Every family has their traditional festive arguments. Whether it’s at 5am about which recipe to follow when cooking the turkey or 6pm when you slump on the sofa and argue about tv or 11pm when you are trying to decide which obscure booze to drink next, the same arguments appear annually without fail.
Obviously our favourite argument is which whisky most suits Christmas and just where you can get hold of these precious drams. So as part of our public service duty, we set out into Bristol to find the best whisky to pair with your Christmas. Here is our guide to the three finishes of Christmas.
For the Sherry Swiggers…
Location: The Rummer Hotel, St Nicholas Market
Vibe: The Rummer is a hidden gem that is unassumingly tucked away down an alleyway near St Nicks Market. Inside it is a well-balanced mix of sophistication and Bristol style independence. They have a fantastically varied and well selected collection of spirits. When we visited rum, whisky and mescal was consumed, all to the tastes of the individual drinkers. You can expect leather chairs and a fire, so in our book; what more could you ask for?
Dram: Glendronach 18
Price: £7.85 for 25ml
Aroma: Rich sherried fruit, sweet pineapple, dark brown sugar and fruit cake spice.
Taste: Initially this dram is full of sweet, robust fruity dark sugar flavours.
Then it opens to a warming ginger spice, which threads its way across the palate and warms the mouth. Hidden deep within this part of the dram there are tropical fruit notes, which lead your mind into the rich sherried fruit that also makes its home in this part of the dram.
This warmth leads into the final notes of the dram, which for me were the woody, musty dark notes. Heady, satisfying and rich, like the experience of standing in a traditional dunnage warehouse.
Review: For us there is something about sherry finished whisky that loudly proclaims the arrival of Christmas. Each sip of this spicy, unctuous, sweet dram reminded us of the Christmas pudding flavours that we seek each year and sat next to the fire in The Rummer, it was festive perfection.
For the Port Polishers…
Location: The Milk Thistle, Colston Avenue
Vibe: Bristol is blessed with a few secret speak easy style bars, where you can always rely on the quality of booze and the classy nature of the atmosphere. These are the places where the proper drinkers go and the Milk Thistle is one of the best in the city. Book before you go, because it is a popular place. When you go leave time to order a dram, but also a cocktail from their mix of classics and house mixes.
Dram: Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban
Price: £6.00 for 25ml
Aroma: Musty, bananas, pineapples and mango.
Taste: This dram begins with a sweet light brown sugar, mingling with tropical pineapple and mango. Again it is sweet, unctuous and syrupy.
Oddly, as this whisky reaches its middle, it swiftly morphs to a much more savoury dram, with antique wooden shelves lined with dusty leather-bound books.
This leather flavour abounds and is met by a meaty flavour, something like beef jerky, maybe cooked upon a rich oak sideboard! As the dram lingers, the subtle tropical notes reappear and treat the palate.
Review: Here is a dram that brings Christmas dreams to life. It’s Christmas Eve, the fire is lit and its properly warming our toes. Laid out in front of us is a well-aged port, a cheese board and some well-chosen charcuterie. All of this, just from twenty-five millilitres of liquid in a glass!
While the whisky collection on show at Milk Thistle is more limited, you get the feeling that it is a carefully curated collection, where you will be safe to order any and all drams. It is a great venue for Christmas drams, but definitely leave space for a cocktail or two as well!
For the Wine Wallowers…
Location: The Woods Bar, Park Street
Vibe: Known for the incredibly antisocial, yet very convenient opening hours, The Woods Bar is a place to finish the night off properly. They have a huge range of spirits, with an extensive whisky collection made up of drams from all over the world. You can enjoy this all in the comfort of the upstairs snug, the open bar area or, if you are feeling brave enough to take on the seasonal weather, the outside decking space.
Dram: Caol Ila 2002 (bottled 2014) Moscatel Cask Finish – Distillers Edition
Price: £7.80 for 25ml
Aroma: Rich, yet slight charcoal notes that swirl with salty sea air, rich boozy raisins and TCP notes.
Taste: Initially this dram is salty, with subtle peat smoke and sweet, rich raisins.
As you reach the middle of the palate, the smoke widens, filling the palate. However this isn’t the punchy acrid smoke of other Islay whiskies, it’s always becalmed by sweetness and fruit. This means there is space to experience other flavour points, like crispy bacon.
The final notes are a continuing, long lingering marriage of the smoke of the middle and sweet, musty raisins. As the dram dies away there is again sweetness from the wine finish.
Review: The Woods Bar has such a huge collection of whisky that it often takes me about ten minutes to choose what I want, but for the indecisive amongst you they have knowledgeable, friendly staff on hand to guide and support your choices, as they did with this dram.
Lighting fires, huddling for warmth and where possible being by the seaside, is a Christmas must. So, if like us, you find yourself trapped in the metropole of Bristol this Christmas, then why not take a Christmas island vacation in liquid form instead?