Whiskey is one of the best and worst things to gift someone during the holiday season. When chosen well, it’s a thoughtful offering that fits their taste. When chosen haphazardly, it comes off as an eleventh-hour pickup. From peaty Scotch to classic bourbon to Australian whiskey made in wine barrels, here are 20 bottles to buy, along with 20 reasons to buy them.
1. Four Roses Small Batch Select
Undoubtedly one of the biggest bourbon releases of the year, Small Batch Select is Four Roses’ first addition to its main lineup in more than a decade. On top of that, its recipe is borrowed from another world-beating bottle of hyper-limited Four Roses whiskey.
2. Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve Bourbon
Have a friend who likes Jim Beam whiskey but usually reaches for the cheaper stuff? Knob Creek’s barrel strength offering is 120 proof and aged for nine years — stats that overshadow the brand’s bottom shelf go-tos. The best part? It’s available just about everywhere.
3. New Riff Straight Rye
“Nonetheless, if New Riff is not on your radar, you need to follow them. They’re one of the most exciting new distilleries in the world.” Those were the words of bourbon writer and personality Fred Minnick after the distillery won serious silverware at this year’s San Francisco World Spirits Competition. This is what you get for a buddy who’s serious about whiskey (the kind that browses /r/bourbon too much).
4. Henry McKenna Single Barrel Bourbon
Heaven Hill Distillery’s single barrel bourbon used to be everywhere for around $35 or $40. Then it won one of the biggest awards in whiskey, vanished and came back pricier and more difficult to track down. In a decade, Henry McKenna’s 10-year-old juice will be a time capsule to the craziest times in whiskeydom.
5. Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Bourbon
For the whiskey drinker who doesn’t buy hype. Elijah Craig Barrel Proof isn’t particularly hard to find and it doesn’t make many “best of” lists anymore, but it’s one of the most decorated bourbons in the world. The fact you can get a bottle of 12-year-old whiskey bottled at barrel proof (regularly in the mid-130s) for less than $100 is a miracle in today’s whiskey market. Take advantage while it lasts.
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6. Old Forester Rye Whisky
Old Forester’s new rye is one of the year’s best new whiskeys. Full stop. It’s as cheap as anything you’d want to drink, bottled at 100 proof and, somehow, a solid sipper. Buy this for a friend who really likes making Manhattans. Shoot, buy three.
7. Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye
The first Canadian whisky to ever win Jim Murray’s divisive “Whiskey of the Year,” this is a bottle for Crown Royal drinkers who won’t drink anything else. Getting this instead of regular Crown means you’re doing more than just saving them a trip to the liquor store, and you’ve got a nice story to tell.
8. Lagavulin 16 Years Old
Everyone has a friend who watched Parks & Rec and let Ron Swanson pick their go-to bottle for them. That’s fine; let them have that. It remains one of the world’s most consistently great Scotch whiskies. Just get a bottle before tariffs trigger price hikes.
9. Laphroaig 10 Year Old Cask Strength
Any Scotch lover knows Laphroaig 10. This is that with a little extra firepower. Where standard Laphroaig 10 is just 80 proof, its cask strength version hovers between 115 and 117 proof. Open a windown before you pour.
10. Nikka Whisky From the Barrel
Nikka’s From the Barrel offering is what to get the person who won’t stop talking about Japanese whisky. It isn’t as famous in the West as your Yamazakis or your Hakushus, but it’s one of the most loved whiskies in Japan, and, beginning last year, you can finally get it in the U.S.
11. Old Elk Blended Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Know a Basil Hayden’s drinker that loves how “smooth” it is? Get them Old Elk. It’s made by a former MGP master distiller named Greg Metze, it shares Basil Hayden’s low-proof, low-heat profile and, given its newness, it’s unlikely most drinkers have tried it.
12. 1792 Full Proof Bourbon
If you’re reading this, it’s too late. Barton Distillery’s 1792 Full Proof is the honorary victim of Jim Murray’s enormous power. What was previously a solid, high-proof, sub-$50 bottle or bourbon will evaporate from shelves. That said, if you can find it you’ll have a memorable gift on your hands.
13. E.H. Taylor, Jr. Collection Small Batch
Get a bottle of E.H. Taylor for the guy who only drinks Buffalo Trace. It’s made with the same mashbill (the distillery’s famous Mashbill #1), proofed just 10 points higher and comes in a nice bottle case to boot.
14. Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye
To those accustomed to Wild Turkey’s flavor punch, the company’s juiced-up rye will be a welcome gift. It’s a 110 proof, non-chill-filtered rye aged in “alligator” char barrels. Find it everywhere for around $50.
15. Willet Family Estate Bottled Rye Whiskey
An old whiskey name revived by a phenom of a distiller. Drew Kulsveen’s rye is young and not especially affordable, but few new ryes exhibit a balance of body, spice and finish like this.
16. Legent Bourbon
Japanese blending techniques meet American flavors. Made by Jim Beam, Legent is one of the first in a wave of American blended bourbons, a category that was once looked down upon. The whiskey is Jim Beam classic bourbon blended with bourbon finished in sherry and red wine casks. It’s an affordable, unique and new bottle for the adventurous type.
17. Starward Nova Australian Single Malt
This is about as unique a whiskey as you’ll find. It’s two years old, but instead of using charred oak barrels like most whiskeys, it’s aged entirely in former red wine barrels and cut to an exceedingly drinkable 82 proof. Get this for the person who doesn’t like harsh drinks but wants to get out of their comfort zone.
18. Balcones Distilling True Blue 100
Buy this for the folks who say the only good American whiskey comes from Kentucky. Distilled and aged in Texas, Balcones is one of the most successful “craft” distillers in America. Its True Blue 100 whiskey gets its name from its use of blue corn in the mash instead of the traditional yellow.
19. Belle Meade Cask Strength Bourbon
Whisky Advocate’s 10th-best whiskey of 2018, Belle Meade’s high-proof whiskey is sourced from MGP and it crushes. Only get this for someone who’s willing to take a flavor punch in the jaw.
20. Westward American Single Malt Whiskey
America’s own single malt whiskey. That’s what Westward (any many others) are setting out to define. Westward’s take is made of 100 percent two-row barley grown in the Pacific Northwest (where the distillery is) and ale yeast. It’s non-chill-filtered and a easy-drinking 90 proof. This one is worth sipping neat.