The Best Bottles Of Booze To Gift This Year, According To Bartenders

Plantation Rum/Knob Creek/Old Forester/Unsplash/Uproxx

If you have friends, family, or even co-workers who enjoy a high-quality bottle of booze, you can’t do better than a gift of whiskey, tequila, gin, or rum. But if you take a stroll down the aisles of your neighborhood liquor store, you might find yourself overwhelmed and anxious. It seems like everybody and their mom is in the liquor game these days and there are almost too many options (Wait, did you just pass a bottle with your own mom’s picture on it?? When did she open a distillery?).

You don’t want to choose the wrong bottle. Too cheap and you’ll look like you don’t care. Too expensive and it will look like you’re trying too hard. So, we went to the experts to help us out. Nobody knows more about spirits than bartenders. That’s why we asked 12 of our favorite bartenders to tell us what bottles of booze they’d give as gift this holiday season.

Fortaleza Blanco Tequila

Juan Arboleda, lead bartender at Da Capo in New York City

“I’d definitely give a bottle of Tequila Fortaleza Blanco—it’s from the town of Tequila. I’ve been to the Tequila Fortaleza distillery a few times and I love the people there just as much as I love their product. It’s carefully crafted and delicious, and the hand-blown bottle is beautiful. It’s such an awesome product and truly perfect for the holidays.”

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon

Sean Moody, bartender at South Branch in Chicago

“If I could find it, I’d go with Old Forester Birthday Bourbon. The bottle was released the first weekend of September and only 14,000 were made. Twelve cases made it to Chicago and I can’t find it anywhere. It’s the best bourbon I’ve ever tasted and the suggested price is $100.”

Ginga Shizuku Sake

Nahm Kim, mixologist at Sunda in Nashville

“I’m a big sake drinker and love our sake list at Sunda, so I’ll go with Ginga Shizuku, also known as ‘Divine Droplets’. It’s a sake brewed and bottled by collecting the drippings from inside an ice igloo. It’s got a special story to it and, more importantly, it tastes like it rained down from heaven.”

Siembra Metl Cupreata Mezcal

Dzu Nguyen, bar manager at Last Rites in San Francisco

“Booze for a gift: Mezcal. I like to describe it as the wine of spirits because it’s as close to the salt of the earth as it gets — with each producer varying in flavor year by year as the agave grows. Small producers are making only liters at a time, often doing it out of love and tradition, happy to simply break even. There are so many amazing mezcals that are difficult to get stateside (most of them are highly unregulated) but if you can get your hands on a bottle of Siembra Metl Mezcal’s Cupreata, that’ll truly blow their minds: lush agave, wet earth, sweet, saline, a touch smoky: this Mezcal is a sensory trip to the Michoacan highlands in a glass.”

Don Julio 1942

Matt Thompson, beverage director at Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row in Nashville

“Don Julio 1942 is the perfect gift for Christmas because it is a superior product and it has great packaging. Don Julio 1942 is one of those tequilas that enthusiasts and non-tequila-drinkers tend to agree on as a great tasting spirit.”

Knob Creek Bourbon

Gina Alfano, bartender at City Works in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania

“What is the best bottle of booze I would give as a gift this holiday season? Knob Creek because of its versatility. As a gift, I want to appeal to every aspect of the liquor, so it is something tasty both mixed or straight up.”

Plantation Pineapple Rum

Johnny Kalita, bartender at South Branch in Chicago

“This Christmas I’d give out a bottle of Plantation Pineapple Rum. I think this is the best rum on the market that can be enjoyed neat/rocks without anything added. I was introduced to this by an old co-worker at Trace. We had this by the pool — a perfect drink for a hot day. It’s an artisanal Caribbean infused rum with real pineapple. Unlike Malibu, this rum has that real pineapple flavor and the rum itself is dark.”

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon

Josh Cameron, head bartender at Boulton & Watt in New York City

“I think there is a fine line that you don’t want to cross when gift giving. I say, don’t buy Pappy or 20-year-old Kentucky whiskeys (unless you have something to prove or get out of trouble for), because at most, the drinker will feel guilty for finishing (or even opening) the bottles. Give people quality spirits that don’t get stuck in the bottle on the shelf. Whiskey is for drinking. This year, I am giving out two whiskeys depending on how much I like you. For close friends and family, Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon, and for the ‘have to gifts,’ I am giving out Redemption High.”

St. George Spirits Apple Brandy

Felipe Ojeda, beverage director at Taurus Beer & Whiskey House in Miami

“St. George Spirits Apple Brandy. It’s a special release this year of a 45 percent ABV brandy made in San Francisco that is awesome. It has just enough booze to keep you honest and the right touch of sweetness to keep you coming back. It truly is the perfect gift this holiday season.”

Woodford Reserve Double Oaked

Jason Rodriguez, beverage director at HALL in New York City

“The Woodford Reserve Double Oaked is most definitely my go-to in general, but definitely as a gift for the holiday season. Woodford as a brand has always stood the test of time and to me has only gotten better as the years have gone on. The Woodford Reserve Double Oaked is a prime example of that. The beautiful notes of dark fruit, caramel, honest and chocolate with the rich toasted oak are so beautifully blended in this bourbon and make for the perfect sipping spirit — definitely as the perfect gift for this holiday season.”

Highland Park 18

Mallory Kilsdonk, bartender at Bootlegger in San Diego

“What is the best bottle of booze I would give as a gift this holiday season? Highland Park 18 year; it’s my all-time favorite sipping spirit. Exquisitely rich and swirling with flavors of smoke, honey, stewed fruit, and soft toffee in a long elegant finish.”

Hendrick’s Orbium

Sean Stangle, bartender at Estiatorio Milos in New York City

“When gifting booze, I always try to be as creative as possible. If not, I’ concerned the recipient will think I’m just ‘mailing it in’ when shopping for them. If you know what the recipient normally drinks, you have a starting point. Try finding a lesser-known variant of said product. In introducing the new booze to them, you’ll both be learning and *hopefully* enjoying a new product. For example, if you’re shopping for a fan of Hendrick’s Gin, consider their newest expression, Hendrick’s Orbium. This homage to London Dry Gin is distilled in exceedingly small batches and has a limited window of existence. A reinterpretation of the rounded house style of the original Hendrick’s Gin, Orbium is instilled with additional extracts of quinine, wormwood, and lotus blossom, and has a curiously exquisite flavor that sits roundly on the palate.”