Here Comes Spirits Gifts!
While whiskey is the frisky holiday gift, not everyone likes it when John Barleycorn shows up for the party. Luckily, there is a whole wide world of spirits out there. Things you've heard of. Things you've never heard of. Familiar, Exotic. Brandy has been on the rise. US craft distillers are doing incredible things. Old styles and forgotten liquors are being rediscovered. There may be an aged whiskey shortage on, but when it comes to other spirits and liqueurs, things haven't been this good since before Prohibition.St. George Spiced Pear Liqueur ($30-$35)
San Francisco's St. George makes a lot of great things, including whiskey and absinthe. This liqueur is an admirable addition to their line-up. Bursting with flavors of fresh pear, baking spices, and cream it's as good straight as it is as a belt of something a little special added to a mulled cider or glass of eggnog. If you give this to someone as a holiday gift, they're pretty much required by basic human decency to open it right then and there and share.
Lost Spirits Cuban Style Rum ($40-$45)
Rum is one of the spirits that built America (look at the number of Founding Father who were rum smuggl...errr, rum patriots), but these days the US is not well known for its rum. The Lost Spirits Company looks to change that though, and they're currently distilling some fantastic rum (with gorgeous labels) in Monterey, California. They have several to choose from, but if you have to choose (and I guess you do), then wrap up and gift the Cuban Style Rum. It's full of tropical notes like coconut and banana alongside sweet notes of marshmallow and toffee -- and then look out, because at 151 proof, while deliciously sippable, it "warms" the drinker pretty well.
Darroze Couzard Lassalle 1996 Armagnac ($95-$110)
Armagnac is Cognac's slightly more robust, unique, and rustic relative, made in roughly the same way but in a different region and in much smaller batches. Darroze searches the region for the best casks, and found this one at a small farm in Mauleon d'Armagnac. It's distilled from 100% folle blanche grapes and boasts notes of candied nuts, dried fruit, orange marmalade, and even a bit of anise. If you have trouble finding this one, keep an eye out for the 1999 version, which is just as good, or the Petit Lassi 2000.
Familia Camarena Tequila Reposado ($15-$25)
This tequila is made from blue agave harvested from the Los Altos Highlands region of Jalisco. At an altitude of 7,700 feet, the Familia Camarena agave fields are the highest in the world. It's aged 2 months in a combination of new and used American oak barrels, giving it a little bit of the oak and vanilla flavor that comes from bourbon barrels on top of the fruity flavor of agave as well as apples, pear, and fresh peppers. Despite the low price, it's a surprisingly complex, smooth tequila.
Augier Le Singulier Cognac ($60-$70)
Cognac Augier was founded by Philippe Augier in 1643 and his currently part of Pernod Ricard, who have been pushing to revive and expand the name. Le Singulier is made from Folle Blanche grapes and bursts with big, fruity flavors. Lots of apple and pear, but also nutmeg, a peppery spice, and cloves. It's an exceptional cognac from a name not a lot of people will know at first -- but they'll certainly remember it once they've started drinking. (Silver medal, 2015 New York International Spirits Competition)
Jelinek Fernet ($18-$20)
Bitter, minty Fernet style liqueurs are an acquired taste, but those who have acquired the taste love them. Jelinek Fernet from the Czech Republic takes you beyond the well-worn world of Fernet Branca, delivering a more tame but also more complex flavor than the tree bark and mouthwash of Fernet Branca, with flavors of cinnamon, herbs, orange zest, and baking spices. Seasoned fernet drinkers will be surprised by the difference, and those who are just wading into the waters will find this a much more approachable sip than more aggressive fernets. (Silver medal, 2015 NYISC)
High West Vodka 7000 ($30-$40)
Utah's High West Distillery is known primarily for their range of inventive sourced whiskies, but it's not all they do. Vodka 7000 -- the 7,000 being the elevation of the bar at the High West distillery -- is distilled from oats and uses Rocky Mountain snow melt as its source of water. It's a silky, smooth entry into the world of vodka, one that eschews the notion that the spirit should be utterly flavorless. If you have a friend who insists on making vodka Martinis, shaken not stirred, help them shake things up further by getting them this.
Perry’s Tot Navy Strength Gin ($28-$35)
"Navy Strength" was a British Navy term used to note when a spirit was of such high proof that your black powder could still ignite even if you spilled your drink on it. This gin, distilled in Brooklyn at the New York Distilling Company, is named in honor of Matthew Calbraith Perry, Commandant of the Brooklyn Navy Yard from 1841-43; and for the term "tot," another Navy term, referring to a ration of liquor. At a hefty 57% ABV, this is one of the strongest gins on the market and will really add a kick to cocktails.