, though I did drink most of someone's $2000 bottle of Louis XIII one time, and that was pretty awesome).

Also, word to the wise, OP--Duty Free does not equal "good deal" in my experience. It's great if you're looking for something that you cannot get in the US, but if something is available here, it is most often cheaper here. It can be cheaper if you're trying to avoid 17% VAT--but your local liquor shop probably has better deals, and you don't have to carry the bottle around.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:12 AM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

In fact, I'd prefer that the gift-giving wait until after the student had successfully defended the thesis, just to avoid any hint of quid-pro-quo.

Agreed. I know several people who gave their PhD advisors a nice bottle of scotch, and in every case it was *after* the defense.

Maybe I'm old school, but it seems like a 12+ y-o scotch is more of a "present" (assuming the advisor likes scotch) than any other kind of liquor, aged or not. To me, Irish whisky or bourbon just wouldn't be the same as a gift.
posted by aught at 9:14 AM on November 17, 2011

Response by poster: Wow, some amazing suggestions here. I've made a list to take with me to the airport. Thanks for the bourbon pointers, too. As a good Oxbridge man, I'm fairly sure my supervisor is appreciative of both, so I see I have some decisions to make. I think I would definitely be looking at something in the <>
I should have clarified: I successfully defended in the summer & am returning to England to graduate, so a) I am buying in the US to bring to the UK, and b) this will be a gift of sincere as well as kosher non-quid-pro-quo gratitude :)
posted by idlethink at 9:16 AM on November 17, 2011

Response by poster: * Oops: in the $100++ range
posted by idlethink at 9:16 AM on November 17, 2011

Nthing the suggestions for a Distillers Edition.

I'm pretty sure they're not available outside of the UK, which may make it even more special (depending on which way you're going, obnatch).
posted by Capt. Renault at 9:17 AM on November 17, 2011

Since everybody seemed to go straight to scotch even though the OP didn't say scotch, I'll be contrarian and say Midleton Very Rare.
posted by madmethods at 9:35 AM on November 17, 2011

Best answer: Pappy Van Winkle bourbon is very difficult to come by (people line up at some liquor stores to buy it) as it is only distributed twice a year in the USA (you don't say where you currently are).

As of this week, people are flipping out on the Van Winkle Distillery Facebook page as they are posting status updates once shipments go out for a particular state. If you are not already on a waiting list or preferred customer for many liquor stores, you are going to be out of luck. Also, I would be skeptical that Pappy would be available at the airport, let alone at a UK airport. You'd have to buy it stateside. I assume you want to buy at the airport after you land due to the hassle of checking a bottle of expensive liquor?

(BTW, Pappy Van Winkle comes in 15 year, 20 year, and 23 year. Non-Pappy Van Winkle comes in younger years, like 12 yr and 10 yr. All of them are excellent gifts, but the 15/20/23yr Pappy bourbons are the award winning, most highly sought after ones. I have tasted most of them, and they are all delicious in different ways. The older ones are more mellow and sweet, the younger ones have more personality, but are a little rougher around the edges. But a bourbon lover is going to appreciate any of them.)

Woodford Reserve is good but perhaps not special enough for a gift, if your budget is more the $100+ range. Maybe the Woodford Reserve's Masters Collection, as opposed to the "regular" Woodford Reserve. Maybe something from the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection if you can find it?

The specialness of your gift is kind of at odds at what the airport is going to have.
posted by kathryn at 9:38 AM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Black Maple Hill have an amazing 23 year old Rye that tends to go for slightly over $100. I think I'd go with this or one of the good bourbons for a gift like this - for scotch I'd want to know more about the recipient's tastes to pick a bottle. (On that note I'd recommend against the Lagavulin. It's fantastic, and one of the few liquors I always have stocked at home, but it's really not for everyone.)
posted by ethand at 9:54 AM on November 17, 2011

I'm hoping you already know this guy likes to drink and would appreciate said gift. If you don't, this is where talking to the department secretary (if you haven't already) is a must.

A professor friend of mine sadly relates the time a grad student gave him a reasonably expensive bottle of wine, which he knew was prohibitively expensive for her budget.

He doesn't drink. Fortunately his wife does, but still, awkward.
posted by canine epigram at 9:58 AM on November 17, 2011

Another vote for rye.

