Best Whiskey for a Toddler?
December 2, 2013 2:46 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to get a nice bottle of whiskey (whisky?) for my son to open in about eighteen years when he turns twenty-one.

The problem is that I know next to nothing about whiskey. Do all whiskeys age the same? Does a bottle of Jack go bad while a bottle of Bushmill's gets better with age? Is there a certain brand that is preferred for this type of gifting?

Possible caveat: I'd like to buy something bottled in 2010 so it'll turn 21 when he does.
posted by GatorDavid to Food & Drink (27 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Very interested in the answer to this question, because my understanding is that whiskey isn't often bottle conditioned; all the good stuff happens in casks. Hopefully I'm wrong about that and am about to learn something awesome.
posted by jsturgill at 2:48 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I might be wrong, but unlike wine my understanding is that Whiskey no longer improves / ages once it's removed from the cask. So go ahead and buy something nice, but don't expect it to mellow or change over time.
posted by michswiss at 2:50 PM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

I understand the sentiment behind it but you would be better off buying him something aged for 21 years when he turns 21 than buying something now and holding on to it for 2 decades.
posted by elizardbits at 2:51 PM on December 2, 2013 [19 favorites]

There's some debate about it in whisky circles. Whisky doesn't really 'age' in the bottle, but it can undergo small changes that could affect the flavour. But those changes aren't going to be remotely like those that occur in a wine. You could do a taste-test with a bottle-aged 15-year-old whisky vs. a 'new' 15-year-old, but you wouldn't really be comparing like with like - you'd have two 15-year-old whiskies bottled in different years from different casks. There's a reason they don't normally mark the vintage on the bottle.
posted by pipeski at 2:56 PM on December 2, 2013

Yes, what other people have said: once the whisk(e)y leaves the cask, it's not really going to improve any more. Get him some nice wine, which does age in the bottle. Unfortunately I'm too ignorant to suggest anything that will be in peak drinking condition at the desired time, but this is something you need to research: not all old wine is good wine.
posted by Dr Dracator at 2:57 PM on December 2, 2013

Beer might be a good alternative:
The following is a list of some of the top-rated, cellarable, bottle-conditioned beers we have reviewed. All or any of these would be highly recommended for a beer cellar (e.g., a cool cupboard in the basement). Suggested cellaring periods are in brackets, though they are only approximate cellaring times based on personal experiences and in some cases, brewery recommendations. Three gueuzes have been included for the simple reason that these beers have the best cellaring potential in the beer world. Frank Boon of Brouwerij Boon claims a 30-year cellar life for his gueuze beers.

•Brasserie d’Achouffe (Belgium) N’Ice Chouffe (up to 5 years)
•Chimay (Belgium) Grand Reserve Blue (up to 5 years)
•Sinebrychoff (Finland) Porter 1996 Bottling (up to 5 years)
•King & Barnes (England) Millennium Ale (up to 10 years)
•J.W. Lees (England) Harvest Ale 1998 (up to 10 Years)
•Unibroue (Canada) Quelquechose (up to 10 years)
•Young’s (England) Old Nick Barley Wine (up to 10 years)
•Lindemans (Belgium) Gueuze Cuvée René (up to 15 years)
•Frank Boon (Belgium) Gueuze Mariage Parfait (up to 20 years)
•Cantillon (Belgium) Gueuze (up to 20 years)
•Eldridge Pope (England) Thomas Hardy’s Ale (up to 20 years)
posted by jsturgill at 2:57 PM on December 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: because my understanding is that whiskey isn't often bottle conditioned; all the good stuff happens in casks.

This is true, and it's why whisk(e)y is a very different business from wine. The only Scotch whisky you could buy now that was distilled in 2010 is bottom-shelf; three years in cask is the minimum to be called by that name.

I know that a few new distilleries were offering early backers the chance to reserve bottles from their first casks ten years' hence, but you are better off putting some money away and using the magic of compound interest to buy something his age closer to his 21st birthday.
posted by holgate at 2:58 PM on December 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

If you do get a bottle of beer or wine: you really don't want to trust it to your kid. S/he'll store it off temperature/in sunlight and ruin it. You should probably shoulder that responsibility yourself. Perhaps you could send him regular updates when he goes off to college so the aniticipation has time to build.
posted by jsturgill at 3:01 PM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

As others have noted, whiskey ceases to age once decanted from the barrel and into the bottle.

My parents received a few bottles of vintage port when I was born, which they cellared and gave to me when I turned 21. Port ages well over long periods, and these bottles were great. Not every year is good enough to be declared a vintage, but there have apparently been some great years recently (2009, 2007, 2003, 2000). A bottle of 2009 port would come pretty close to meeting your criteria. Just be careful with long-term storage conditions.
posted by Mendl at 3:12 PM on December 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

Yes, port is definitely the way to go.
2009 is an iffy year, there is some dissent over whether it should have been declared, but some people are suggesting that 2011 might as good or better than the now legendary 1994 vintage.

