Bartenders’ 11 Favorite Bottles to Give as Gifts
It can be quite difficult to buy yourself a bottle of alcohol at the liquor store, so attempting to purchase a spirit for someone else can be downright nerve-wracking. To make things easier, we contacted bartenders around the country to get the lowdown on their favorite booze to give as gifts. From an exotic Austrian hazelnut brandy to a new Irish-American blended whiskey, this list of bottle recommendations contains some extraordinary spirits that any serious liquor collector would go ga-ga for.
One of the most talented and prolific bartenders of his generation, Jim Meehan is known for his luminary cocktail bar PDT in New York and his two books, the PDT Cocktail Book and Meehan’s Bartender Manual. His picks are perfect for rounding out any home bar.
Banks 7 Golden Age Blend Rum ($39 for 750mL)
Meehan’s first bottle suggestion is a blended rum from Banks. Created by Banks master blender Arnaud de Trabuc, this golden elixir contains more than 23 different rums from seven different countries (Trinidad, Jamaica, Guyana, Barbados, Indonesia, Panama and Guatemala), hence the name. With a rich, layered complexity, it’s the perfect base for cocktails that require two or more rums, like the Mai Tai or the Zombie.
Reisetbauer Hazelnut Eau de Vie ($65 for 375ml)
Made by Hans Reisetbauer, an Austrian distiller known for producing some of the finest eau de vies in the world (most of the grains, nuts and fruits are grown and harvested on his property), this high-end brandy is distilled from wheat and infused with hazelnuts. Though it’s not cheap, especially when you consider the size of the bottle, Meehan assures that a little bit goes a long way. In his book, Meehan’s Bartender Manual, he writes, “as little as 0.25 ounce of eau de vie from a producer like Reisetbauer shines through other spirits as a fresh fruit accent in a cocktail.”
Del Maguey Single Village Wild Jabali Mezcal ($112 for 750mL)
This mezcal is distilled from wild Jabali agave plants, one of the rarest and hardiest species of agave (its name translates to “wild boar,” and its leaves look like the beast’s teeth). Because the Jabali plants take more than 20 years to reach full maturity, and no domesticated clones are produced, it also runs the risk of extinction if over-harvested—contributing to the spirit’s limited availability, high-price and desirability. It also happens to be delicious. With notes of sandalwood, sawdust, tarragon, grass and wildflowers, this is a mezcal to savor. If you’re looking for the perfect cocktail to accompany the savoriness of the mezcal, serve it alongside Meehan’s variation on the Michelada, made with Negra Modelo, lime, Valentina hot sauce, HP, and sal de gusano.
Ransom The Emerald 1865 Straight American Whiskey ($80 for 750mL)
Made in Sheridan, Oregon, this small-batch Irish-style American whiskey was made from an 1865 recipe unearthed by cocktail historian and author David Wondrich. Aged for two to three years in American and French oak, this supple whiskey is for fans of Irish whiskeys looking to try something new and wholly unique. We recommend drinking it with a fat ice cube and a squeeze of orange oil from a freshly extracted swath of citrus peel. That said, in Meehan’s Bartenders Manual, he suggests using “older, pure pot still” Irish whiskeys that are similar to The Emerald for a “different kick” in the classic Cameron’s Kick—a cocktail that splits the base between Irish whiskey and blended scotch with lemon and orgeat.
Domaine Roulot L'Abricot Liqueur ($99 for 750mL)
Produced by Jean-Marc Roulot—a member of one of the oldest families producing spirits and eau de vies in Burgundy, France, and son of famous Burgundian distiller Guy Roulot—this vibrant liqueur is one of the best and most sought after apricot liqueurs in the world. While some would argue it’s wasted in cocktails, we say that you should try using it in a Nacional, or in Meehan’s Hans Solo—a delicious tipple made with aged gin, madeira wine, apricot liqueur and Grand Cru brut Champagne.
Owner of San Francisco cocktail stalwart Elixir, mixologist Joseph Ehrmann is also a consultant for Square One Vodka. Elixir has more than 450 bottles of whiskey on offer, so it’s no surprise that Ehrmann’s picks are all different bottles of that golden brown dram.
Lagavulin 8 Year Old Scotch Whisky ($66 for 750mL)
This limited edition scotch from Lagavulin was released to commemorate the distillery’s 200th anniversary. A smoky powerhouse with a honeyed, fruity complexity underneath the surface, this tribute bottling is a must-have for any scotch fan. After Ehrmann suggested this bottle, we bought one for ourselves and couldn’t be more pleased with how delightfully complex—and sippable—it is in the glass. Do yourself a favor and pick up a bottle while it’s still available.
Aberlour A'Bunadh Scotch Whisky ($82 for 750mL)
While this scotch is a bit unusual—it has no age statement, and each batch is part of a yearly, limited run—it also happens to be incredibly delicious. No matter the batch number, all A’Bunadh releases are aged in ex-Oloroso sherry casks (the only other scotch on the market that uses this type of barrel is The Macallan), which give the whisky its deep, reddish-amber hue and nutty richness (all batches are also bottled at cask strength). An absolutely stunner to sip neat, this scotch is well worth seeking out, and each subsequent release is highly collectible.
The newest addition to the Redbreast line, this Irish whiskey is distilled on a single pot still and aged in ex-Oloroso sherry casks provided by the famous Spanish sherry producer Lustau. While the whiskey has the same honeyed creaminess of other Redbreast releases, this bottling has an intoxicating spiciness and robust flavor of dates and stone fruit from its time in the Oloroso casks. It’s definitely easy to drink, especially in the colder months.
Katie Loeb has quite the roster of accolades and titles on her resume. Not only does she work behind the stick at Kanella South in Philadelphia, but Loeb is also a bar consultant, columnist and the author of Shake, Stir, and Pour. For her picks, she stuck to some underappreciated Irish whiskeys.
Brothership Irish Whiskey ($50 for 750mL)
Possibly a nod to her hometown’s nickname (the City of Brotherly Love), Loeb’s first pick is this newly released Irish(ish) whiskey blend, made of 55 percent Irish whiskey and 45 percent American whiskey that are both aged for 10 years prior to being blended. Highly quaffable, it has an almost scotchy campfire quality, a bright acidity, wafts of green apple, pear and lemon curd, and crème brûlée creaminess in the glass. We were particularly excited that Loeb recommended this spirit because it’s currently our go-to Irish whiskey.
Mitchell & Son Green Spot Irish Whiskey ($55 for 750mL)
Fermented from a mash of malted and unmalted barley, and triple-distilled on a copper pot still, this Irish whiskey is aged in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks before it’s bottled. It has an abundance of fruit on the palate, including crisp green apple and apricot. It’s exceedingly drinkable on its own, but could also be mixed into a cocktail like a Manhattan or even something off the beaten path such as the Persephone at Kanella South—made with whiskey, almond, coriander, apricot preserve, thyme and lemon.