Photo by Margaret Pattillo
Ah, the inevitable challenge of finding the perfect holiday gift. Should you go the luxury route or keep it practical? Should you buy one present or many?
Our advice: Buy a bottle. There are enough options in the world of all things alcoholic to find a gift to suit every sipper on your list. With that in mind, we present once again our 12 bottles of Christmas, with a choice to suit every taste.
The ugly sweater bottle
In recent years, the ugly sweater has been a holiday meme of sorts, celebrated for all its seasonal ticky-tacky glory. So it was only a matter of time before an enterprising spirits maker would find a way to booze-ify this new tradition. Savage & Cooke , a California-based distillery, has done just that with its Bad Sweater release ($28), a holiday offering of whiskey smartly flavored with seasonal spices, including cinnamon and nutmeg. It’s a bit like a plum pudding in liquid form.
The red bottle
Many cocktail enthusiasts are quite familiar with Luxardo cherries, the perfect garnish for many a mixed drink. But what about taking that cherry flavor and wedding it to gin? That’s the idea behind Luxardo Sour Cherry Gin ($35), a gin with the properly fruity flavor and deep red color that is in keeping with the season. It can be enjoyed on its own or in a lively variation on a classic cocktail — say, a holiday-minded gin and tonic.
The green bottle (er, can)
In this case, we don’t mean a liquid that is colored green but one that is “green” in an environmental-minded way. Sans Wine Co. is a brand that offers wine made with grapes sourced from organically farmed vineyards — it is sans (as in without ) additives or chemicals; hence the name. It is packaged cleverly as well — in ready-to-go cans. A six-can variety pack ($85) includes varietals ranging from Riesling to Zinfandel.
The Japanese bottle
Yes, you can always buy a quality bottle of sake, the alcoholic drink long associated with Japan. Shochu is a lesser-known — at least in the U.S. — but just as worthy option. It is a distilled spirit made from rice, barley or other ingredients. (By contrast, sake is brewed much like beer.) A good one to gift, especially for a first-timer, is Iichiko Saiten ($30). Iichiko is a leading name in shochu, and this particular version, made from barley, has a delicately intriguing taste. The brand says you should pick up notes of honeydew melon and white grapes.
The other Japanese bottle
On the surface, there’s nothing even vaguely Japanese about WhistlePig, a Vermont-based rye maker that’s become something of a cult favorite in recent years. But the brand has put out a special release , dubbed The Boss Hog: The Samurai Scientist ($500), that has a Japanese connection. It’s a 16-year-old rye that has been aged in barrels that formerly stored umeshu (a Japanese plum wine). And the whiskey indeed has a subtly sweet, plum-like character. The brand rightly calls it “distinctly unique from anything WhistlePig has introduced before.”
The ready-for-a-martini bottle
A bottle of Absolut (OTC:PDRDY) vodka makes a fine holiday offering, particularly the Swedish brand’s top-of-the-line Elyx edition, made in a vintage copper still. But you can take the gift to the next level by pairing a bottle with some of the items found in the Elyx online “boutique,” which features copper-plated bar tools. The basic cocktail set , with shaker, jigger and strainer, is a classy and straightforward option ($109, vodka not included).
The $500 Bob Dylan bottle
We know Bob Dylan, the folk-music icon and Nobel laureate. But what about Bob Dylan, the whiskey maker? The musician is another boldface name with a line of spirits — in his case, a brand of whiskey called Heaven’s Door (the name refers to a classic Dylan song). Now, Dylan has gone beyond that with limited-edition offerings that are dubbed “Bootleg” releases (like bootleg albums). The first of these is a 26-year-old, high-priced Canadian whiskey ($500), made from what’s billed as a “low rye mashbill.” It’s a welcome affair, aged in Japanese wood (yes, another semi-Japanese bottle). And the singer’s fans should take note: The bottle features a Dylan painting, too.
The smoky bottle
When we think of smoky flavors in booze, we usually think of Scotch — in particularly, the peaty expressions that come from the Islay region. But here’s a vodka with that same tell-tale “burnt” taste — the Chase Oak Smoked Vodka ($33) from England’s Chase distillery. The spirit is made by combining water that has been “smoked” for five days — that is, sitting in a smokehouse to soak up all the ashy flavor — with Chase’s vodka, made from English-grown potatoes. The result is something curiously delectable. The brand says it goes great in a Bloody Mary.
The really old bottle
You can find Scotches that have been aged for several decades. But in the world of bourbon, few are aged more than 10 to 12 years, and even fewer are aged past 15 years. The concern is that bourbons beyond a certain time simply become too woody in flavor. But that is not the case with Michter’s recently unveiled, limited-edition 20-year bourbon ($700, though it often sells for more). This is a stunner of a sip, with notes of sweetness and spice and a memorably dry finish. Buy this one — if your budget allows — for the bourbon fanatic in your life.
The bearish bottle
Cakebread Cellars is one of California’s most revered wineries, a Napa Valley name with a history going back to the early ’70s. It’s known especially for its Dancing Bear Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon, with the moniker deriving from the property where the grapes are grown, a place where bears have been known to roam. The wines have received acclaim aplenty, racking up 90-plus-point scores from critics. In a special holiday gift set ($3,500), the wine maker is featuring different vintages of the signature “bear” release, with one bottle each from 2006 to 2010 and two bottles each of the 2012 and 2016 bottlings. The wines come packaged in a cherrywood case.
The French bottle
The French make great wine, of course. And great brandy, too (as in Cognac). But they’re also now in the whisky business. In recent years, Cognac maker Alfred Giraud has been offering a French malt whisky — like Scotch, but from, well, France. It’s more than just an oddity, however. It’s a truly refined, gift-worthy sip that has an especially French signature by virtue of being aged in casks that once stored Cognac. The brand’s offerings include Harmonie ($190), a blend of peated and nonpeated whiskies, and Heritage ($155), a strictly nonpeated affair.
The calendar’s worth of bottles
If you’re having trouble setting on one bottle as a gift, why not buy 24? As in the Advent calendar tradition of a card with two dozen windows. Drinks By the Dram, a British company, offers such calendars (priced starting at around $135), with ones devoted to Scotch, gin and bourbon, among other possibilities. There’s even an Advent calendar for Japanese whisky.