‘Tis the season for gift guides and end-of-year lists. I am back, with my second annual guide to the best liquid treats and fun booze-adjacent ideas that can be brought to a party or delivered to someone’s door. I sampled every item on this list. While my palate is not the same as yours, I stand behind my holiday gift ideas for 2023 as delicious and exciting options to offer anyone (of drinking age) on your list.
A band of drinks enthusiasts with a passion for distillation, Flaviar, a spirits membership club, put together this box of 24 whiskeys from eight (8!) different countries. Behind each of the 24 doors lies a 50 ml bottle, labeled with the calendar day it rests behind and the whiskey’s name. Under door number six, Filey Bay’s (British) flagship single malt; door number 11, the Legendary Dark Silkie Irish Whiskey (Ireland); under door #16, Chichibu / Ichiro’s Blended Malt and Grain Whiskey (Japan); door #24, Pokeno Whisky from New Zealand. The box is pretty enough to rest on a counter for the duration of advent. Be sure to hang onto the include tasting notes booklet – a calendar purchase includes membership in the club. $250
After twenty-five years as premium wine grape growers in the heart of the Napa Valley, the Ehrlich family released an inaugural vintage of their own Cabernet Sauvignon. Consulting winemaker Paul Hobbs chose Bock C grapes, planted in 2017, to craft this single varietal, made exclusively with estate-grown fruit. The wine expresses classic Napa cab flavors – blueberry on the nose – plus a firm and juicy midpalate and a cab’s spicebox from its time in oak. There’s a hint of graphite on the finish. It’s an intense wine, approachable to drink now to honor the season. The insider intel is to age it at least eight years or as many as 20. $110
I cannot admit to ever having had cranberry pie (is that even a thing?) but if I did, it would taste like this cocktail syrup – sweet, tangy and dying to be mixed with vodka and lemon. There’s only cane sugar, spices and natural flavors in each bottle – no funny stuff or unpronounceable ingredients. Show up with the Holiday Trio Pack (pumpkin spice, cranberry pie and Old Fashioned) and the party is officially started. $14 for an 8-oz bottle or 3-pack for $40
I am a Howell Mountain convert, drawn to the approachable tannins and flavors of blueberry and violet that develop in this region’s higher elevation locale (1,400 ft and above). The 2019 is made of grapes sourced entirely from the AVA and lives up to the region’s flavor reputation by delivering blueberry and cherry on the palate along with flavors of crushed minerals. The tannins are especially velvety and the finish lingers. This bottling has 5% merlot grapes from Ink Grade, a juicy addition to balance the big tannins of the wine. 750 ml. $128
Perhaps better known for their big, bold Zinfandel blends, The Prisoner makes wines with a fruit-forward approach, leaning into California’s juicier fruit and balancing it with enough acid and alcohol to make the wines approachable. So, too, the dessert wine. It’s big and juicy, 19.5% abv, with sweet aromatics balanced with high and bright spice notes – cardamon? Coriander? It’s balanced, not too sweet character paired beautifully with the salted caramel apple tart at my holiday table.
This would make a fine stand-in for port or a soft brandy. To give as a gift, I’d pair it with a wedge of Point Reyes Blue cheese and Rustic Bakery crackers – now it’s holiday-ready. 375 ml. $45
The heft of the burgundy-hued box is the first clue that inside, something beautiful awaits. Slide a finger to undo the magnetic clasp, revealing an elegant bottle, held snug by a brushed velvet enclosure. If my intro does not have you wondering about the rum in the bottle, well, how about this: Aged for 10 years in the Caribbean and 5 years at Williams & Humbert facilities in Spain, this rum is amber-hued with aromas of vanilla, sherry and almond. It arrives soft on the palate, flavors of charred pineapple and baking spices melding to a lingering warmth. Put it in a tumbler and sip and swirl in front of a roaring fire. $175 for 700 ml
A good cocktail is made even better with bitters and this all-in-one kit puts the ingredients, tools, and recipes in your hands to make a range of “go with every cocktail” bitters. Make Classic, Orange, Ginger and Lavender Bitters – they all call for gentian root, enough of which is included here, as well as all the other ingredients, bottles and labels. The cocktail recipes included riff straight from the bitters you have just made. Make a Lavender Unicorn with the Lavender Bitters and a simple syrup you’ll make from the included blue butterfly pea flowers. There’s even cute cocktail swizzle sticks and a muddler. $49
If your holiday festivities call for something with less glass and more aluminum – on a beach, perhaps, or sitting with friends in front of a roaring outdoor fire at a campsite – a box of pre-mixed cocktails may hit the spot. You can buy singles of the Boulevardier (one of my favorite whisky cocktails) or packs of cocktails with different spirits. Each of the cans is 100ml of pre-mixed cocktail This 18-pack collection features three of each of the original six flavors—Old Fashioned, Manhattan, Negroni, Bee’s Knees, Margarita, and Daquiri. These are not as sophisticated as other gift ideas on this list. Just fun. And I know exactly who in my family is right for each one. 180 ml. $90
It makes total sense for a company that specializes in olive oil to create an ancillary product that puts all of the olive to use. Essentially olive brine, olive juice goes through a barrel-aging process with the company’s California-grown olives, adding richness to the fruit. The juice is then triple-filtered for a pure, crisp taste that’s not too salty (unlike the stuff you get out of an olive jar). It’s an elevated take on a classic, a better match for a fine gin or vodka. 375 ml. $36
A slim beaker holds sugar cubes infused with bitters and essential oils. Add one to a glass with your alcohol or NA spirit of choice, wait a few minutes, swirl the glass and – voila! Your cocktail is ready. I tried the Old Fashioned (it sets a standard) but the Oaxaca Old Fashioned has a rumble of spice from the infused cayenne and the Double Oaked Old Fashioned would suit anyone who favors Scotch over bourbon.
I admit that I like my whiskey a little on the softer side, not punching me in the face. Basil Hayden, distilled by Jim Beam, expanded beyond their flagship bourbon whiskey but adding flavors like this Malted Rye, Toast and Subtle Smoke. You get the spiciness of the rye right up front balanced by what I think is lemon – it’s citrusy. There’s a pleasing midpalate intensity and clear notes of malt on the finish. I’d gift this to a friend who is just starting on their whiskey discovery journey or friends who enjoy a Rye Manhattan cocktail. $60
Need more holiday gift ideas with alcohol? Here’s what I recommended in 2022.