As the annual tidal wave of gift guides is upon us, we thought we’d check in with our team and our favorite spirits connoisseurs to see how they’ll be tackling their holiday gifting this year. The question was simple: What is the one bottle you’ll be giving—or would be very excited to receive—under $75? Here’s what they had to say.
My friends deserve to toast with something strong and truly delicious this year—that’s why I’m gifting 00. It’s one of my all-time absolute favorites and has been a staple on my home bar for years. It’s a bottle that asks nothing of you and simply gives. It’s clean and smooth and uncomplicated, just layers upon layers of fresh clean apple. It’s the distilled cider of Cyril Zang, made from a blend of 60-plus varieties across the spectrum of sweet, bittersweet, bitter, slightly acidic and sour. The apples are hand-picked and then left in bins for up to six weeks to finish ripening, before being grated, pressed and allowed to ferment. The result is magic. You may not think of yourself as a straight spirits drinker, [but] have a sip of this, and find your mind changed [and] your imagination captured. And what better time of year to let your imagination be captured. —Leslie Merinoff-Kwasnieski, Co-Founder, Matchbook Distilling
It is amazing to be able to watch something grow. From its origins, Forthave has been a creative endeavor amongst friends that has earned its point of view step by step. Its [potential] comes from staying steadfastly committed to their vision, along with a complete heads-down dedication and the many long days and nights of hard work and discipline it takes to make it materialize (much of it through a pandemic nonetheless). The long-awaited release of the larger formats of their flagship Marseille Amaro is more than just something new for the sake of novelty. It’s a testament to the fact that something special is going on here, and you might as well grab the bigger bang because you’ll find that bottle is empty before you know it. There are countless ways this restrained and balanced amaro could work in drinks, but my favorite way to have it is sipped and savored neat. —Nima Ansari, Spirits Buyer, Astor Wines & Spirits
Gonzalez Byass’ fino sherry–based dry vermouth, released from a retooled historic recipe last year, completely changed my aperitivo ritual. I drink it chilled and neat, I drink it on the rocks, I drink it tall with tonic; with a twist, with an olive, with nothing at all. The combination of warm spice and citrus with the saline, yeasty complexity of fino sherry is unlike anything else on the market. And you know what else? It makes a mean Martini. And who doesn’t want that for the holidays? —Talia Baiocchi, Editor in Chief, Punch
I recommend my favorite desert island bottle, the St. George Dry Rye Gin. It is the most versatile spirit I know for making drinks at home and it exhibits the exacting standards of Lance Winters and his team at St George. With the aromatic rye base instead of a dry, neutral base, you can use it in whiskey-based recipes, and it’s gin so, of course, it works in any gin drink with the bonus of that added thrust of rye. Sours, stirred drinks, winter drinks, summer drinks—you can launch a battalion of stirred and shaken refreshment from your kitchen with this single vessel. —Thad Vogler, Author, By the Smoke & the Smell
As I famously dramatized last winter, funds raised by my special selection of Single Barrel Ragtime Rye from New York Distilling Company go to benefit the Michael James Jackson Foundation for Brewing & Distilling (MJF), which awards scholarships for technical education in these fields for people of color. So people can have something delicious and do good work in the world at the same time. I think we can all drink to that. —Garrett Oliver, Brewmaster, Brooklyn Brewery
This Spanish vermouth is the perfect gift for anyone looking to level up their aperitivo game. Decidedly rich with pronounced dark cherry notes, Casa Mariol Vermut is best enjoyed, as it notes on the bottle, “like a Barcelonian,” that is, paired with soda water, an orange slice and an olive. But there’s enough magic from the combination of 150 herbs in this bottle to make it equally enjoyable on its own. —Chloe Frechette, Senior Editor, Punch
I think over the last year, I’ve used Mommenpop’s juicy, vibrant Blood Orange aperitivo more than any other ingredient on my bar shelf. Made in Napa using local citrus and without any artificial flavors or coloring, it’s a really excellent encapsulation of how gracefully America has jumped on the aperitivo train. I’ve used it as the base for spritzes, in punch bowls and mixed in simply with soda over ice and a slice of citrus. It’s the perfect gift for every level of home bartender, and universally delicious. Mommenpop also offers a trifecta of citrus flavors, if you want to opt for variety. —Leslie Pariseau, Founder, Patron Saint Wines
French plum brandy may not be the hot new category of the year, but it is a little-known gem in and of itself. The Roque family, in the Armagnac region of France, has mastered production within this niche and has been turning one of the region’s prized fruits into delicious spirits since the 19th century.
I was first introduced to this gem at Clover Club, where it was the secret ingredient in Tom Macy’s endlessly drinkable Bay Ridge cocktail, a Manhattan variation with complex notes of spice and round fruit. I foolishly only thought of [this brandy] as a cocktail modifier until I was reintroduced to it as a dessert spirit at Gage & Tollner by sommelier Étienne Guérin. Needless to say, I’ve been sipping it ever since. This brandy is delicious. It’s unctuous and spicy, well balanced, playfully funky and oh-so-fruity. Sporting a dark-hued rainbow of cooked stone fruit on the palate, it reminds me of holiday fruitcake—in the best way possible. —Jelani Johnson, Assistant Distiller, Great Jones Distillery
Every holiday season I try to snag one of the annual limited-run Miller High Life 750ml “Champagne” bottles to ring in the new year. Miller High Life and dive bars go together like candy canes and Christmas, and as someone who is writing a book on American dive bars, the Miller High Life Gingerbread Dive Bar Kit is at the top of my wish list. This Willy Wonka–inspired, candy-coated corner bar has beer-infused gingerbread walls, peppermint candy barstools for all the regulars, neon gumdrops, a tiny dart board and little pool table with mini-pretzel rod cues and, of course, a jukebox that—if I had my way—would play an endless loop of Steely Dan. They even include packets of Vermont maple syrup to lacquer the floorboards to mimic those mysteriously sticky floors. The $50 kit is limited to a one-time run of 200 and will likely sell out in seconds, but this guy’s hoping for a Christmas dive bar miracle. —Brad Thomas Parsons, Author of Bitters, Amaro, and Last Call
Distilled from California strawberries deemed too blemished to grace grocers’ shelves or farmers markets, this unique brandy is aged for three years in neutral French oak. The mouthwatering aroma of strawberry is laced with honey and sun-dried fruit. The mouthfeel is luscious and rich with all the spice and wood that I crave from any barrel-aged spirit. The long finish of fruit quickly dries up, dusted with cocoa powder. I can’t bring myself to do anything but drink it neat. I’d be so dang happy to receive a bottle of this Ventura Spirits Strawberry Brandy as a gift! All the aforementioned aside, they are using unnecessary waste to create something sustainable and delicious.—Patrick Dacy, Owner, Duke’s Liquor Box
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