While we like to go on (and on) about whiskey, there is a whole universe of other bottles of booze out there. It’s also the gift-giving season, which means you might be looking for a great gift bottle to give someone special this year, and maybe whiskey isn’t their jam. We don’t judge around here.
While we do get to sample a lot of whiskeys every year, we also get to sample tons of other spirits too. Let’s focus on the spirits that don’t quite get as much attention as whiskey for this gift guide because, let’s face it, there are a lot of great options available.
The ten bottles below highlight five styles of alcohol: tequila/mezcal, rum, brandy/cognac, gin, and vodka. We tried to keep everything findable and not too pricey (though there’s a bottle that’s a little spendier on the list). Overall, these are some options that will make any burgeoning cocktail mixer or aficionado happy when they tear off the paper to reveal one of these great bottles of booze.
Código 1530 Artesanal Mezcal
Average Price: $75
Código generally kills it in the tequila game. So we were pretty stoked to hear they were making mezcal this year. The brand hired a Mezcal Master to make the spirit by hand in Oaxaca with wild agave — espadín and tobalá specifically — from the San Juan del Rio region. No machines or automation was used in the making of this mezcal either. Traditional stone and wooden sticks were used for mashing. The fermentation took place in old leather vats. Finally, the distillation happened in earthen clay pot stills.
Earthiness layers into this sip from top to bottom as the nose presents with mineral-rich dirt that leads towards hints of smoked honey, dry cantaloupe skins, and a hint of smoked vanilla beans. The taste harnesses that vanilla and sweetens it with more honey as orange oils, smoked cherries, and a nice dose of chalky clay mingle on the senses. The finish is long-ish with a hazelnut moving from fatty nut to dry shells with a wisp of fruity smoke in the background.
While I really dig this on the rocks, it shines in a cocktail, especially in a white Negroni variation or a smoky old fashioned. This is just a great mezcal overall.
Cardenal Mendoza Gran Reserva
Average Price: $52
This Spanish brandy has some serious pedigree. The juice is made from Airen grapes grown in Jerez. The juice then goes into former Pedro Ximenez sherry casks where it rests for 15 long years. The result is a deeply flavorful snifter that’s second to none.
Roasted nuts, orange-infused dark chocolate, espresso beans, and brown bread greet you. The sip embraces the oak, nuts, and coffee as the body of the brandy feels like sharp beams of golden light flooding through darkly colored stained glass. The fruit is fairly dried and plummy and the sweetness edges ever-so-slightly towards molasses. The end is dry, bold, and leaves you warmed to your soul.
While France’s cognac tends to dominate a lot of the conversation around brandy in the U.S., Spanish brandy is starting to make an impact — in large part thanks to this very bottle. This is pure Christmas vibes in a bottle that works as a sipper as easily as a base for a killer nog. It’s also a cool, old-school bottle which helps make it a great gift overall.
Artingstall’s Brilliant London Dry Gin
Average Price: $45
Famed director and boulevardier Paul Fieg went all-in on the cocktail game and released his very own gin, named after his mom no less. The gin is a London Dry gin (more botanical and less sweet than an Old Tom or sloe gin) that’s specifically designed to make a great cocktail, especially if you’re stirring up a martini. Fieg teamed up with Minhas Craft Brewery & Distillery in Alberta and Wisconsin and actually built this gin from scratch himself (this isn’t a simple white label). Feig found a nice balance of eleven botanicals with a focus on orris root, cassia, elderberries, and citrus while the juniper took more of a back seat.
You get a mild sense of dry, almost desert-kissed juniper on the nose that leads right into a dried berry with hints of lemon and orange pith next to a touch of dark and woody spices (think clove and anise). The palate is gentle and touches back on that dried berry vibe while the woody spices give way to dried roots with a very mild Black Jack gum vibe. The softness of the taste leans into a light minerality as the spices, dried, fruit, and citrus pith fades away fairly quickly.
While this is the perfect martini (or Negroni) base, I really dig it on the rocks with a dash of Angostura Bitters. Drinking aside, the presentation of this gin is also stellar with a hefty decanter that can be reused as a bar centerpiece for years to come.
Zubrowka Bison Grass Vodka
Average Price: $25
Poland’s Zubrowka is one of the most subtly flavored herbal vodkas on the market — so much so that you might not even know it’s flavored while you drink it. The vodka is based on bison grass that grows on the Białowieża Forest, which stretches from Eastern Poland into Belarus and is Europe’s last primeval forest. Bison and wolves still roam between its ancient, mossy trees.
You’re greeted with a mix of honey, freshly shorn wheat fields, and a note of lemon citrus with a hint of almond. The taste very much keeps hold of those notes as the grass sweetens and a creamy texture leads towards a distinct pistachio essence. The end of the sip feels a bit like a lemon cake with a creamy, pistachio-filled frosting.
I fell in love with this vodka over 20 years ago and it remains a personal favorite. That’s staying power. This unique spirit is a great gift in that it’s not the easiest to find and is a truly unique expression from a very broad and sometimes boring style of alcohol.
D’USSÉ VSOP Cognac
Average Price: $60
This is Jay-Z’s signature brand. The juice in the bottle goes way back to Baron Otard from the famed Château de Cognac. The new line was re-crafted to suit American palates and includes a blend of Cognacs that are aged at the château for four to eight years before blending, proofing, and bottling.
