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Our Favorite Bottles to Give (and Receive)

December 03, 2020

Story: Punch Staff

photo: PUNCH

Eleven writers, spirits experts and bartenders pick the one bottle under $75 they'll be gifting this year.

Over the course of the year, we’ve asked a number of sommeliers and retailers to weigh in on the wines we ought to be drinking—orange wines, summer wines, quarantine wines. We even compiled a list of our favorite cocktails, the ones we turned to time and again to keep us sane in the depths of isolation. But now, as the annual tidal wave of gift guides is upon us, we thought we’d check in with our team and our favorite spirits connoisseurs to see how they’ll be tackling their holiday gifting this year. The question was simple: What is the one bottle you’ll be giving—and would be very excited to receive—under $75. Here’s what they had to say.

Privateer Rum Distiller's Drawer Releases

It’s hard to give whiskey as a gift anymore because anything truly good is overpriced and inaccessible. Fortunately, that’s still not the case in the rum world, especially with America’s best rum. Coming out of Ipswich, Massachusetts, with an aging cellar right off the North Atlantic coastline, Maggie Campbell and her team coax an insane amount of flavor and nuance out of rums that are less than a half-decade old. A couple of times a year they offer their Distiller’s Drawer bottlings—experimental single-barrel offerings, often with unique cask finishes, bottled at high proof, in elegant packaging. I’ve recently loved Sea Smoke, a 2-year-old rum finished in Laphroaig single-malt casks, and Son of Wolf Rum, aged in new American oak that will seduce any bourbon lover. As the bottlings are available to ship to most states through craft spirits emporium Seelbach’s, I’m currently eyeing the Calvados-finished Nautical Twilight. [BUY]Aaron Goldfarb, contributor, PUNCH; author, Hacking Whiskey

Maggie Campbell is making the best rum in the United States. Hands. Down. The intention behind every [Distiller’s Drawer] release is clear, unique and a true standout. Until recently they only had distribution in the area around their distillery in New England. Discovering what Maggie is doing in Ipswich is a treat for any spirits or rum geek. [BUY]Francisco Terrazas, national brand manager, Mezcal Vago

Old Grand-Dad 114 Barrel Proof

OGD is a wonderful high-proof sipping whiskey. If you’re feeling frisky, mix it into a cocktail or one of my favorites—eggnog! Gifting this to me would be like hitting the lottery; the notes of green peach peels, buttery corn, dark chocolate, coffee and cereal dance on your palate and warm your soul, and when paired with Bitter Queens Tobacco Bitters, it even makes a killer Old-Fashioned. [BUY]Adrienne Miller, bartender, Silver Lyan

Matchbook Distilling's Ritual Sister

Located out on the North Fork of Long Island, Matchbook Distilling is making some of the most innovative spirits in America right now. The brazen outfit, run by Leslie Merinoff-Kwasnieski, acts as an incubator for bespoke private projects and startup distillers and has also become a laboratory of ideas fueled by produce from local farmers. This summer, Merinoff-Kwasnieski & Co. dug a giant pit, in which they buried and baked 1,600 pounds of fresh pineapples before fermenting the fruit and its juices for three weeks and then distilling. The result is a smoked pineapple brandy that I’m eager to try in a sour build. Having done some light stalking of Matchbook’s evolution over the past couple of years, I’m crossing fingers one of these pretty half-bottles finds its way into my stocking this year. [BUY] —Leslie Pariseau, features editor, PUNCH

Nixta Licor de Elote

The bottle itself is a stunner, and the liquid is unique and delicious. It’s a nixtamalized corn liqueur—it’s got really big heirloom corn flavor and it’s sweet. Throw it into a mug of hot cacao or in with a whiskey Hot Toddy. It’s a goals kind of cozy. I’ll definitely be giving it as a gift this holiday. I also love how this bottle promotes biodiversity by growing heirloom varieties of corn and shows off the brilliance of the nixtamalization process. [BUY]Leslie Merinoff-Kwasnieski, co-founder and head of strategy, Matchbook Distilling

Laws Whiskey House Bonded Four-Grain Bourbon

This year I greatly enjoyed the bonded four-grain bourbon from Laws Whiskey House in Denver. It’s six years old, and packs a lot of flavor at 100 proof, thanks to its mash bill of corn, wheat, rye and barley. It is an approachable—and in many ways a conventional—bourbon, but with a holiday-spice richness at the midpalate that I fell in love with. [BUY] (price increase as of 2022)—Clay Risen, author, The Impossible Collection of Whiskey

Navarre Blanc Pineau des Charentes Vieux

This pineau has been aged for an impressive 30 years, leading to complex notes of honey, raisin, almond and even a hint of mushroom. It’s such a versatile spirit, which can be enjoyed neat as an aperitif or digestif, or a splash can be added to a classic Martini or a glass of brut Champagne. [BUY]Paul McGee, co-owner, Lost Lake

Equiano Rum

This is the world’s first African and Caribbean rum, with rums aged in Cognac casks from Mauritius, married with rums from bourbon casks in Barbados. It can be drunk neat, on the rocks or in your favorite rum-based cocktail. [BUY] —Ian Burrell, global rum ambassador; co-founder, Equiano Rum

St. Agrestis Negroni Bag-in-Box

Receiving a bottle of amaro from me is a bit expected, so this year I’m turning to the St. Agrestis boxed Negroni. Yes, it’s super-easy to make or even batch Negronis at home, but as a gift, this is unexpected, convenient and packs 20 ready-to-drink Negronis within arm’s reach. It’s the closest you’ll come to having a Negroni fountain in your kitchen. [BUY]Brad Thomas Parsons, author, Amaro, Bitters and Last Call

Paranubes Oaxacan Agricole Rum

My affection for Paranubes is not unique. In the three-plus years that it has been in the U.S. market, it’s corralled plenty of fans, but I still can’t stop, won’t stop, singing its praises. It’s everything that makes me excited about rum and Mexican spirits in a single bottle: It’s got all of the fruity, saline cane qualities I love in agricole rum, but with green notes that are less cut-grass and more of a deeper, earthier cherry leaf and poblano variety that’s wholly unique; it’s made from organically grown cane via ancestral methods that speak to a specific place (Oaxaca’s cloud forest) and people (it’s made by third-generation distillers); it’s concentrated and high-octane, but still curiously quiet and nuanced. I wish I could buy each of you a bottle. Drink it neat. [BUY—Talia Baiocchi, editor in chief, PUNCH

Oka Kura Bermutto Japanese Sake Vermouth

Just like Japanese gin and whisky before it, this Japanese vermouth—the first of its kind—pushes the boundaries of the category. Made from a base of junmai sake fortified with shochu, I expected the rice distillate flavor to overpower, but the botanicals really shine here. A bright burst of citrus is complemented by a slight salinity and notes of chamomile for a vermouth that sits comfortably between traditional blanc and dry expressions. It’s delicious on its own, but shines exceptionally bright in a 2:1 or even a 50/50 Martini. [BUY] —Chloe Frechette, senior editor, PUNCH

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