Gifting a bottle of whiskey is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it's a classic gift that's meant to be shared and enjoyed with company; on the other, it can come off as an 11th hour pickup to cover your ass for forgetting someone on your shopping list. These bottles ensure your gift doesn't feel like an after thought.
After many years of stubbornness, Maker's Mark has spread its wings and released a number of worthy alternatives to its famous mainline offering. For my money, its 2020 limited release is the best yet. You can read more about the complex process Maker's goes through to make it, but here's the gist: this bottle is a vanilla bean ICBM aimed directly at your tastebuds.
One of the best whiskey stories of 2020 was the return of the age statement, and no brand embodied that story better than Knob Creek, who brought back a 9-year guarantee to its standard small batch offering and introduced a regular 12-year bourbon as a reasonably price, readily available upgrade. If the giftee likes the peanut-rich flavor of Jim Beam's Small Batch Collection (Booker's, Baker's, Basil Hayden's and Knob Creek), they'll love this.
A new and lesser known bourbon from Heaven Hill, the distillery behind Evan Williams and Elijah Craig. Its Larceny line offers up affordable wheated bourbons (a category made famous by Buffalo Trace's Van Winkle Collection), and this barrel proof offering is its latest. Expect intensity, sweetness and a little oak bite.
Sagamore Spirit's occupies a small-ish niche, but they rule it with an iron fist. The company has made its name off near-perfect barrel-finished rye whiskeys, and its Calvados Finish expression — Calvados is an apple or pear brand from Normandy — is yet another example. Fruity, spicy, sweet, savory. It's an absolute stunner of a whiskey.
A new-ish whiskey brand, but the people behind it are anything but. Shane Baker and Pat Heist worked decades in the spirits industry before founding their distillery (they were also in a rock band together), and it's become one of the flag bearers for the next generation of whiskey makers. If you're gifting a whiskey drinker who has a room full of whiskey, this could be a bottle they've never heard of.
Along with Wilderness Trail, New Riff Distilling is the cream of the crop when it comes to next-gen whiskey makers. Founded by former liquor retailers and advised by absolute masters of the craft, the company has a handle on making whiskey that people want. They also happen to be the kings of single barrel bourbon picking, one of the biggest trends in the whiskey world.
One of the best new whiskeys you can buy, period. Built by Brent Elliot and the quality-minded brains at Four Roses, few bourbons can match Small Batch Select's (not to be confused with regular Small Batch) blend of richness, value and finesse.