It’s the golden rule of gift giving: you cannot go wrong with booze. A fine bottle of brown spirits can lift the spirits and warm the cockles during this frigid season. Be the most popular person at the party during the holidays by giving a beautifully aged whiskey (or whisky, without the "e") or dark rum. If you’re lucky, you might even get a dram of your own as a thank you. This year, we’ve come up with more gift ideas than you can shake a stir-stick at, complete with links to where to buy them. We’ve done everything but gift wrap the bottle for you. And remember, it's OK to buy yourself a gift every once in a while.
For the brownest of the brown spirits, America is the best place to begin. A good number of states now have craft distilleries so you can buy and give local, which is always extra special. From New York’s Hudson Valley, Hillrock Estate Single Malt Whiskey ($130 at Columbus Wines & Spirits), is made of estate-grown organic barley, malted onsite in New York’s first purpose-built malthouse and blended by Dave Pickerell, the former master distiller at Maker’s Mark. Pickerell keeps busy, also overseeing operations at WhistlePig in Vermont. The brand new WhistlePig The Boss Hog ($75 at Caskers) is bottled from just 24 barrels of 100% single grain rye whiskey. It doesn’t get more artisanal than a craft whiskey distilled from quinoa: Corsair Quinoa Whiskey ($50 at Binny’s), from Tennessee, is perfect for the wheat-intolerant whiskey lover in your life.
American whiskey isn’t the only one that spells it with the "e." The Irish do, too, and few spirits do the country as proud as Redbreast. The new 21-Year-Old Single Pot Still is virtually impossible to get your hands on. But the Redbreast 12-Year-Old Cask Strength Single Pot Still is widely available ($95 at DrinkUpNY.com).
For a great-value bourbon, Woodford Reserve ($25 at K&L Wine Merchants) is a solid choice, a Kentucky Straight made on the oldest distilling site in the state. Keep an eye out for the new Master’s Collection Double Malt Selections ($100), supposedly out in November, although we’ve seen nary a bottle yet. No bourbon enthusiast would turn down a bottle of Eagle Rare 17 Year ($475 at Twenty Twenty Wines), which can get pretty pricey when supply is running low, as is the case now. The latest release from Bulleit out this year is the Bulleit 10 Years Old Bourbon ($43 at Binny’s), as approachable as regular Bulleit for the bourbon novice.
Four Roses also has a new release this year, the 2013 Four Roses Single Barrel Limited Edition. But now that stock is running low, expect to pay some $900 (at Duke of Bourbon), so you might as well stick with the excellent-value regular bottling ($18 at BevMo!). Old Forester’s most recent release is the Old Forester 2013 Birthday Bourbon ($57 at K&D Wines & Spirits), the 12th of these limited-edition bottlings. New booze from Elijah Craig is always welcome. Elijah Craig 21-Year-Old Single Barrel ($150 at Bourbon Street Wine & Spirits) comes on the heels of last year’s sold out release of the 20-year-old.
Scotch can be intimidating, but we’ve got the perfect place to start. Triple distilled and non-chill filtered Auchentoshan Virgin Oak Limited Release ($130) is aged in virgin North American oak, like bourbon. Rare considering most scotch is usually aged in used bourbon, sherry or port casks. Look for it starting in early December. Blended scotch is also great for novices and Compass Box is a master of the genre. Its self-explanatory Peat Monster 10th Anniversary ($100 at Astor Wines) is not for the smoke-sensitive. Bowmore’s latest is another one out in early December just in time for checking off your "naughty" list: only 1,300 bottles of Bowmore Devil’s Casks Small Batch ($90) will be allocated to the U.S.
If your intended giftee likes a cigar with his scotch, you might consider the Dalmore Cigar Malt Reserve ($115 at DrinkUpNY.com), designed to pair with a stogie. Bruichladdich Rocks ($40 at K&L Wine Merchants) is a fine fruity Islay scotch that won’t break the bank. Highland Park makes beautiful 15-, 18- and 25-year-old scotch, all in the hundred-dollar-and-up range. But don’t dismiss the Highland Park 12-Year-Old Single Orkney Malt ($35 at Applejack Wine & Spirits), which is surprisingly complex. From Speyside, Balvenie also has a quality affordable offering in its lineup: The Balvenie 12 Year Doublewood Single Malt ($44 at K&L Wine Merchants).
A number of non-Scottish whiskies are made in the scotch vein, especially from Japan, a country that seems to favor this style. Nikka 17-Year-Old Taketsuru Pure Malt ($150 at Astor Wines) is rich and earthy with a smoky finish. Hibiki 12-Year Whisky ($55 at World of Liquor) has delicate aromas and pure, bright flavors. The new Suntory Hakushu Heavily-Peated Japanese Whisky ($170 at Winfield-Flynn Wines & Spirits) certainly lives up to its name with a good dose of peat.
They call it the party spirit, but rum has its serious side too. Especially after it’s been lovingly aged to a rich golden or deep mahogany color. From Trinidad comes the light and lovely 10 Cane ($25 at BevMo!), made from first-press sugar cane instead of molasses, distilled in French pot stills and aged in French oak casks. Banks 7 Golden Age ($35 at Astor Wines), which is indeed golden in color, is blended from rums hailing from seven islands: Barbados, Guatemala, Guyana, Jamaica, Java (Indonesia!), Panama and Trinidad. Guyana’s El Dorado Superior 12-Year-Old Demerara Rum ($30 at Binny’s) is distilled using the world’s only wooden column still and a wooden pot still.
You probably didn’t expect to find Bacardi on this list. But Bacardi 1873 Solera ($18 at Hi-Time Wine Cellars) is a different animal from the stuff you used as a kid to spike the jungle juice. A great value for such a rich, toasty sipping spirit. Another favorite is the dark and brooding Diplomatico Reserva Venezuelan Rum ($25 at DrinkUpNY.com). From Nicaragua comes the bold and beautiful Flor de Caña Centenario 18 Year ($50 at Crown Wine & Spirits).
The latest release from Cognac Ferrand’s prolific Plantation Rum series is the Plantation Original Dark Rum ($17 at Binny’s), a double-aged rum that gets its first treatment in new American oak and is finished in used cognac barrels. Also new to these here shores is Rhum Agricole Damoiseau VSOP ($40 at Wine Bazaar). The leading Guadeloupean rhum agricole is already a big hit in France, made from fresh-pressed cane juice — not molasses — and aged at least four years. Finally, a homegrown rum (sort of) has been making waves this year. Papa’s Pilar Dark Rum ($37 at Total Wine), inspired by Hemingway, is solera-aged up to 24 years, blended and bottled in Florida from rums made in Panama, Barbados and Dominican Republic.
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