Finding the best whiskey to give as a gift is always daunting. There’s just so much of the beloved brown liquid on store shelves. Bottles you’ve been meaning to buy get lost in the mix and you end up settling for the tried and true.
Not this year. We’ve got your back this holiday season — ready to help you find that perfect bottle of whiskey to gift someone you care about. To help us with this mission, we pulled in some serious whiskey experts. We’re talking about whiskey judges, distillers, writers, critics, and sellers who live with whiskey every single day. They know the good stuff.
The bottles below are not ranked, but they are listed by price with the most affordable up top and the priciest at the bottom. We also tried to keep these bottles squarely in the “accessible” category, meaning that you can get most of these bottles nationwide, without too much effort or hunting. Other than those parameters, the only metric was whether or not the juice tastes good.
Early Times Bottled-in-Bond — Kenny Coleman, co-host of Bourbon Pursuit “The Official Podcast of Bourbon”
Average Price: $24
If I have to give a bottle of bourbon as a gift, people expect it to be a limited edition or hard to find and to be blown away by some exorbitant cost. That shouldn’t be the case. My go-to only comes in a 1L bottle, is near the bottom shelf for around $25, and won the Bourbon Pursuit bottled-in-bond competition back in 2019.
I’m talking about Early Times Bottled-in-Bond. Brown-Forman revived this brand and ditched the blended whiskey in favor of a straight bourbon whiskey. We’re so glad they did. It’s a brand with a storied history dating back 160 years. In 1953, Early Times was the best-selling bourbon in America.
This expression comes in at 100 proof which helps it provide more flavor than standard bourbons on the shelf. With notes of honey, brown sugar, walnut, a good hint of oak, it checks all the boxes I seek. In June of 2020, Sazerac announced that it purchased this brand along with the remaining stocks from Brown-Forman. Stock up now because who knows what the future holds.
This product is only sold regionally, so find a good friend to help you out.
Uncle Nearest 1884 Small Batch Whiskey — Zach Johnston, Deputy Editor UPROXX Life and host of Expression Session
Average Price: $50
We’ve talked a lot about Uncle Nearest 1820 this year in our “best of” lists. Now, it’s time to give their small-batch expression some much-needed love. This juice is hand-selected by Nathan “Nearest” Green’s direct descendent, Victoria Eady Butler, who assures the quality of each drop of whiskey.
The Tennessee whiskey is a minimum of seven years old when it’s small-batched, proofed, and bottled according to the Green family’s generations of taste and experience.
You’re drawn in by fruits, Christmas spice, and oak with a fleeting sense of tart apples covered in caramel next to vanilla pods. There’s a light dried floral feel underneath the fruit, sweetness, oak, and spice that helps the dram shine. The end lingers for just the right amount of time to draw you back into the apple crumble — full of brown butter and sugar, plenty of dark spices, and a final touch of aged wood.
Aberlour A’bunadh — Jared Himstedt, Head Distiller and co-founder Balcones Distilling
Average Price: $100
My pick is Aberlour A’bunadh. It’s overproof, which can satisfy a cask strength lover, but takes water surprisingly well for those who like their whisky at a lower proof. It’s pretty heavily sherried, but not overly so. It has enough wood influence on it to have a cross-over appeal to bourbon drinkers.
It is dense, rich, and decadent — great for this time of year.
The nose is quite vinous, somewhat solventy, with dense fruit and sweetness, with dried fruits and nutmeg, a hint herbal. Coating and thick on the palate, with the dark fruit accentuated by great acid and body. Dry and spicy enough on the finish to make you want more. With water, it’s nuttier and has a bit more sulfur on the nose, with the body lighter, with berries and black tea-like tannins more exposed.
It’s easy to see the versatility here, knowing it will get diluted, poured over ice, used in a cocktail, or over a dessert.
Lagavulin 16 — Adam Levy, Alcohol Professor and founder International Spirit Competitions
Average Price: $100
The holidays want me to recreate the Norman Rockwell setting of friends gathered around the fireplace and drinking something that will keep us warm. Because I do not have a fireplace, I keep a special shortlist of friends on my phone who do have a fireplace and more importantly appreciate good whiskey.
They know when I come to visit I am bringing a smoky Islay whiskey and this year’s gift is Lagavulin 16.
