The holiday season is full of busy and stressful days, but we have one thing to look forward to as we approach the end of the month. No, we’re not talking about the holidays themselves (what are you insane?) we’re talking about all those sweet mid-to-late December holiday parties. Those weekend nights when you get to trade gifts, swap stories and laugh your stresses away with your closest friends.
And what better way to roll up to the party than with some good booze in hand? Nothing uplifts a party like a good bottle of something special that you can pass around with friends and slow sip near the fire while you talk about the season finale of Succession and how annoying your extended family is. Bottles that you’ll be proud to toast to a new year with.
To help make you the star of this year’s holiday season, our drinks writers collected the bottles of whiskey, gin, tequila, and other spirits that they love to arrive at a party with. These bottles don’t just make for great party favors, they’re great conversation starters too and they all deliver big on flavor. Let’s drink!
Dahlia Cristalino Tequila — Dane Rivera
Average Price: $38.39
Cristalino is a fairly new style in the world of tequila (it’s not even technically considered an official style, but let’s not get into it) and a lot of people haven’t tried it yet, despite its massive popularity in Mexico City party scenes. So bring a bottle to your holiday party and introduce this super-smooth and fairly new type of tequila to your friends.
Cristalino is generally pretty pricey, but Dahlia makes a bottle that uses American oak barrel-aged reposado tequila that’s then charcoal filtered — providing a smooth and supple mouthfeel at an affordable price that won’t make you feel like you’re dropping too much money down for a party.
Warm and inviting vanilla eases you into the earthy flavors of toasted agave and caramel. Notes of oak linger on the palate while orange citrus dances around your taste buds. The mouthfeel on this is silky and a pleasure to sip and savor.
A great reposado-based cristalino tequila that goes down super smooth and tastes way more expensive than it actually is. It’ll serve as a great introduction to cristalino for the rest of the party.
Fortaleza Reposado Tequila — Dane Rivera
Average Price: $56.99
If you’re looking to roll up to the party with the best-value (and maybe flat out best) bottle of tequila that every person attending will ever drink, you can’t go wrong with Fortaleza. Seriously, this is some of the finest tequila you’ll ever have the pleasure drinking, and it won’t even cost you a small fortune. You can slow sip it, you can shoot it, but where it really shines is in a mixed drink where it infuses complex flavors that wash over your palate in waves. Every sip of Fortaleza is an experience.
This tequila hails from Nom 1493 Tequila Los Abuelos, located in the Jalisco region, and is made using hand-harvested agave that is slow-roasted and tahona crushed. The reposado is aged in American Oak ex whiskey barrels and served in a beautiful hand-blown glass bottle.
There is something undeniably fresh about the way Fortaleza tastes, you get a sense of the craft and care that goes into producing each bottle. It’s hard to articulate, but incredibly perceptible, you’ll know instantly this is different than any tequila you’ve had.
The flavors are a journey that start with fruit-focused notes like sweet baked apple and citrus zest and settle into a cinnamon and vanilla swirl ending with a delicate floral lift.
Well crafted with an unforgettable flavor. Take it to the party, and then gift the host a bottle and you’ll instantly be the star of the show.
Agua Mágica Mezcal — Dane Rivera
Agua Mágica is new on the Mezcal scene but it’s already earning recognition and accolades — pulling a win at the 2021 San Francisco Worlds Spirit Competition. This mezcal is crafted from Espadín and Tobalá agave from San Juan del Rio and made in partnership with Maestro Mescalero Rogelio Juan Hernadez of Oaxaca that is recommended served neat (though I love it in a cocktail). There is something about the tropical fruity flavors that just tastes slightly magical.
The bottle is currently available in a limited edition box set designed by Latin American artist Miguel Cardenas.
Agua Mágica is wonderfully layered, beginning with the fruity notes of fried banana, juicy ripe mango and melon, and a smokey and spicy finish that plays with the flavors of caramel and toasted almond. Combine lime juice, pineapple, and mint with Agua Mágica and you’re instantly transported to a beachside paradise where you can relax under swaying palm trees and forget all about the holiday season.
Or, sip it neat for a fresh and smokey bite.
Agua Mágica provides a journey of flavors that will transport you to a tropical paradise in the middle of winter. It’s fruity, sweet, and delicately layered, while still providing that distinct smokey finish you’ve come to expect from mezcal.
Jose Cuervo Reserva De La Familia Reposado — Zach Johnston
Average Price: $85
This brand-new release from Jose Cuervo comes from their Master Distiller, Alex Coronado. Coronado makes this tequila in 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, along 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. The presentation of the bottle and packaging also help it stand out from the crowd and make it a great gift bottle.
The GlenDronach Parliament Aged 21 Years — Zach Johnston
Average Price: $262
Don’t let the name fool you. The “parliament” in this case is the collective noun for rooks — a type of European crow that nests above the distillery. That dark essence is rendered in the whisky through 21 long years of maturation in Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez sherry casks exclusively.
There’s a lot going on with this nose, starting with blackberry brambles hanging heavy with ripe fruit leading towards a well-spiced oatmeal cookie vibe and cut with hints of orange zest and vanilla. A sticky toffee pudding sweetness arrives (heavy on the dates) with flourishes of bitter dark chocolate notes and a sharp holiday spice matrix. The end is very long but very velvety with hints of dark fruits and spices warming your body as it fades away.
