Eat, drink, be merry and drink! Here are some gift ideas for the hard-to-shop-for uncle or an answer to what to bring to an approaching Christmas party. It is far from a comprehensive list of liquors, but these suggestions should be welcomed by anyone who is not on a temperance council, and they shouldn't empty the wallet.
Whiskey (blended): The so-called brown liquors are very popular right now, and not just because of the season. Any one of them would make a hipster present. Take the Tuthilltown New York Whiskey, for example. This is the distillery's house specialty. Each one-off batch is made from a blend of local grains and the barrels used are specifically chosen by the distiller. Each bottle is hand-capped and sealed, and the label comes with a handwritten date. This attention to detail in a present will make the recipient feel quite special.
Rum: Barbancourt five-star rum. Not only is this rum — distilled from pure cane sugar juice rather than molasses — one of the best tasting rums you can buy, but the purchase will also salve your social conscience. Barbancourt originates from Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. There is no good reason for a country a one-hour flight from Miami to be in such poverty. Buy a bottle of their rum. If you are feeling especially beneficent this holiday season, spring for the Barbancourt Reserve du Domaine, aged for fifteen years. And with the gift, you can then rant about the inadequacies of U.S. foreign policy.
Bourbon: Bourbon is the most fashionable of the so-called cold weather spirits right now. Kentucky's Buffalo Trace is a good choice for a gift. Its distillery won Whiskey Magazine's Distillery of the Year for three years running — 2005 to 2007. Like the label. Love the taste.
Scotch: I'm not much of a Scotch drinker. I can't think of another beverage for which to be called medicinal is a good thing. As far as gestures go, I hesitate to go into an arena that encourages such fanaticism. It is hard to give the gift of Scotch to a Scotch drinker. There's such room for criticism. For example, you can never give a blended Scotch like Chivas Regal to a single malt collector. Some possibilities: you could find the scotch with the longest, most unpronounceable name. Or you could bring a bottle of Oban. It falls right in the middle between dry, peaty, smoky Scotch and the sweeter, milder sort. It comes from a tiny distillery in a tiny town so it's a little pricey, around $55 a bottle. It's for a favorite uncle. Or aunt. And it's pronounceable.
Irish Whiskey: Although Jameson has a high profile here in the U.S., it is not the smoothest Irish whiskey to be had for the price. Powers Irish Whiskey has a milder finish, and it is a bigger bargain. At less than $20 for a bottle, you might want to bring it instead of the Scotch to that favorite relative.
On to the clear liquors, because it's warm and sunny somewhere!
Vodka: The country's most favored beverage. If you're bringing vodka to a party, bring Smirnoff. If the gift receiver sneers, kindly tell him to get off his elitist butt and read the New York Times article that names Smirnoff the winner in a blind taste test. If you're embarrassed to be among the hoi polloi and want to bring a fancier label, there were a couple of Polish vodkas right behind Smirnoff that fared almost as well: Belvedere and Wyborowa. That taste test was a few years ago, but it never gets old to tell a bartender that Smirnoff is just fine in my vodka and soda.
Gin: Back to Scotland! Hendrick's, while not for everyone because of its heavy cucumber and rose petal flourish, is a lovely choice as a token of appreciation to the gin lover in your life. It is a small-batch gin in a whimsical bottle, and just to show that I am unbiased toward media, the Wall Street Journal (as opposed to the New York Times, you see) named it the "World's Best Gin."
Champagne: I don't usually go into the realm of wine writing. As much as I like drinking wine, I am insecure about my opinions on it. But sometimes a cocktail is made with champagne. And I have an opinion on that! A champagne I like to give, especially if it is eventually going to end up paired with orange juice or some bitters, is Gruet. Technically a sparkling wine from New Mexico, Gruet is bottled using the method champenoise, expensive to produce but not to buy. It is very affordable. Bring two bottles. Really impress!
And finally, for the person who has everything, something a little different: St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur. Très trendy. Every bar I visited last weekend in the Dumbo area of Brooklyn, the latest neighborhood (even more latest than Williamsburg), was serving some variation on the St. Germain theme. It is light and refreshing when mixed with champagne (see above) or a sauvignon blanc, and perfect for those Miami holidays. And even if you are not spending the holiday week at the beach, isn't that just the singular reason you're bringing an Alpine alcohol to the party?