Port is cask aged for a couple of years and then bottle aged thenceforth, so you can get a bottle now and store it for 20 years.

A case will run you $250 to $300.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 3:24 PM on December 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

To play off the beer idea...if you are a beer fan, it would be fun to do a "vertical" tasting in 21 years though it requires something of a commitment plus a little luck that your favorite brewery doesn't go out of business in that time.

I was lucky enough to try a vertical of Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale going back about 10 years. Guy had saved a bottle or three every year in his basement. One of them got a little gnarly around the cap, we still tasted it -- not bad! What was interesting was how the flavor profile changed. Evidence of hops from the earliest bottles was virtually nil.

Maybe you can think of something like that though 21 years is a long time!
posted by amanda at 3:51 PM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

You may also want to look into purchasing some futures shares in a barrel of whiskey distilled in his birth year an destined for bottling at 21 years.
posted by slkinsey at 4:14 PM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yeah, whiskey isn't wine. As soon as the stuff is bottled it basically stops aging. I've got a bottle that was laid down at least two decades before I was born, but it only aged about ten years before it was bottled, so it's only slightly better than a ten-year from 2000.

For those interested, I got it at a yard sale for $20. Even if it had only been okay, $20 for a fifth of whiskey ain't bad.
posted by valkyryn at 4:18 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you want to buy a whiskey/scotch from 2010 then you'd do best waiting till 2022 (12yr) or 2025 (15yr) to purchase it. It's the aging in the cask(s) that matters, not the time spent in the bottle.

Also, at 21 I was completely unprepared to enjoy a good wine or scotch. It wasn't till I was 25 I really started to explore wines and develop a taste for them, and not until 30 I even gave quality scotches a chance. A bottle at 21 would have been completely wasted on me. You might want to hold on to it a little longer...
posted by sbutler at 4:26 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

My dad had a bottle of whiskey from his PhD confirmation in 1971. I opened it in his memory in 2008, when I had gathered some appreciators of whiskey and of my father - they said it was very good, and more complex than the same sort bought "new".

(Of course, I still wish that he hadn't waited for an occasion special enough to drink it, because apparently that time didn't come.)
posted by gingerest at 4:30 PM on December 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

perhaps a few bottles of port, instead?
posted by theora55 at 4:37 PM on December 2, 2013

it only aged about ten years before it was bottled, so it's only slightly better than a ten-year from 2000.

There are certain situations where buying bottles of good scotch and holding on to them makes sense, but only in retrospect, because the distilleries closed in the meantime. Bottles of Port Ellen were relatively inexpensive and easy to come by in the 1990s; now any new bottlings are like gold dust multiplied by unicorn poo. Since single malt is in pretty rapid upswing, with mothballed distilleries being revived and entirely new distilleries being opened, that's not likely to be an issue in the next 20 years, though if fortunes change and the boom ends, you may want to stock up.

The same applies somewhat to bourbon, although that's because of its complicated family tree.

Port is definitely the traditional "buy at birth, drink when legal" gift, though you'll want somewhere to serve as a cellar -- a pantry or consistently coolish understairs cupboard will do -- or someone who'll do the cellaring for you. You could do the same with madeira. But as sbutler says, it's a rare 21-year-old that has a taste for good single malt or vintage port.
posted by holgate at 4:46 PM on December 2, 2013

Port is your best bet, and 2011 is the best recent vintage.

A top-notch port will run you about $75/bottle, US, so more like $900 a case than $300. Taylor, Graham, Dow, Fonseca are usually considered top of the heap, and Gould-Campbell and Smith-Woodhouse are generally good value and reliable as well, though not quite as long lived. You need to buy "vintage port", not a blend, and not a "late bottled vintage" - these latter are meant to be drunk young & would barely last 21 years. True vintage port should be good for 30 or 40 - the '70s are drinking very well, for example.

Most whiskeys, even those that say "18 years old" or whatever on the bottle, are blended from multiple casks & seldom have a year of distillation indicated. The exceptions are those that are bottled from a single barrel. Mostly, these are between 10 and 15 years old, and mostly they come from independent bottlers rather than from the distilleries themselves (though this is changing). The independents to look for are Gordon & McPhails, Signatory, Murray McDavid, with Gordon & McPhails having by far the longest track record. So if you're set on buying whiskey, make a note to yourself to go shopping in about 12 years time.
posted by mr vino at 6:05 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

A few years ago a Portland distillery, House Spirits, was offering a program where you took a wee class with them, tasted lots of things, and then designed your own whisky. It wasn't inexpensive, because the casks were not so small, but you had the opportunity to visit your whisky year after year and see how it was developing, and in the end you came out with several reasonably-priced cases of bottles. Reasonable assuming you have OK taste and don't just blend up a batch of rotgut, I guess. I assume it was an 8-year aging program, but I'm not seeing it online anymore.

