16 Bottles To Buy: Vodka & Gin

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.

They say that vodka has no taste or smell. If that's the case, Karlsson's Gold Vodka ($39) might be in trouble. The Swedish potato vodka actually tastes of its base ingredient, which also gets represented in the bulbous bottle shape. Purity ($48), also from Sweden, makes a fine product too. FAIR's ($35) clean, organic spirit is derived from South American quinoa.

The small-batch Core ($35), from New York's Hudson Valley, still has a whiff of apple on it so you know what it's made of. And yet, none of these is actually flavored vodka, a category that Hangar One ($33), from California, is single-handedly redeeming with its organic real fruit flavors. OK, maybe not single-handedly. Charbay ($35), also out of California, is doing real fruit macerations with its vodka, as well. If you haven't tried RÖKK, then you should at least allow yourself the pleasure of watching the hilarious videos made for it by Andy Samberg and his Lonely Island crew. And for sheer wackiness of the bottle, a design by Karim Rashid that looks like a crystal shard, go for AnestasiA, a corn-based vodka from Oregon.

People who once turned their nose up at gin are finding that the spirit has evolved. Juniper is no longer the dominant aromatic in the spirit, especially in gins like the fruity Nolet's Silver Dry Gin ($50) and floral Greenhook Ginsmiths American Dry Gin ($35). Aviation ($30), from Oregon, also goes light on the juniper, instead letting the lavender, cardamom and dried sweet orange peel shine through. [Read our interview with producer Christian Krogstad]. Blue Coat ($25), another American gin, this one from Pennsylvania, makes use of organic botanicals. This year, the word (and sting) on every gin lover's lips was overproof. Plymouth launched its Navy Strength Gin ($58), as did New York Distilling Company, with its Perry's Tot ($40). Another trend was barrel-aged gin, such as California's Ransom Old Tom ($38), based on an ancient recipe, and Bols Barrel Aged Genever ($50), with its kicked-up vanilla and spice notes.

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