Spirits Santa Cheat Sheet: How to Choose the Perfect Gift Bottle


[Photograph: Glass bottle with ribbon from Shutterstock]

Seasonal celebrations and free flowing libations go hand in hand, but picking the perfect potable as a gift for your favorite discriminating drinker can be a tall order. The world of fine liquor is vast and frustratingly opaque to outsiders, but fear not! Here are some strategies on how to play spirits Santa this year.

Expanding Horizons

Your favorite Serious Drinker may seem like they've tried it all—but they're probably game for sampling something new. Tasting a range of liquor styles and variations is part of the fun of exploring spirits and figuring out what you really like! Begin with what they already tend to enjoy (snoop around the liquor cabinet, or just ask them what they've been getting into lately), and branch out to similar spirits that offer new flavors. For example:

  • For whiskeyphiles, try a different kind of whiskey—scotch, bourbon, Irish, Japanese, and rye are all great options. There's also a close relationship between aged rums and whiskies—especially if they enjoy the sweeter whiskies and the drier rums.
  • If they dig tequila, buy them a smokier mezcal or an earthier sotol.
  • Gin lover? Try other aggressively flavored spirits, like aquavit, or look into genever.

Going Vertical

Another option is to stick with the spirit they love, but offer a variation they haven't tried, from a different distiller or in a different style. They'll be able to taste new flavors this way without straying too far from the comfort zone. Here are a few ideas:

  • If their standard tipple is from one distillery, look for another in the same region so they can compare and contrast local similarities and differences.
  • Mix it up! Get a mellower American style gin for a London Dry guy, a spicier rhum agricole for a sweet rum fan, etc.
  • Stick with style—if you know they like spicy rye, find another to try, maybe from a small distillery.

Family First

If the options above are a little risky for your gifting taste, consider getting them what they like already—but perhaps a pricier variation on their favorite bottle, something they wouldn't normally purchase for themselves. Choose a special offering from their favorite distillery, whether it's a spirit that's been aged differently than usual or a limited vintage release.

For example, say the giftee in question is a Macallan fan, and they usually drink the 12 year Single Malt. You could try:

  • The 18 year
  • The Fine Oak 15 year
  • The 1989 Vintage Release
  • The Whisky Maker's Edition

For scotch drinkers, you'll win bonus points for tracking down independently bottled expressions of a distillery they know and love. These are hard to find and tend to be expensive, but they are pretty universally worth the trouble!

The Sampler Platter

If buying any one bottle seems a bit discriminatory, you can always get together a collection of miniatures. Master of Malt has a wonderful samples collection to peruse.

Cocktail Kit

If you are shopping for more of a cocktail lover than a spirit sipper, help them round out their mixology collection with some fun, exotic, crazy, local, or colorful bitters.

Ask the Pros

If you live in an area where liquor can't be shipped, or are a little hesitant to buy booze over the internets, find a local purveyor of fine liquor and ask what they have in stock using the above strategies. They should be able to recommend several options at varying prices to help you give the best gift possible.

These strategies should help ensure a very merry season, but they're hardly exhaustive. What's your strategy for giving the gift of booze?