2017 Holiday Drinker’s Gift Guide
Every year we look back over the past twelve months and recall the best booze we’ve had the pleasure of trying. Some were by chance at barbecues or parties, some might have been given to us by friends, and some we just happen to pick up at the local liquor store. But all of them were bottles we tried, and bottles we really, really liked. If you’re wracking your brain to come up with the perfect whiskey, tequila, bourbon, Scotch or unique spirit to give for a Christmas present, look no further than our annual Holiday Drinker’s Gift Guide.
This year has been a great one for both traditional Scotch brands and newcomers to the marketplace. One that caught our attention was an offering from Flaviar, the subscription whiskey club that sends you new and interesting tasting boxes each quarter (picked by you), as well as access to hard to find whiskies and free shipping. This year they decided to cut out the middleman and create their own Scotch, which they’ve aptly dubbed, Son of a Peat (MSRP $60). This blended malt Scotch is comprised of eight different single malts from three different regions in Scotland, including Islay, Islands and Speyside. The result, as the name suggests, is a beautiful, peat-filled, smoky, single-malt experience that will leave you as content and relaxed as a dog laying in front of the fireplace. With fruity notes and a sweet finish this will make any Scotch lover’s holiday! Available at Son of a Peat.
Another brand we ran across this year was from a small place in Rhode Island called Sons of Liberty Beer & Spirits Company. This place does something pretty unique, they brew craft beers and then distill them into single malts and seasonal spirits. We flipped over their single malt, UPRISING (MSRP $44.99 but soon they’ll be switching to a higher ABV offering for $49.99). Using 100% malted barley that includes darker malts used in stout beers, they created a truly complex and delicious whiskey. This is double distilled and then aged in newly charred American oak barrels, which is complemented with toasted French oak. Notes of cinnamon and fruit are really noticeable, and the taste is complex and deep, warm and spicy. This is a great whiskey that can be sipped on any occasion. What’s nice is they also sell craft packs which feature three smaller bottles, giving whomever you gift this to the chance to taste a variety of their spirits (MSRP $44.99). Available at Bottles Fine Wine.
If you want to go all out this year then may we suggest something truly amazing – the Laphroaig 27 Year Old (MSRP $750). The process to make this includes placing a portion of the whisky in refill quarter casks and the rest in first filled bourbon barrels. The resulting blend mixes together a number of different tastes and notes to create a truly smoky, peaty masterpiece. However, if you want something just a bit cheaper, Laphroaig also introduced their Laphroaig Cairdeas Quarter Cask (MSRP $79.99). The whisky is double matured in two American oak barrels, and then bottled at cask strength. The result is a rich and buttery expression with notes of peat and smoke, plus citrus and warm spices. What a beautiful way to ring in the holidays! Both available at Ace Spirits.
We’ll start out this section with probably the best mixing tequila we’ve tried this year, the Tres Agaves Reposado (from $31.99). This beautiful, straw-hued tequila is made at the 117 year old El Llano distillery in Tequila with 8 year old 100% Blue Weber Agaves. The 5th generation master distiller in charge of turning the hardy agave into this delicious spirit firsts slowly roast the plants for two days before extracting the delicious juice. They double distill in traditional copper pots and then age nine months in Tennessee and Kentucky whiskey barrels (note that reposado only has to be aged for 6 months, but they take a bit longer to get the best flavor). The result is a fully balanced tequila that sits great in a glass by itself, or with a few other ingredients mixed in. It tastes of fruit and vanilla, with notes of citrus. This is one to make your margarita with! Available at Mel & Rose.
Corralejo Tequila (found from $32.99) won us a bet (well it won Clint a bet anyway). When a certain bartender said offhandedly that tequila could only come from Jalisco, he was quick to point out that there were some special exceptions. When the bartender disagreed, Clint smirked and asked if the next drink was on the house if she was wrong. She was wrong. Corralejo Tequila is that special tequila that doesn’t come from Jalisco, where the government of Mexico says tequila has to come from to be called tequila. Instead, it comes from the state of Guanajuato, found about 130 miles to the east of where tequila usually comes from. Why the exception? Well, simply put, Hacienda Corralejo was the first commercial tequila distillery, opening in 1775, so their history definitely warrants some rule-bending. Our favorite is the anejo, which is aged in new American oak barrels for a minimum of 12 months. The result, reflective of their 250 year old, traditional process, is absolutely divine, with notes of oak, smoke, cocoa and, vanilla and tastes of caramel, apple, pepper, and warm spice. A delicious addition to a holiday! For those who want to spend a bit more you can also try their 1821 Ultra Anejo, truly a connoisseur's tequila. Both available at BevMo.