My favorite whiskey at the moment is Whistlepig 100% rye, 100 proof, 10 years aged. This is a fantastic whiskey. It has the drinkability of bourbon, but less sweet, and all the complexity of a good scotch.
posted by mikeand1 at 9:59 AM on November 17, 2011

I'm fond of the several varieties of single malt by Glenmorangie. Recently I brought a bottle of their "Quinta Ruban" to a gathering and it was a huge hit. It's aged in port wine casks. They also make one aged in sherry casks, called "Lasanta." The use of the different types of cask create interesting flavors that are a nice change for someone used to more "regular" Scotch.
posted by dnash at 10:00 AM on November 17, 2011

Mac 21 FO is a great whiskey.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:20 AM on November 17, 2011

If I was unsure about whether someone liked whisky or not I would plump for something pretty accessible, which basically means stay away from the peaty end of the market and the heavy hitters like Talisker and go for one of the fruitier little numbers, this could include lines like Glenmorangie's Quinta Rubin or Lasanta, but if it turns out he does like his whisky this might lack some subtlely, I would recommend Dalmore's Gran Reserva, fruity and accessible for the non-drinker with lots of underlying subtlely for the more sophisticated pallet. It's also nicely Christmassy if you are being examined before then. Cachet wise its a bit above the standard Dalmore line. Amazon.co.uk have it for £45, airports may well have it for less. This is the bottle I have drunk the quickest this year.

(Amazon product description: "The rich malty flavours tantalise the tongue, followed by marmalade and Christmas cake with subtle hints of roasted coffee and chocolate. It is the aroma and taste of ripe oranges and lemon peel that offers the elegant zesty top notes. A rich and harmonious single highland malt. Matured and Married in 60% Sherry wood & 40% American White Oak.")
posted by biffa at 10:21 AM on November 17, 2011

The specialness of your gift is kind of at odds at what the airport is going to have.

I don't have firsthand experience with it, but I actually know more than one very serious scotch drinker who makes a point of stopping at the Heathrow duty-free whisky shop whenever possible. It's not your average airport selection.
posted by RogerB at 12:05 PM on November 17, 2011

I asked my PhD supervisor whether he was more into the peaty smoky stuff or more into the clear-vanilla-whathaveyou (didn't quite phrase it like that).
For him it was peaty smoky, so I got him some high-cost Islay product of the Single Malt persuasion - he almost shed tears.

(Same supervisor gave me a t-shirt with the epic inscription "Beethoven is my Homeboy," complete with scowling composer's head and all)
posted by Namlit at 12:09 PM on November 17, 2011

Are you sure you don't want to pick something up in the UK? If you are bringing it from the US, I nth all the recommendations for a lovely bottle of a more unusual bourbon.

If you do go for scotch, here's my experience: I bought my master's supervisor a bottle of 10 year vintage Arran (can't remember the exact label), which is a super small distillery. It's unusual, it wasn't that pricey, for a scotch, and it ends up not as sweet as a Speyside but not as intense as anything Islay. I think I got that from Milroy's of Soho (http://www.milroys.co.uk) which was really fun just to visit, let alone taste. Depending on where you're going, smaller liquor shops often have similar boutique things on offer, and some will deliver, at least in Oxford. And yeah, Heathrow's duty-free whisky shop is amazing. Do not go on an empty stomach.

Most importantly, congratulations on your thesis!
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:02 PM on November 17, 2011

Nthing the suggestions for a Distillers Edition.

I'm pretty sure they're not available outside of the UK, which may make it even more special

This may vary by distillery, but it's definitely not true. I've seen plenty of distiller's editions in Canada.
posted by asnider at 1:02 PM on November 17, 2011

One you can share?
posted by littleredwagon at 6:36 AM on November 18, 2011

If you work in molecular biology/genetics/ anything to do with DNA and have done phenol/chloroform extractions, you know many varieties of Scotch are distilled using peat moss as fuel, which imparts natural phenol into the whiskey. That gives it a flavor I love quite a bit, and recognize from the pleasant, if faint because you really want a hood so you don't smell too much, odor of my extractions.

I once did a project with the most awesome post-doc ever who shared my love for the, diluted, smell of phenol and I gave him a nice bottle of Laphroaig at the end.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:49 PM on November 18, 2011

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