For the spirits enthusiast who wants to try something new, consider a gift of Pisco Porton (about $48). Porton is a mosto verde pisco, which means it's distilled from grape must that hasn't fully fermented into alcohol. The process is lengthier and less efficient than distilling from grape wine, which means it's also costlier. But that price comes with a benefit—a smoother, richer pisco. Although Porton makes for a great pisco sour, it's also delicious served on its own.
iSi Twist 'n' Sparkle Beverage Carbonation System
For those who like a bit of spritz in a cocktail, the iSi Twist 'n' Sparkle ($49.95) allows you to carbonate not just the water that goes into a drink but the entire beverage, spirit and mixer and all. The iSi Twist 'n' Sparkle will carbonate up to three cups of cocktail at one time (or four cups of plain water), so it's great when you're having a few people over and you want a batch of fizzy Negronis, for example. Or if you're having a party, take it a step farther, follow these instructions, and prepare a cooler full of bottled fizzy cocktails. Nothing's easier than popping the cap off a beer, and these prebatched wonders offer the same convenience and twice the fun!
Dutch's Colonial Cocktail Bitters
The best bitters release of 2011, these bitters ($17.95) hark back to colonial New York. The botanical blend includes flavor components introduced to settlers of New Amsterdam by the Native Americans with whom they traded. Those ingredients join other flavors from around the globe to form a true melting pot of bittering.
Blue Blazer Mug
When famed nineteenth-century barman Jerry Thomas plied his trade, one trick that brought him renown was the mixing of the Blue Blazer. To make one, Thomas would basically light a whiskey punch aflame and pour the burning beverage quickly from one metal tanker to the other. Luckily for those of us too clumsy to even attempt such a feat, Cocktail Kingdom's new set of two Blue Blazer mugs ($74.95) can equally well accommodate any drink one might prefer to consume hot, whether set ablaze or simply heated with boiling water.
The PDT Cocktail Book
The new book from Jim Meehan, chief barman at New York's renowned speakeasy, PDT. The PDT Cocktail Book ($24.95) takes an ounce of cocktail technique, mixes it with two ounces of recipes, and dashes in Meehan's ideas about running a successful bar program in one of the most competitive cocktail markets in the world. The PDT Cocktail Book is a must not only for the home bartender who wants to duplicate PDT's successful recipes, but it's also great for the elbow-bender who sits at a busy bar and thinks, "What's it really like to be back there?" (You can get a little preview here.)
Brooklyn-based Bittermens, already well-respected for its line of bitters and tinctures, entered the spirits market in 2011 with a line of spirits and liqueurs. Bittermens Spirits ($29.99) are designed to occupy a unique place in the market, with liqueurs based on flavors such as cinnamon and grapefruit, and American amaros, similar to their European ancestors.
Tiki Mug Party Pack
This set of four brightly colored, tropically designed, tall ceramic tiki mugs ($18.85) is a great gift for your favorite tiki lover. Each mug measures 10 ounces, so they're perfect for tall, icy concoctions. Rum, pineapples, coconuts, and limes not included.
Buffalo Trace Antique Collection
Every year for over a decade, the Buffalo Trace distillery has released what it calls its antique collection, a limited-edition issue of five premium American whiskeys. This year's batch includes 15-year-old George T. Stagg bourbon, bottled barrel strength at 142 proof; 18-year-old Sazerac Rye, a relative lightweight at 90 proof; 17-year-old Eagle Rare bourbon, also at 90 proof; William Larue Weller bourbon, distilled in 1998 and bottled at 133 proof; and Thomas H. Handy Sazerac, distilled in 2005 and weighing in at 128.6 proof. Each one retails for $70. These whiskeys are always complex, rich, and satisfying, and I have many friends who look forward to each year's release.
Mackinlay's Rare Old Highland Malt Whisky
In 1907, the explorer Ernest Shackleton set out on an expedition for Antarctica. Shackleton didn't quite achieve his goal of reaching the South Pole, and he returned to England in 1909. Someone in his party, however, left behind a stash of Mackinlay's scotch whisky, distilled probably around 1897. Over 100 years later, the stash was uncovered by workers restoring Shackleton's hut. Bottles from the stash were delivered to Mackinlay's current corporate parent, Whyte & Mackay, whose master distiller, Richard Paterson, set out to analyze and, if possible, recreate the whisky. Mackinlay's Rare Old Highland Malt Whisky ($179.99) is the result.
Scotch Malt Whisky Society
Speaking of malt whisky, one of the finest gifts you can give a malt lover might well be membership in the Scotch Malt Whisky Society ($229.00). The Society buys single casks of whisky and bottles them for sale exclusively to members. New members receive a starter kit that includes four small sample bottles of malt. Benefits also include exclusive invitations to whisky tastings in various U.S. cities, and access to members' rooms in Leith, Edinburgh, and London.