The Christmas and New Year periods give rise to a range of traditions that vary across regions and countries. Many of these involve spending time with family or friends and reflecting and celebrating as the year comes to an end and a new one begins. In Scotland, whisky is especially associated with Hogmanay, or New Year. This has led to a number of traditions that vary across the country. A particularly generous tradition in Dufftown, Speyside, sees the Glenfiddich distillery giving New Year revellers free drams in the town square. In the old but still loved nation-wide tradition of First Footing, it is said that the first person entering the house after the turn of the year brings luck for the year ahead. The First Footer will typically be expected to arrive armed with shortbread, fuel and whisky, linking the spirit to the festive season for many in Scotland and beyond.
Of course, for whisky distilleries and bottlers, the festive season is a great opportunity for releasing special blends, limited releases and seasonal editions. In this article, we explore some of the most popular and interesting festive whisky releases, that would bring a very lucky start of the year to any household they made their way to.
Glenfarclas Christmas Bottlings
A special highlight at this time of year is the offering of Glenfarclas Christmas releases. With yearly releases, Glenfarclas Christmas whisky makes both brilliant gifts and a great collector's item. The Christmas releases were especially well-received by the German market, where a number of the bottles available in this month’s auction come from, particularly through Hanseatische Import. This may be no surprise, as the country is particularly good at Christmas, being the original home to many of the world’s most beloved traditions such as Christmas trees and markets.
Particular highlights include two 42 year old bottlings - a brilliant example of the high age statements Glenfarclas are so renowned for. One, known as “Christmas Day” was limited to just 90 bottles, and the other was specially labelled as the Historic Reserve for their German distributor. They both contain spirit distilled on the 25th December 1959, the last time the distillery was operational on Christmas Day.
A collection of Glenfarclas' special Christmas editions over the years.
Glenmorangie Last Christmas at Leith
Glenmorangie is a distillery that has always had an early focus on bottling its single malt, alongside putting experimentation and innovation at its core. They have never stopped innovating, and this includes across a number of seasonal releases. Most recently, Glenmorangie's 'A Tale of Winter' expression was released just ahead of Christmas Jumper Day in 2021, and was said to be the idea of Director of Whisky Creation, Dr. Bill Lumsden, when snowed in at home and deciding to create a single malt that captured the magic of the festive season.
However, Glenmorangie's Last Christmas at Leith bottling is particularly special. Only 250 bottles of this were produced and given to employees of MacDonald & Muir at their old premises at the foot of Leith Walk in 1995, in their last Christmas there before the Glenmorangie Company was formed the following year, closing the premises the company had used since 1893. Never available for public sale, this is a truly collectible example of Christmas whisky, and appears to have been bottled using advance samples from the run of hand-blown glass bottles commissioned for the Culloden Bottling the following year.
Big Peat Christmas Edition
Douglas Laing & Co. are one of Scotland's most legendary independent bottlers, founded in 1948 and retaining a keen following today. Big Peat was the earliest addition to what became the Douglas Laing family of Remarkable Regional Malts, introduced in 2009 and produced using only Islay malt whiskies - typically including Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Bowmore and even some Port Ellen! Big Peat Christmas is their special limited-edition festive bottling, released annually to celebrate the magic of Christmas and always offered at cask strength. A brilliant festive gift for Islay fans and peat lovers.
The six-bottle Springbank Millennium Collection
Springbank Millennium Editions
December 1999 was of course not just a New Year, but also a new Millennium. This was celebrated by Springbank with the release of the Springbank Millennium Collection - a six-bottle vertical consisting of a 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, & 50 Year Old single malt, each presented in an individual wooden case. An incredibly rare set, showcasing the Campbeltown distillery at various stages of maturation, this is a must-have set for any Springbank collector.
Also bottled were two special whiskies known as the "Last Bottling of the 20th Century" and "First Bottling of the 21st Century". Exclusively for the shareholders, directors and staff, these two bottles are particularly rare and historic examples of the iconic distillery’s whisky.
The Macallan A Night on Earth in Scotland
The Macallan needs little introduction to whisky enthusiasts. Their limited edition whiskies explore all sorts of themes, from the world of coffee to special occasions. Released in 2021, A Night on Earth in Scotland is The Macallan’s attempt to bottle Scottish Hogmanay: the packaging is inspired by the fire festivals that play a large role in Scottish New Year celebrations, and tasting notes are said to include shortbread, spices and citrus fruits. In short, this is the perfect dram for first footing.
The special 12 Year Old edition of Aberlour A'Bunadh for the Millennium
Aberlour A'bunadh Millennium
A’bunadh is the star of the Aberlour distillery, and each expression makes up some of the distillery’s most popular and sought-after releases. Bottled at cask strength, they hark back to the 19th century tradition of single malts, when villagers would come to the distillery to collect their dram straight from the cask, often in apothecary bottles obtained from the village chemist. The whisky is bottled exclusively from Spanish Oloroso sherry butts and are offered every year in limited run batches.
Aberlour have also introduced some special additions to the A'bunadh batches including a Millennium Edition which featured a sterling silver label and was bottled as a 12 Year Old in comparison to the series usual non-age-statement expressions.