2015 Holiday Spirits Gift Guide

2015 Holiday Spirits Gift Guide

The 2015 shopping season is now in full swing. It's time to decide what to buy for the friends and family on your gift list.

Whether you're buying gifts for Christmas, Hanukkah, or any of a myriad of other year-end holidays, something delicious to drink is always in style.

I've tasted through quite a few spirits in recent weeks in attempt to find some killer gift ideas to recommend. I believe I've found the ultimate spirits to make your friends, family, and loved ones praise your ability to choose the perfect gift. These aren't your average, Secret Santa $15 bottles of pinot with a bow. These are some serious spirits guaranteed to get the job done.

Here are 17 terrific offerings in a variety of price ranges that will make your loved ones smile and keep them warm.

Papa’s Pilar Limited Edition Re-Barreled Dark Rum 2015 ($39.99)

I'm a huge fan of Papa's Pilar original Dark Rum. So when I heard there was a limited edition, I had to try it. This rum spent 120 days in bourbon barrels. Overall, it's slightly drier than the original. The nose shows off a cornucopia of spices and aromas and bits of anise are really prominent. The palate is studded with coconut, chocolate dates, and more. The finish is long and persistent with milk chocolate, nutmeg, and clove notes. What I love about this rum and the others in the Papa's portfolio is the diversity of flavors. The Hemingway Estate marries rums from numerous places to create this proprietary blend. It's a unique offering with a broadly layered flavor profile. For $40 this is a great way to turn your spirit sipping friends on to high end rum.

Courvoisier VS Cognac ($40)

This cognac is distilled in 25 hectolitre alambic pot stills. Bits of toasted hazelnut and dried dates are in evidence on the nose. The smooth palate has a honeyed edge that's lays on top of dried white fig, mango, and white pepper spice. Dark chocolate and a hint of molasses mark the long finish. This is a classic cognac that's widely available. In short, it never goes out of style and makes a perfect gift for the friend who likes to sip like a ladies' man.

Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva ($40)

This selection was distilled in pot stills and then aged over 12 years in small oak barrels. The distillery uses Canadian white oak exclusively. Roasted, spice-covered banana aromas fill the nose of this rum. The palate is weighty with tremendously pleasing mouth-feel. Tropical fruit and spices are joined by bits of honey. These all lead to brown sugar, fig, and bits of chocolate on the finish. This is a remarkably smooth example of rum without a single sharp edge. It leans gently towards the sweeter side of aged sipping rums.

Malahat Black Tea Rum ($40)

Malahat is an artisanal spirits company based in San Diego. This small batch rum includes teas from Southeast Asia. The nose presents coconut, hints of pineapple, and toasted nut. Once you take a sip, the black tea elements become apparent. There is a gentle nature to the palate which is sweet and refined with wisps of molasses and continued tropical fruit flavors such as papaya. The black tea adds a lovely counterpoint, but it does not overwhelm the senses. Instead, it simply plays along, adding depth. The finish is smooth with lingering sweetness and a final bit of black tea. This works great in cocktails, but is also deserving of being sipped neat. Malahat is a great choice for the cocktail lover who supports small businesses.

Plantation Barbados 2001 Rum ($44.99)

This single vintage rum looks like iced tea when you pour it. Stick your nose in and aromas of chocolate, fig, and pepper abound. The gently layered palate shows off toasted nuts, milk chocolate, and dried stone fruits. The finish is off the hook long and simply prodigious in nature with spices, hints of coffee, bits of toffee, marzipan, and more. This is a remarkably impressive and singular sipping rum.

Bunnahabhain 12-Year-Old Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($45)

This non-chill-filtered Scotch comes from a region known best for heavily peated and smoky offerings.  Belying its regional origins, the nose of this scotch shows off elements that put me in a mind of fine sherry. Toasted nuts and dried dates are in evidence along with a touch of wheat. The palate is refined and quite lovely with bits of golden raisin, white fig, apricot, and white pepper all present. Lots of spices, dried fruit, and a hint of cocoa emerge on the long, warm finish. This is really nice scotch that provides a lot of value for the money.

Highspire Whiskey ($50)

This whiskey is made entirely from rye. Some 95 percent of the rye used is grown for the company — Highspire is owned by Central Coast winemaker Austin Hope — by a farmer less than a mile from the distillery. It's then aged in barrels that previously contained California wine. The big nose shows off toasted pecans, hints of red fruit, and spice. The deep palate has lots of dried stone fruit, more toasted nuts, bits of date, and lots of zingy spice notes such as white pepper. The long finish shows off bits of dusty chocolate and a nice bite. This versatile whiskey can be sipped neat or mixed into cocktails that will benefit from its quality.

Booker’s Bourbon Maw Maw’s Batch ($59.99)

This limited edition bourbon is named in honor of Booker's grandmother. Toasted hazelnuts and pecans are apparent on the nose along with Mexican vanilla bean and a host of spices. Dried stone fruits dominate the palate along with bits of tropical fruits, hints of toasted wheat, and continuing spices. The finish is long, intense, and a bit fiery. I found it paired really well with bitter dark chocolate, toasted nuts, and the like. Maw Maw's is a lovely sipper for the bourbon fan in your life.