I’m mildly obsessed with this single malt right now. It’s such a lush and holiday-focused drinking experience that I’d certainly love to receive as a gift.
Eagle Rare — Zach Johnston
Average Price: $45
This might be one of the most beloved (and still accessible) bottles from Buffalo Trace. This juice is made from their very low rye mash bill. The whiskey is then matured for at least ten years in various parts of the warehouse. The final mix comes down to barrels that hit just the right notes to make them “Eagle Rare.” Finally, this one is proofed down to a fairly low 90 proof.
There’s a lot happening on the nose here, with worn leather mingling with dried orange, fresh sage, butter toffee, and cellared oak. The taste turns towards marzipan covered in dark chocolate with a touch of honey, cherry, and a sprinkling of dark spices with a clear orange basket holiday vibe. The mid-palate leans into candied nuts and cherries towards a finish that touches on that marzipan, toffee, and the cedar-y oak while ending short and cherry-sweet.
This bottle has serious name recognition. So even if your giftee isn’t super familiar with bourbon, they’ve likely heard of this monster bottle of whiskey. That hype aside, the juice in the bottle is stellar for the price.
Gray Whale Gin — Christopher Osburn
Average Price: $32
Created to pay homage to the Gray Whale’s migratory journey along the west coast, this gin features botanicals, herbs, and ingredients that can be found at various points dotting the California coast. The main ingredient (like with all gins) is juniper, but it’s paired with almonds, fir tree, kombu, limes, sea kelp, and mint.
The nose is a symphony of citrus zest, herbal mint, and a seemingly endless field of pine trees. The palate has the juniper backing gin drinkers expect, but it’s also paired with more pine needles, slight mint, a corn sweetness, and lime peels. The finish is warming, herbal, and surprisingly sweet for a gin.
This is a complex gin that would make a great base for a seasonal gin-centric cocktail or on the rocks. The best part? A percentage of the brand’s overall profits go to help ocean conservation and doing good is always a hit at parties.
Aberlour A’bunadh — Christopher Osburn
Average Price: $115
This award-winning single malt Scotch whisky proves that you don’t need an age statement to show the quality of a spirit. While Aberlour doesn’t divulge how old this whisky is, we do know it was aged completely in oloroso sherry casks and was bottled at a potent cask strength that’s guaranteed to warm you up this winter.
Complex aromas of candied orange peels, sweet sherry, dried cherries, and a gentle, nutty sweetness are prevalent on the nose. The sip reveals dried orange slices, ginger candy, dried cherries, woody oak, and almond cookies. It all ends in a crescendo of wood, sherry, and slight, wintry spices.
When it comes to winter whisky, cask strength is the name of the game. It’s high proof with a sweet, sherry backbone, making it a great base for a cocktail or a slow sipper.
Wild Turkey 101 Rye — Christopher Osburn
Average Price: $30
While Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon gets most of the press, its rye version is not to be missed. This award-winning whiskey was aged for a minimum of four years before being bottled at a potent, highly mixable 101 proof. It’s well-known for its balance of sweetness and spice and pretty much begs to be used as a base for your favorite whisky-based cocktails.
One whiff of this whiskey and you know what you’re in for. Its highlighted by scents of clover honey, toasted vanilla beans, butterscotch, and just a hint of peppery rye. The palate is centered around cracked black pepper, buttery caramel, candied pecans, vanilla cream, and a note of smoke to round everything out nicely.
You can spend a lot of money for a well-made rye whiskey or you can grab a bottle of Wild Turkey 101 Rye and save money while not losing any quality. It’s bold, brash, spicy, and belongs on a table (waiting to be mixed with) at a holiday party.
Mario’s Hard Espresso — Steve Bramucci
Average Price: $36.98
This “Hard Espresso” — made with grain spirits, espresso, vanilla, and sugar — charmed me into grabbing it off the shelf, thanks to a connection to Italian heritage that was similar to my own. The expression is a literal distillation of a son’s love for his immigrant dad and recreates a simple, craft-driven homemade spirit that the original Mario used to serve around the holidays.
The bottle even shows the original Mario in all his buff glory and taken all together (there’s a veritable novelization of Mario’s life on the back of the bottle that reads like a viral obituary) you get a portrait of a Most Interesting Man In The World nominee. But as with all spirits, the proof is in the taste. All the cool backstory means nothing if the flavors don’t deliver.
I hoped this would be solid. It was about 10x better than I ever expected. I’ve already ordered three bottles to my mom’s place for Christmas.
Mario’s Hard Espresso’s flavors are clarified in a way that far exceeds other entries in the genre — Kahlua and Bailey’s are sort of similar but… not really. There’s not the palate muddling heavy cream note here, but you still get a sense of creaminess, which is a masterstroke.
What this really tastes like is a spiked affogato. You get tons of coffee on the nose and palate, along with a touch of alcohol warmth, before a really creamy-vanilla-sugar note comes in and scares the heat away. The finish is long and luxurious with no burn.
I’ve had two glasses over ice. I made a milkshake with this and coffee ice cream. I invited friends over for spiked affogato (that’s espresso over ice cream) and I tried to mix an espresso martini (I liked it, but didn’t want to burn through this as a mixer).
My bottle was gone in a week — I can’t remember the last time that happened.