Scores From the Corner Liquor Store
Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house
Not a gift has been bought, not even Famous Grouse
Oh you swore it would be different this year. You started diligently planning back in November. Then one thing led to another, the days went by, and once again here you are dashing over the river and through the woods to find a gift on your way to where you need to give that gift. The shops are closed. You are starting to think that maybe a couple packs of Chiclets from the convenience store will make a decent gift, but then you see it - the lone open liquor store. It doesn’t look like much, maybe keeps its stock behind bulletproof glass, and you know they don’t stock the esoteric stars from the hinterlands of booze. But with a little clever shopping and a bit of knowledge regarding what’s good rather than just what’s rare, you can find a gift on those cluttered corner store shelves that will keep you in the good graces of whoever receives it.
Wild Turkey Rare Breed ($40-45)
Being one of the major distillers in America means your product is available just about everywhere, and Wild Turkey’s Rare Breed is as fine a bottle of bourbon as you can give. It’s made from a blend of six, eight, and twelve-year-old Wild Turkey, yielding an exceptionally rich, spicy, full-bodied bourbon that goes down smooth despite the high proof. Plus, unlike many premium bourbons these days, you can actually find it just about everywhere, and maybe even in a nice gift set.
Chivas 12 ($22-30)
So ubiquitous in bars and stores that it is almost forgotten, Chivas Regal is a thoroughly pleasing blended scotch that even “I only drink single malts” people will secretly be happy to have. Tasting of vanilla and gingerbread spice, it’s also the perfect dram for the wintery holiday season, and again, even the tiny, murky liquor store on my block has a gift set version in a swell box with a couple glasses.
Laphroaig 10 ($55-60)
Buying Laphroaig for someone is a bit like gifting pin-up art or vintage porn: you have to give it to the right person, but that right person will love it. There’s something subtly holiday tasting about it, too. The intense assault of engine grease, tar, and creosote reminds one of the long road one has to travel, but the peat, vanilla, and spice cake lurking beneath are like discovering a fireplace and relaxing chair. It was also a gold medal winner in the 2014 NY International Spirits Competition.
Kah Tequila ($40-70)
Novelty bottles often disguise inferior spirits, but Kah’s hand-painted Day of the Dead skull bottles contain tequila that is as nice to drink as the bottle is to marvel at. And despite the ornate appearance, the brand is surprisingly widespread. Go for the Blanco, with it’s aggressive agave meets creme brulée flavor, or the Añejo, which spends two years in American oak and emerges as a tequila that hands out a lot with bourbon. Oh yeah -- it’s also kosher!
Hennessy VS ($50)
Few and far between are the corner shops and strip mall liquor stores that don’t stock Hennessy, and a surprising many of them even stock the premium XO bottle, in case you not only put off buying a gift until the last minute but also have something substantial to make up for. If you can’t find the XO, then Hennessy Very Special is considered by many to be the quintessential big Cognac and makes an equally welcome gift. Gift box likelihood is also high.
The liqueurs shelf in a small liquor store is often a wasteland of Sour Apple Pucker and DeKuyper Peach Schnapps. There are, however, a few gems that can usually be had. If you see an opaque white bottle that looks something like a gaudy perfume mated with a rococo-era vase, that’s RumChata and you should pick it up. People might scoff -- up until they have it. A blend of different Caribbean rums, cream, spices, vanilla, and other secret ingredients, it’s a much better sweet stocking stuffer than that three-pack of chocolate Santas you were eyeing at the Walgreens check-out counter.
If you are spending a portion of the holiday season armed with your passport and watching CNN at an international airport, travel retail has plenty of solid options for last minute liquor gifts. For something you can’t get anywhere else, pick up a bottle of the Johnnie Walker Spice Road ($55-70) entry in their Explorers’ Club Line. Or if you really want to impress, seek out the Glenfiddich Age of Discovery three-bottle gift box ($180-200), containing three 200ml bottles of 19-year-old Glenfiddich aged in bourbon, Madeira, and South African red wine casks respectively.
OK, so my neighborhood corner liquor store isn’t entirely reflective of what might be common in the rest of the United States. But you can bet your bottom dollar that if I am rushing out and need to stop by the store for a last-minute liquor gift, this is what I’m picking up - Kalashnikov Vodka:
Have a happy and merry, everyone! Cheers!