It’s the season of perfectly normal expectations. Oh wait, no, that’s Flag Day. This is the season of outsize expectations, of snow globe re-gifting, embarrassing size issues (#elasticwaistband), and thuggish intimidation from the holiday jewelry industry.
For some reason we all secretly submit to the annual expectation that gifts will bring joy, that an Amazon gift card or carefully chosen sweater vest will help us mend relationships, or stoke new ones. And sure, sometimes that’s the case. But when in doubt, there’s a far easier way to go: quality booze.
Not everyone is an eligible recipient of quality booze; like teetotalers and, well, the young. But Christmas is hardly about children. So if you’re trying to impress someone this year, and the person you’re trying to impress happens to like whiskey or tequila or even has a rare taste for something like traditional sloe gin (yes), we got you covered. Here are seven options, $50 and up, to impress the one you love, or are respectfully terrified of, this holiday season.
Ardbeg Uigeadail – BEST PEAT LOVER’S VALUE
The love child of a May-December marriage of young and old whisky, aged in sherry casks, ideal for an Islay Scotch lover. Look for—nay, be blown away by—classic notes of campfire smoke and pokey salinity, both of which eventually yield their brawny clutches to caramel, vanilla, and even (happy holidays) haunting notes of fruitcake (we’re hoping that’s a forthcoming novel). Not a mild or sweet whisky, though, not by any means. Complex, husky, with smoke tendrils tickling through a long, luxuriously long, finish.
Price Range: Around $55 (plus shipping) to $85.
Irish whiskey is less celebrated than it should be (not that all whiskies, save one or two, shouldn’t be celebrated, preferably nightly). But give a bottle of Redbreast 15 Year and make a convert out of the Scotch stalwart or stubborn Bourbonist (stubbourbonist?) in your life. Single pot still, meaning loads of complexity swirling around a smooth body. From honeyed tropical fruit to spice and the tiniest bit of palate-quenching citrus.
Price Range: Upper $60s to over $100.
Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky – BEST ENTRY LEVEL VALUE
If your loved (or feared) one hasn’t been introduced to the many, and meticulously tweaked, complexities of Japanese whisky, you can be the hero who introduces them. Nikka’s Coffey Grain won’t take them too far to the edges of what Japanese whisky can do, which is probably a good thing, for now. Instead they’ll get a splurge-y bottle busting with rich notes of tropical fruit, leaned out with citrus and spice. PS, expect no “coffee” flavors; “Coffey” is just the name of a kind of column still (as opposed to the squat pot still).
Price Range: Mid $50s. Solid entry level.
A lot of words, but much deserved of Michter’s barrel strength (meaning it’s not diluted to the more typical 40% ABV range, and this one’s actually barreled at a lower proof). You’ll get rich, honey-smooth, delicately spicy rye with just a bracing slap on the back of oak. And yes, anywhere from 108 to 110 (.8, ahem) proof, meaning around 55% ABV, so sip, but sip greedily.
Price Range: $70 to $80
Tequila, like Irish whiskey and your moodily quiet significant other, needs some much-deserved love and understanding. There are sipping tequilas, like this one, aged for 18 months in Grand Cru Sauternes wine casks and (yes, there’s an and) Cognac barrels. Not that the agave expression is masked—totally opposite, it’s pure, earthy, vegetal, green and (politely) hot.
Price Range: Mid $60s to around $90, so shop wisely.
Yes, vodka is on this list, because not all vodka is Popov. Which we all finally discovered somewhere in our 20s. As crystalline a drink as you’d expect from vodka, with a subtle, unexpected curvaceousness and even some fleeting sweetness (plus the smooth, alcohol-tinged body). Also, yes, a bit of presentation-ostentation, but if you know a vodka lover, this won’t disappoint. Bring some caviar and earn bonus points, or a raise.
Price Range: Around $100
Plymouth Sloe Gin – BEST UNEXPECTED BOOZE
Don’t let the name fool you. This sloe gin has none of the soppy sweetness of the saccharine interlopers. Part of a (relatively) tiny comeback, this is a subtler sloe, with silk-slick gin steeped in Concord-purple sloe berries for four months, with just a tiny bit of sugar to balance the sloe berry’s bittersweet astringency. You end up with a balanced, clean-edged but still fruity and supple sip that very conveniently resembles Santa’s rosy cheeks.
Price Range: $50, tops. Don’t confuse it for the liqueur, though that’s also good, too. For a fizz.