Perhaps a distillery local to you offers a similar program, and you could age it until the boy comes of age himself. Much more of a time and financial commitment than just buying a bottle, but all the more meaningful for it, I'd think.

Or you could take up moonshining.
posted by mumkin at 6:28 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I just wanted to say that while I pretty much agree with all the answers here, I'd be wary about a beer that's been bottle conditioned for 18 years. Bottle conditioning beers hasn't really been a common thing for very long, and beer has some attributes that make it less suited to long-term bottle conditioning than wine.

The biggest thing is that it's carbonated – no matter how well sealed it is, the CO2 is going to leak out over time and the beer will eventually go flat. Some beers are meant to be flatter than others of course, but almost all of them have at least a little carbonation in them and the flatter styles are definitely not to everyone's taste.

I'd go with port, which bottle conditions very nicely and in my opinion is a more delicious special-occasion drink than wine, or else do what most people here have been saying and buy a bottle of 21-year-old Scotch on his 21st birthday that's been barrel aged over the intervening years.
posted by Scientist at 8:06 PM on December 2, 2013

A family friend of mine has kidney issues and can't drink.

He found a bottle of Jameson in his attic that was there before he moved into his house, about 15 years ago.

I had some of it. It was markedly different (better) than the same bottle of Jameson bought off the shelf.

That could be all in my head though, but it does change, at least from my singular experience.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 5:59 AM on December 3, 2013

Buy a small barrel.

With a barrel of your own (I'd go with a 2L at least, and the priciest one there is $37-- cheap at twice the price), you can burn his name and birthdate (don't put his 21st birthday on there-- drinking age could change) into the face of the barrel and fill it with raw whiskey right now-- plenty of distillers release a "White whiskey" or "white dog" or liquors that're sold as moonshine, even though they're legit products. The barrel's interior has been scorched by flame, which caramelizes the wood-sugars in the staves. You can choose the degree to which it has been flamed, and absent any experience in selecting (speaking for myself) I'm sure you couldn't go far wrong with "medium."

The reason I recommend a 2L barrel is that in 18 years, you're going to lose a lot of it, close to half. Whiskey (that is, both the water and the alcohol) will slowly evaporate through the barrel, and the liquid you lose is known as the Angel's Share. You'll have a genuine unique 18-yo whiskey. What kind of whiskey? It depends on the mash bill (the recipe of grains) used to make the original white dog. mostly rice means bourbon, mostly rye means rye, mostly barley means something like Irish whiskey. (Scotch uses smoked barley, Tennessee whiskey is basically bourbon with a specific charcoal filtration process.)

The barrel doesn't require a ton of maintenance, but you do need to turn it over every so often (4 times a year, or something, to keep all the wood wet and therefore watertight), and of course a 2L barrel full of liquid could present some challenges in keeping it secret from your son. (So it's a surprise, I mean, but also because someday he'll be 15 and want to drink in secret, maybe.) If you have a dark basement, that's best. Just have a plan for moving it from house to house as you move around. The place should be cool and have limited temperature fluctuations. But it's also not huge, and you're aiming for a regular bottle, a fifth, which is 750mL, so you'll have that and some left over.

When it's done, he'll have an awesome barrel-- great for aging and flavoring beer, more whiskey, or wine. Every liquid in there will leave its mark in the barrel and flavor future resident liquids.
posted by Sunburnt at 7:02 AM on December 3, 2013 [11 favorites]

I had some of it. It was markedly different (better) than the same bottle of Jameson bought off the shelf.

You can't really compare - whatever multinational behemoth is behind Jameson may have changed the way they make it since the bottle was new, and that's why you are tasting a difference.
posted by Dr Dracator at 7:08 AM on December 3, 2013

Correction: Corn means bourbon. I might have to take points off my man card for that one. Ach! Still, buy a barrel. You'll also need 2L of booze to fill it, which will cost more than the barrel, but the whole shebang should be under USD$200
posted by Sunburnt at 3:38 PM on December 3, 2013

I like the barrel idea, although the white whisk[e]y being sold today (inappropriately-named example for this post) carries... somewhat generous margins, given that the distillers don't have to bear the burden of maintaining spirit in casks for an additional decade or more. (The market's weird right now, with premium prices at opposite ends of the aging spectrum.)

You might be better off buying a couple of litres of a more mainstream, youngish whisk(e)y that you personally like and reintroduce it to a cask; switching casks for "finishing" is common enough in the trade, though it's usually for short periods compared to the standard maturation. The only issue there might be that most whiskies are diluted for bottling, as the stuff in casks is closer to 60-65% a.b.v.
posted by holgate at 9:37 PM on December 3, 2013

If a cask is more than you want to spend, you might be able to find others planning for their toddler's future whiskey consumption to split the cost.
posted by yohko at 12:07 AM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

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