14 Bottles To Buy: Bourbon, Whisky And Other Brown Sipping Spirits

Anyone who has every participated in a Secret Santa exchange knows one simple truth about gift giving: you cannot go wrong with booze. So, to ensure that you're everyone's favorite person at the holiday party this year, best to stock up on a few choice bottles. Sure, it's a safe bet. But it's also pretty darn smooth, if you're looking to win points with the recipient. If you're lucky, you might even get a sip as a thank you.

Nothing warms the heart and cockles like a dram of brown liquor. For the brownest of the browns, opt for a craft bourbon, such as Hillrock Estate Solera-Aged Bourbon ($80), a new product from the Hudson Valley, made of estate-grown organic grains blended by Dave Pickerell, the master distiller at Maker's Mark. For a great-value bourbon, Woodford Reserve ($35) is a solid choice, a Kentucky Straight made on what is said to be the oldest distilling site in the state. And no bourbon enthusiast would turn down a bottle of Eagle Rare 17 Year ($75) or a horse-capped bottle of Blanton's ($50), which bills itself as the original single-barrel bourbon.

Of course, the breadth of American whiskey stretches far beyond bourbon. Other greats include Hudson Whiskey Four Grain ($50), a balanced blend of corn, rye, wheat and malted barley from New York state. Out of Texas, there's Balcones "Baby Blues" Texas Corn Whiskey ($60), the first whiskey produced in the Lone Star state since Prohibition. Corsair Triple Smoke ($50), from the first distillery to operate in Nashville since the same era, is a smoky, pot-distilled gem. And if brown isn't your color, Death's Door White Whisky ($40) is unaged (and therefore clear), sweet and bready. Catoctin Creek, out of Virginia, produces a peppery white rye, certified organic called Mosby's Spirit ($39).

OK, time to get serious. Scotch can be intimidating if you aren't very familiar with it. But Auchentoshan's new zesty and bright Valinch ($65) is a great place to start: a cask-strength bottling of the distillery's classic single malt. A number of blended Scotches made a splash this year, including Compass Box's recently launched Artist's Blend ($50). For a splurge, there's BenRiach's very limited-release sherry barrel-aged 30-year-old single malt ($300).

A number of non-Scottish whiskies are made in the Scotch style, like a new Japanese whisky called Nikka Taketsuru ($65), a 12-year blended spirit with notes of spice and citrus. And you don't even have to leave these fine shores for a single malt. St. George Single Malt ($78) is made in California. Not quite masquerading as Scotch, the latest lot is drier and saltier that previous bottlings.

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