Lagavulin is one of the stalwart distilleries located in the south of Islay near Ardbeg and Laphroaig that sets the standard of a smoky/peaty whiskey. When the glass is brought up to your face, your nose will immediately pick up the strong concentration of peaty smoke along with iodine. When you breathe it in as it gets closer to your nose, sweet spice as well as sherry, vanilla, and oak round out the experience. In your mouth, it has a pleasurable fullness as it lays on your tongue with the continuation of sherry as well as light sweetness and oak. The finish is properly layered as it goes down to your chest with a continued light sweetness, smoke, and hints of vanilla.
Find a friend with a fireplace and enjoy!
Tullamore D.E.W. 18 Irish Single Malt– Gillian Murphy, Irish Whiskey Ambassador
Average Price: $120
Searching for the perfect gift for the single malt scotch lover in your life that’s a little different? Why not introduce them to the world of Irish malt and gift them the rare Tullamore D.E.W. 18-Year-Old Single Malt.
Tullamore D.E.W. 18 is characterized by its rare, four cask recipe, finished in bourbon, Oloroso sherry, Port, and Madeira casks. This innovative finish gives the malt a uniquely rich and mellow taste.
It’s rich and oaky with deep malty notes, caramelized fruits, and woody spice. It’s velvety smooth and mellow. Vanilla oak notes intertwine with cinnamon, baked apple, toasted marshmallows, and a biscuity sweetness. It’s rich and warming with a lingering malty sweetness.
Glenmorangie 18 — Brandon Smith, The Daily Dram and Dram & Oak
Average Price: $130
This is an exceptional value for high-end single malt whisky. The packaging is elegant and warrants a double-take when gifting any friend or deserving party. A notch above any entry-level whisky and a gift anyone would be happy to indulge in!
The spirit itself is well composed with a profile of apricot, oak, cinnamon, and is balanced from start to finish. Quite the gift!
Highland Park 18 — Bobby Childs, Adventures in Whiskey
Average Price: $150
If I could only give one bottle of whisky as a gift and price isn’t a factor, the answer comes easily: Highland Park 18. This single malt is sherry cask matured for at least 18 years, which gives it that dried fruit quality associated with some Christmas cakes, specifically fruit cake. My great uncle made one that was rich and decadent. It’s ingrained in my childhood memories.
The distillery also utilizes peat from Orkney, which is not the iodine-heavy variety from Islay. Orkney peat features a lovely heather note that adds a unique touch to this single malt.
On the nose, you’ll find dried fruit and sherry notes upfront. Hiding just past that is sweet malt, honey, heather, and floral peat, is a nice candied orange peel. The whisky is rich and refined. Fresh citrus hits the palate first, followed by honey, dried fruit, sweet peat, and a slight herbal note. There is a lot going on here, but it doesn’t seem busy. In fact, the flavors here play off each other extremely well.
The sweet citrus/malt note carries over into the long finish, with just a touch of smoke. After a while, the finish becomes dry, inviting you to take another sip.
The Balvenie 21 Year Old Portwood — Chris Perugini, Single Malt Savvy
Average Price: $250
With the holidays upon us, it’s time to splurge a bit on a gift that any whisky lover will appreciate! The Balvenie’s 21 Year Portwood sits near the top of their standard range and this expression is my pick for good reason. This is one of those whiskies that really showcases the versatility of the brand’s honeyed, citrus house style with the added benefit of wine cask influence.
After maturing in ex-bourbon casks for 21 years, the whisky is transferred to large Port barrels called “pipes” for a short finishing period before bottling.
This is a whisky that rewards patience. The longer you spend with it, the more complexities you’ll uncover. As with any Balvenie, the nose starts with deep honey and orange peel notes. The port casks add a layer of slight nuttiness, chocolate, and wine sweetness. Once you taste it, you’re greeted with red berries, baked apples, almond, mocha, and dark dried fruits in the form of prunes and figs. If you take your time, you’ll occasionally catch hints of fresh mint and a slight floral note.
Portwood is a grown-up Balvenie that shows its age while maintaining the perfect level of silky refinement you’d expect from a well crafted single malt. If you end up picking this up as a gift for someone, make sure they save you a pour!