When it comes to gift giving, it’s the thought that counts. And when that thought involves sharing a little holiday spirit with your fellow man, all the better. Holiday spirit, in this case, is a euphemism for booze. Duh. Be the most popular person at the holiday party this year by giving a bottle of something stiff, like vodka, gin or even mezcal. If you’re lucky, you might even get a little nip 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. Also see: 28 Brown Spirits We Stand Behind
The clearest of the clear spirits should, by law, be odorless and flavorless. Someone should have told Börje Karlsson, the visionary behind Absolut Vodka and creator of the much smaller-batch Karlsson’s Gold Vodka. He gives the potato-based spirit the wine treatment, releasing a limited-edition Karlsson’s 2009 Vintage ($75, K&L Wines) that’s full of flavor, with earthy notes and a hint of pepper.
Speaking of Absolut, the brand selected Chicago as its latest city to embody in a bottle. Absolut Chicago ($20, The Liquor Barn) tastes not of deep-dish pizza (thank god) but of rosemary, thyme and whiffs of olive brine. Hailing from New Zealand, 42 Below Vodka is fruity and silky, a clean four-times-distilled spirit. For the gluten-free person on your list, Fair Quinoa Vodka ($20, Hi-Time Wine Cellars) does not taste like quinoa. Instead, it’s light and citrusy – but the main attraction is that it’s fair trade. For a little extra kick, there’s Hophead Vodka ($34, NapaCabs). Distilled from Washington State hops, it’s grassy and excellent in a Bloody Mary.
Flavored vodkas can be gimmicky (we’re looking at you, wedding cake vodka). But some vodkas are gently infused with flavors that make them ideal for seasonal cocktails. Take the recently released Crop Spiced Pumpkin Vodka ($27, Binny’s): organic pumpkin pie in a bottle. 4 Orange Vodka ($26, Crown Wine & Spirits) is not infused from oranges but distilled from four different types of Florida oranges for a zesty, sweet-citrusy effect. Square One Botanical ($28, DrinkUpNY.com) is nearly, but not quite, a gin. Infused with organic pear, rose, chamomile, lemon verbena, lavender, rosemary, coriander and citrus peel, the company likes to call it “Eden in a bottle.”
Once referred to as “mother’s ruin” for its destructive effects on 18th-century Londoners, gin has grown up into a fine, aromatic spirit. The London Dry style is still the standard, although softer, more floral styles have emerged in recent years. From Wisconsin, Death’s Door Gin ($27, BevMo!) blends juniper berries, coriander and fennel for its savory, London Dry-style botanical profile. Ford’s Gin ($31, Astor Wines & Spirits), created by our own columnist Simon Ford, is actually distilled in London, another example of the traditional dry genre.
Some people find the London Dry style too, well, “gin-y.” A new breed of gins is less juniper-forward and more citrusy and floral. Tanqueray Malacca ($24, Empire Wine), based on a recipe from the 19th century, is fruity and cinammon-spiced. Nolet’s Silver Dry Gin ($39, Bourbon Street Wine & Spirits) may be made in the London Dry style, but hailing from the Netherlands, takes on a slightly fruitier character. Also made in Holland, Bols Genever ($32, Sherry-Lehman) is the spirit that gave birth to English gin.
We’re talking white spirits here, but several gin producers have been putting their product in barrels, just to see what happens. The result: a pale straw color and warm spiced flavors. Citadelle Réserve Gin ($38, Blackwell’s), from France, retains the fruitiness of the original botanicals, accented by vanilla and spice. Chief Gowanus ($37, DrinkUpNY.com), the newest gin from the New York Distilling Company, is made in the Genever style, with notes of rye, juniper and citrus. Perhaps the strangest release of the year has been Pierde Almas 9 ($95, Astor Wines & Spirits), a mezcal-based spirit infused with nine gin botanicals that evokes herbs, spice and smoke all at once.
Speaking of mezcal, it seems a shame to lump agave spirits in with all the other whites, especially given that it can be aged to a deep amber color. But here goes. Astral ($35, Chambers Street Wines) is a new tequila out this year, released by a mezcal importer, which may be why it’s so rich and complex – and 92 proof. Complexity is the name of the game with the Ocho line of tequilas, which like wine focus on terroir and even have a vintage statement on the label. Tequila Ocho Los Fresnos Plata 2013 ($42, Astor Wines & Spirits) is citrusy and herbal.
ArteNOM Selección 1414 ($45, K&L Wines) is a reposado – “rested” in barrels for 10 months – nutty and softly spiced. Calle 23 Añejo ($40, Woodland Hills Wine Company), made by a French woman living in Mexico, is light in color despite spending 16 months in oak barrels, and is redolent of vanilla and coffee.
The mother of tequila is mezcal. Maybe your mother would like a bottle – or someone else on your list. Del Maguey is gold standard for traditional village mezcal. Its Vino de Mezcal series features ultra small-batch spirits, like the tropical, herbaceous Del Maguey San Luis Del Rio Azul ($60, Wine Anthology). Even more exotic than mezcal is bacanora, an agave spirit from the Mexican state of Sonora. Cielo Rojo Bacanora ($43, Hi-Time Wine Cellars) is wild and creamy.
Sugar cane spirits
Rum is the quintessential party spirit and there are few better reasons to celebrate than the looming year’s end. Buy your favorite party animal a bottle of American-made Montanya Rum Platino ($30, Crown Wine & Spirits), a floral and honeyed spirit from Colorado. St. George California Agricole Rum ($50, K&L Wines) is another homegrown product, inspired by the rhums agricoles of the French Antilles. Sweet and grassy, it’s made from fresh-pressed cane juice instead of molasses.
Demerera Distillers El Dorado Cask Aged 3 Year Old Rum ($23, DrinkUpNY.com) might look like any other light rum, but it has all the rich, spiced notes barrel aging imparts despite being charcoal filtered clear. Simon Ford’s The 86 Co. Caña Brava Panama Rum ($29, Astor Wines & Spirits) undergoes a similar process. Aged for three years, which imparts color to the spirit in addition to deep molasses notes, it too, gets filtered back to crystal clarity. There’s a product that falls under the sugar cane spirits category, but isn’t a rum: Brazilian cachaça. Novo Fogo Organic Silver Cachaça ($25, Chambers Street Wines) is sweet and salty, tasting of the fresh cane it’s made from.
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