Bookers Batch 2015-04 ($59.99)

This small lot batch from Booker's is also called the "Oven Buster Batch." This uncut bourbon was aged for six years, five months, and 20 days. Seventh-generation distiller Fred Noe and a small collection of experts selected this offering. Toasty oak, vanilla, and heady stone fruit aromas fill the nose. Roasted chestnut, dried tropical fruits, white pepper, and vanilla all fill out the deep and intense palate. The long finish is spicy and fiery with echoing bits of heat. This is a lovely small batch expression of Booker's.

Plantation Guadeloupe 1998 ($64.99)

This single-vintage rum was produced from 100 percent pressed sugar cane. The moment you pour it, the lovely dark hue shimmers beautifully. The nose is stuffed with tons of dark aromas such as toasted nuts, date, and mission fig. The nuts continue on the palate with pecan characteristics joining bits of maple syrup, white and black fig, and wisps of reverberating black tea. The lengthy, persistent finish shows off dusty cocoa, hints of molasses, and pepper spices. This is a lovely rum intended to sip neat. If you want to introduce someone to sipping rums, this one will surely spoil them.

Beam Suntory Hibiki Japanese Harmony Whisky ($64.99)

This whisky is a blend of no less than 19 malt and grain whiskies, which have been aged in five cask types. This whisky opens with a beautiful nose. Fresh cut wheat, vanilla bean, and white pepper are all in evidence. The palate is soft, layered, gentle, and remarkably complex for the price point. Dried stone fruits dominate with copious amounts of spices present as well. The finish is long, robust, and layered with spices, continued dried fruit, and a nice final bite. If you have a scotch loving friend that you want to surprise with something outside of their comfort zone, try this.

Don Q Gran Añejo ($65)

The Gran Añejo is the top offering in this Puerto Rican rum producer's portfolio. It was made using rums with nine to 12 years of age on them as well as some solera rums with up to 50 years of age. Toasty oak, an inherent nuttiness, and date aromas fill the expressive nose. The palate has hints of sweetness, but leans towards the dry side of things. There's a ton of depth here with toasted nuts, spice, bits of date, fig, and more. The finish is long and mellifluous. If you're looking for a top shelf sipping rum to give as a gift, this one will knock out the recipient with its depth and persistence.

Lepanto Oloroso Brandy De Jerez Solera Gran Reserva ($68.99)

This Solera Gran Reserva was produced exclusively from palomino grapes. It was aged for 15 years following the traditional solera method. It has a beautiful rich mahogany hue. Toasted hazelnut and brown sugar aromas are prominent. The palate is concentrated and simply strewn with toasted nuts, spices, dark dried fruits such as fig, and more. A gentle hint of toasted espresso leads the finish which also shows off chamomile tea, wisps of maple syrup, spices, and pecan notes. This is an extremely rich and elegant brandy. I hope someone puts this under my tree.

Kinahan’s 10-Year-Old Single Malt Whiskey ($69)

Composed of 100 percent malted barley, this Irish whiskey was distilled in copper pot stills. Tropical fruit aromas and Mexican vanilla bean aromas leap from the nose. Dried pineapple, marzipan, white pepper, and golden delicious apple flavors are all present on the palate, which has nice depth and an inherent bit of sweetness that has strong appeal. The persistent finish has a touch of pleasing heat, crème fraîche, continued spices, and a tiny hint of tar. This is a terrific offering that should please anyone who appreciates well-made single malts with genuine character.

T1 Estelar Añejo Tequila ($79.99)

This tequlia is produced exclusively from blue agave. After distillation, it's aged in ex-bourbon barrels for up to 24 months. This lovely tequila opens with toasted nut aromas on the nose alongside bits of tea. The palate is refined and largely dry with roasted coffee, nuts, and a hint of toffee in evidence. The finish sows of marzipan, chicory, and a host of spices. This is lovely expression of añejo. In addition to being a delicious spirit, the beautiful presentation adds to the gift appeal.

Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon $119

This release was bottled at barrel strength. Unlike some distilleries, Four Roses uses separate mash bills  (brewing materials) for each of their different offerings as well as their own yeasts. Those elements add to the unique taste of their bourbons. Dried stone fruits, spice, and toast are all in evidence on the heady nose. Baked apple, apricot, and nectarine flavors dominate the palate alongside a plethora of spices. The firm and persistent finish shows off a touch of baker's chocolate, more spices, and a nice bit of gentle heat. Grab this small production offering as a gift for a friend or yourself before it's gone.

Tears of Llorona Extra-Extra Añejo Tequila ($249)

This extra-old añejo is produced exclusively from blue agave grown on volcanic slopes in Jalisco. Master distiller Germán Gonzalez uses proprietary yeast and a slow fermentation method. This offering is bottled at 43 percent alcohol. Toast and hints of cocoa emerge on the nose along with dried fig aromas. The palate is rich and layered with a remarkable depth and complexity. Bits of dried yellow fruit, chamomile tea, spices, and more are all present. The long and impressive finish shows off dark chocolate, toasted almonds, and dried peach. This is a very impressive extra añejo that reminds me of a scotch with 25-30 years of age on it, such is the profundity.