One of the newest types of tequilas out there is called cristalino, and it’s expected to become an official tequila category in 2018, joining the traditional categories of blanco, reposado and anejo (and ultra anejo). When it was first introduced to the market, the cristalino category was described as a clear anejo. This didn’t make a lot of sense to tequila drinkers who, after all, were used to a dark, rich spirit pouring out of bottles labeled anejo. In the case of cristalino, the tequila is aged the required 12 months, and then put through a filtration process, which takes out certain flavors, but also takes out the color. What’s left, in the case of the new Hornitos Cristalino (MSRP $29.99) is a very different, very complex anejo tequila experience. Because of the process it undergoes, this particular offering has both the herbal, agave notes you’d expect from a blanco, mixed with the sweetness and smoothness you find in the anejos. A delicious and unusual gift for the tequila lover! Available at Total Wine.
We featured the Glendalough 7 and 13 Year Old Single Malt earlier this year in our Irish Whiskeys for Saint Patrick’s Day article, and here we are doing it again (yeah, we liked them both). They were relative newcomers, then now today they’re widely available. The 7 year old is the lighter and sweeter of the two with just a touch of citrus zest. The 13 year old is the deeper of the two (guess that comes with age), and spicier and richer, and features just a touch of clove and a hint of citrus. Get the 7 year old ($49.95) for the loved one who enjoys lighter whiskeys or just starting out with the Irish whiskey, and the 13 year old ($89.95) for that scotch drinker on your list (they're sure to appreciate its complex and deep flavoring). Both available at Binny’s Beverage Depot.
On a recent trip to the Motor City (Detroit for those not in the know), we found ourselves visiting a place called Nancy Whiskey in Corktown. There it’s tradition for new comers, like ourselves, to take a shot of Tullamore Dew - so we honored the tradition and had a shot….or two. This got us thinking, what else does Tullamore offer? A little investigating, a few dollars at the local liquor store, and we found ourselves cracking open a bottle of Tullamore Dew’s 12 Year Old Special Reserve. Tullamore describes the whiskey as having deep flavor with notes of chocolate. While we did get the chocolatey flavor we also noted vanilla and a slight raisin like flavor at the end. We really like this warm Irish whiskey and think it’s a perfect compliment to a warm fireplace on a cold winter night. At $52 it won’t break the bank and is sure to be a hit. Available at BevMo.
We discovered Writers Tears Irish Whiskey while perusing one of our local liquor stores and, given our chosen profession, the name alone dictated a must try. Writers Tears comes to us as a 60% malt and 40% single pot still whiskey that is then triple distilled and aged in American oak bourbon casks. We found it to be pleasantly light, even a touch fruity, and a joy to consume whilst writing this year’s gift guide. At a palatable $39.99 a bottle, this is the perfect gift for the that special novelist, writer or scribe on your Christmas list. Available at K&L Wine Merchants.
Booker’s bourbon has been around for a few years now. It was developed by Fred Noe, Jim Beam’s Master Distiller and son of the legendary Booker Noe. Well, as it turns out, Fred’s son, Freddie, is a pretty good hand himself at mixing whiskeys, and the Jim Beam Little Book: The Easy (MSRP $80.00) is his first commercial attempt at making his own. Cask-strength like the bottles produced in the Booker’s line, Little Book: The Easy checks in at a very specific 128.2 proof. But aside from that, it’s actually pretty different from the traditional Booker’s Bourbon. Whereas Booker’s has a very pronounced spiciness, Little Book is sweeter, with flavors of vanilla and caramel. It is a delicious sipping whiskey, especially with just a bit of water added. This was a limited release so it may be difficult to find, but it will be worth it for the person you gift it to! Available at Keg n Bottle.