The florals and fruit take a back seat to wood, spice, and vanilla on the nose. The palate of rich caramel leads to butter toffee with plenty of that oak shining through next to mild dark spices. The end lets the florals and fruit come out to play a little as the wood, spice, and caramel fade through your senses.
This makes a great gift in that it’s stylish and also very drinkable. Look, that bottle is going to look great wherever it’s displayed. What makes this gift shine is that the actual brandy in that pretty bottle is damn fine and worth sipping slow throughout the rest of the year.
Mount Gay Andean Oak Cask Rum
Average Price: $192
Master Blender Trudiann Branker is creating some amazing Barbadian blends with Mount Gay’s Master Blender Collection. The fourth release takes Mount Gay rum that spent 14 years mellowing if former bourbon barrels just a stone’s throw from a beach and finishes that rum in South American oak from the Andies. After eleven months in those barrels, the juice is proofed and bottled as-is.
The nose of this ranges from a Christmas cake full of dark and candied fruits, dark spices, fatty nuts, and buttery vanilla to a counterbalance of bitter espresso beans, very dark chocolate, and a distant flutter of dried rose. The taste really leans into the spicier end with freshly ground nutmeg and clove marrying the creamy vanilla to make lush eggnog as candied ginger spices this up with a light sweetness. Mint-kissed marzipan arrives on the mid-palate and leads towards a finish that’s brimming with dark chocolate-covered marzipan, rum-soaked holiday cake, and dark red fruits tied to sticky tobacco leaves.
This expression just dropped last October and only 1,026 bottles were sent to the U.S. That makes this a truly special release/gift for any rum fan this year.
Jose Cuervo Reserva De La Familia Reposado
Average Price: $85
This brand-new release from Jose Cuervo comes from Master Distiller Alex Coronado. Coronado makes this tequila using more traditional methods than the autoclaves and automated operations for the brand’s entry-point expressions. This tequila starts off with single-estate Blue Agave that’s hand-harvested. Those agave pinas are then roasted in old-school ovens (and diffusers for sugar extraction). They also use old-school fermenters and copper pot stills before the juice goes into French oak and ex-bourbon barrels for maturation with a toasted American oak barrel in the mix too.
Hints of black pepper draw you in with a faint essence of cottage cheese that’s cut with fresh pineapple, bay leaf, and brittle toffee. The palate leans into roasted agave by amping up that black pepper vibe while soft vanilla extract mingles with clove, anise, and allspice. A subtle cinnamon stick takes over on the mid-palate with slightly sweet almond. The finish doesn’t last too long but carries that spice towards a cedar box full of spicy vanilla tobacco with a final crank off the black pepper mill.
This well-crafted tequila from Cuervo feels like the antithesis of everything the brand has become known for. This is about refinement and slow-sipping or building a great cocktail. The presentation of the bottle and packaging also help it stand out from the crowd and make it a great gift bottle.
Average Price: $46
The heart of this rum is a combination of aged dark rums from Foursquare in Barbados. Those rums are rendered from rich molasses before they’re aged pretty much right on the beach. That rum is blended with Gray’s rum from Mauritius. That rum is made from fresh sugar cane juice, bringing the “light” to the mix.
You get a big dose of fresh sugar cane juice on the nose that’s been cut with bright and dark spices and oily vanilla next to green apples and ripe pineapple. The palate has a delicate balance of tropical fruits next to coconut creaminess, a dash of woody spice, and a mild molasses sweetness with a small stringy sugar cane greenness. The finish is short and sweet and leaves you with that fruit, stringy sugar cane sweetness, and a touch more of the woody spice with a final creamy coconut mouthfeel.
This was one of my favorite new rums of the year. It’s so light yet refined. It also makes a perfect daiquiri, which is the gift that keeps on giving year-round.
Average Price: $45
This vodka from deep in the Siberian forest was built to celebrate Russia’s sailing team. The juice in the bottle is made from local wheat and cut with Siberian well water before it’s filtered through fresh cotton. The vodka then rests in tanks for 45 days, allowing it to mellow out even more.
The nose on this is saline leading to sea spray with a silky roundness. The palate goes from super soft mineral water neutral to the oyster liquor from a just-opened oyster with a very distant honey/oat vibe. That oyster liquor note intensifies on the next sip and the next, leading towards a real seaside depth.
This is a nuanced and unique vodka that few others can stand up to. It’s also a vodka that’s from really far away, making it a great gift that shows you’ve taken the time to find something truly special.
Beefeater 24 London Dry Gin
Average Price: $36, 1-liter bottle
You’ve probably seen a bottle of Beefeater London Dry Gin on the shelf before. This takes that to new heights that deserve your attention. The gin utilizes 12 botanicals and teas with grapefruit peel and Japanese and Chinese green teas the main focus and juniper, Seville orange peel, bitter almonds, orris root, coriander seeds, angelica root, licorice, angelica seed, and Sicilian lemon peel making up the rest. Beefeater infuses those ingredients into the distillate for 24 hours, which is on the shorter end of the infusion spectrum.
Citrus pops on the nose and palate like fireworks on a cold New Year’s Eve. That grapefruit shines through on the nose with a brightness that’s enticing while the juniper takes a backseat. The dark roots have an earthiness to them that’s tied to a light minerality with spice and anise leading the way. The sip softens dramatically on the back end as the green and black tea feel takes over and leads your sense towards a soft landing full of citrus, green tea, and minerals.
This is another perfect mixing gin. It’s also very affordable and findable while also being a great-looking bottle. All of those are wins for gift-giving booze this year.