The 2017 holiday season is upon us, and we all have a multitude of loved ones on our shopping lists — people we care about, and people we like to think will smile when they open our gifts. The act of shopping for those gifts, however, has become more challenging and stressful in today's on-demand society. Most of us have access to web retailers who will deliver products nearly instantly for free or a minimal fee, so it's sometimes hard to stay ahead of what people might buy for themselves.
Don't worry: A bottle of rum, whisky, or other spirit will always be welcome. In fact, spirits are a great gift choice: They never go bad, so there’s no pressure to open them immediately. The number of available small-batch and limited-edition expressions of whisky, tequila, rum, gin, and more has exploded in recent years, so the number of choices in each of those categories is far more varied than it was even five years ago.
With that in mind, I tasted quite a few offerings in those categories and beyond, ultimately selecting 13 spirits I can heartily recommend, including well-known standbys, special releases, and new additions to a few portfolios from famous producers. Each of them is delicious and worth its price — and there's also something for almost any budget.
This offering is made from a blend that has aged up to 12 years. Casks are selected and individually bottled. Hints of vanilla bean and maple syrup fill the nose. Toasted nuts, mission fig, dates, and savory spices are present on the palate. Allspice, nutmeg, and a touch of roasted espresso emerge on the finish, which is has good length and persistence.
This Sonoma County gin is produced from ingredients sourced both locally and internationally (the Meyer lemon is from the creator’s own backyard). The aromatics and flavors of this gin are incredibly well-balanced and contain elements of several classic styles. The nose is intense, with a particularly noteworthy wallop of spices. An abundance of citrus and tropical fruit drives the palate along with bits of earth. The finish is spicy and lasting. Everything here is driven and held together by the juniper, off which each characteristic plays.
This reposado is aged in barrel for seven months. The opulent nose shows off tropical fruits and traces of burnt brown sugar. A hint of thyme leads the palate along with citrus notes and a dusting of Baker’s chocolate. The finish is long, honeyed, and pleasing. This is a high-quality reposado that drinks above its price point.
This single-estate cognac was double-distilled in traditional pot stills. Aging took place in French Limousin oak barrels. It has a deep coppery hue. White fruits, spices, and toasted hazelnuts present on the nose. The palate is full-flavored and measured, with fleshy yellow fruit, toasted nuts, spice, and hints of leather. A hint of dark chocolate emerges on the finish.
This is the first new permanent addition to the Ardbeg range of single malt whisky in nearly a decade. Its color is bright gold. Savory herbs, subtle peat, and fresh yellow fruit aromas light up the nose. The palate is a real mélange of flavors, with savory herbs interspersed with yeasty brioche, sweet fruit, marzipan, and copious spices. The finish has depth and measured intensity. The final thing that rings out is a placid bit of smoke. This is a unique offering within the Ardbeg portfolio.
The Macallan, one of the most storied names in the world of scotch, has aged this release in American oak casks, which had previously held sherry. The light copper hue shimmers in the glass. Roasted apple and bits of crème brûlée waft from the nose. Tangerine zest, fruitcake spices, and toasted nuts are all evident on the palate. The warming finish shows off toasty oak, peppercorns, and sweet dried fruits.
Aging took place for six years in American bourbon barrels, followed by 10 years in New Zealand wine casks. Dried apricots, toasted pecans, and wallop of spices inform the extroverted nose. The intense palate exhibits oodles of dried fruits, spices, and a hint of dusty cocoa. Wisps of mesquite honey, peppercorn, and a touch of marzipan are evident on the impressive finish.
This extra añejo is the first new addition to Patrón’s main range in well over 20 years. It was aged in barrel for more than three years. Aromas of mission fig, dried papaya, and peppercorns dot the nose. The palate is full-flavored, suggesting dates, vanilla bean, mango, and a little mesquite honey. The impossibly long finish shows off some tangerine zest and a tiny hint of toasty oak.
This vodka is a joint effort between Grey Goose cellar master François Thibault and multi-Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse. It was made with toasted French wheat, an idea born out of Ducasse’s appreciation of roasted chocolate and coffee beans. The goal here was to create vodka of higher gastronomic interest than usual. That goal was achieved: The vodka is nuanced, with a range of flavors, elegance, and depth to spare. Vanilla bean and toast notes are evident on the nose. The palate has a level of complexity not often found in vodka, with flaky biscuit, wisps of citrus, toasted nuts, and more. The finish is long, lingering, deep, and clean. It begs you back to the glass for additional sips.
Utilizing a combination of five proprietary yeast strains and two mash bills (grain mixes), Four Roses has four distinct bourbon recipes, three of which are combined for this year’s Limited Edition Small Batch. A plethora of spices, toast, and vanilla are all apparent on the welcoming nose. The palate is stuffed with dried mango, apricot, toasted nuts, and a host of red fruits. The notable finish shows off frosting-covered cinnamon bun notes and bits of toasted pecan.
For the cognac-lover looking to take his or her experience to the next level, Bourgoin is a producer to consider. They practice natural methods, bottle single casks at cask strength, and utilize no additives. From the first whiff through the last sip, there’s a level of grace and sophistication at play here that impresses the senses. White fruits, spices, and wisps of vanilla dot the nose. The palate is stuffed with ebullient white and yellow dried fruits, bits of toast, and a gentle wisp of chamomile. The finish is long, pleasant, and memorable.
Compass Box decided to launch this scotch it without sharing its makeup or their tasting notes. Those will be eventually published and can be requested directly from Compass Box. In the meantime, in the glass, Phenomenology has a pale straw hue. The nose exudes a gentle bit of peat and vanilla bean. Toasted wheat, hints of candied ginger, and toasty oak are all evident on the palate. These characteristics all carry through the persistent and somewhat fiery finish.
Just eight casks of this tequila, barrel-aged for eight years, were produced. It is light yellow in color. A pure burst of agave springs from the nose along with a touch of peat and savory herbs. The palate is stuffed with dried fruits, pepper, and bits of brown sugar. Hints of toast, savory herb, and a final bit of smoke are all evident on the long and persistent finish.
Looking for something a little less alcoholic? Try one of these 20 sparkling wines, Champagne and otherwise, for the holidays.