Over the last couple of years cask strength whiskey has really started to take off and one of our favorites is Maker’s Mark Cask Strength Bourbon Whisky. This is Maker’s Mark’s first cask strength offering, and if you have anyone on your list who likes bourbon, or better yet Maker’s Mark, then this has to be one of your top considerations for a gift. Take the normal Maker’s Mark, ramp up the flavor and strength (as the whisky comes straight from the barrel), and you have Maker’s Mark Cask Strength. Whoever you buy it for we recommend you have them try it straight, then add ice and sip on it as the melted ice mixes with the whisky. It makes for a great way to enjoy a full variety of the flavor offerings. It can be found at Total Wine for about $50 a bottle.
What do you get when you take Jim Beam Black out of the barrel, throw it into a newly charred oak barrel, age it a little longer and then bottle it? Jim Beam’s Double Oak. This is one of our budget picks for this year’s gift guide, and while it can be had for less than $20 in some locations, the price is not indicative of it being a cheap or unflattering bourbon. Moving the spirit into the new barrel really helps to intensify the vanilla and oak/wood flavoring found in the original. We enjoyed it on the rocks or used in some of our favorite bourbon based cocktails like the Manhattan or the old, college fall-back of bourbon and coke. The double oak is a perfect gift for that Jim Beam fan on your list or someone looking to expand their bar’s bourbon-based drink offerings. Available at Total Wine.
Sotol is not nearly as well known in the United States as its cousins, mezcal or tequila, but this delicious spirit has been quenching the thirst of Mexico for hundreds of years. Made from the baked heart, or pina, of the Desert Spoon, sotol is a much softer, creamier and earthy spirit than either of those made with agave. And for your money, the best one to buy is Fabriquero Sotol (MSRP $67.99). Newly imported into the U.S., Fabriquero Sotol is handmade in Durango, Mexico by Don Héctor Jiménez, who uses the same techniques passed down from his own father at a distillery that’s been making sotol for almost 100 years. The taste includes grass, flowers, earth and maybe even some sage. It coats your mouth with a creaminess found in only the most expensive of ultra anejo tequilas. Get a bottle of this for the tequila lover who might be looking for something different. Available at Old Town Tequila.
Nothing feels more like the holidays than sipping a warm cup of apple cider, but this Christmas you’d do well to try Watershed Distillery’s new Apple Brandy. Made with 100% Ohio-grown apples, this is Watershed’s premiere bottling of a very traditional American spirit. Add some of this to your hot cider, or drink it straight on the rocks for a delicious winter treat. And while we’re talking about Watershed, we also want to mention one of the most unusual but delicious liqueurs we’ve tried in a long time that they just so happen to make, Nocino. Nocino is a traditional apertif native to Northern Italy and made from unripened green walnuts steeped in a spirit and then mixed with simple syrup (honestly, how do they come up with this stuff?). It’s then flavored with warming spices, such as clove or cinnamon. This is a wonderful addition to a cocktail shelf, especially because it’s so unusual. And the fact that it’s made in Ohio makes it that much cooler. (MSRP $29.99 and available at Binny’s)
The marula tree, native to South Africa and sometimes called the Marriage Tree, has been an important supplier of a particular type of fruit for hundreds (perhaps thousands) of years. The medium-sized, delicate fruit is sought after by local indigenous people and the local fauna, especially elephants, which travel for miles to pluck the ripened fruit off the ground. And because anything with sugar can and will be distilled, so is the marula. It is now featured prominently in a new cream liqueur called Amarula Cream Liqueur (MSRP $19.99). This delicious and unique drink, ringing in at 17% ABV, features an unusual hint of distilled marula, which gives the cream a citrus-pear flavor. So while it’s sort of like a Bailey’s or other creams, it doesn’t have the chocolate-coffee-butterscotch savory taste going on. Also, as part of Amarula’s ‘Don’t Let Them Disappear’ campaign, a portion of every sale goes to WildlifeDIRECT to aid elephant conservation. Available at Total Wine.
We hope you enjoyed this year’s list of offerings for that special drunkard in your life. Please let us know what you/they think of the gifts you end up with. Happy holidays, and as always, Cheers!