Let’s put aside all the problems of 2020 and turn our attention to the holidays. That means it’s time to joyfully head off shopping for friends and family, for colleagues and neighbors and maybe even for ourselves.
And that means it’s time for a Weekend Sip tradition: the 12 Bottles of Christmas.
Once again, we’ve compiled a list of a dozen bottles, covering the categories of wine, beer and spirits. (And ice cream, too!) We’ve selected items at varying price points, so you can gift anything from a simple stocking stuffer to the sip of a lifetime. Needless to say, the list doesn’t strictly apply to Christmas — the picks will generally work for any holiday or occasion.
Oh, and one more thing: Happy holidays!
The ugly sweater bottle (er, can)
We’ve never quite understood the ugly Christmas sweater thing. Such apparel may represent a gleeful way to subvert the season, but it’s still, well, ugly. But we can embrace the ugly sweater when it comes in liquid form. And that is the idea behind Almanac Beer Co.’s Ugly Sweater LOVE Hazy IPA ($16.99 for a four-pack). The Northern California craft brewer, which specializes in what it calls “farm-to-barrel” beer, describes this super-tasty IPA as a “jolly” sip with notes of mango and cantaloupe. But it’s the image on the can of an ugly sweater that may be the real selling point for some. Almanac also puts together other festive holiday items, including a 12-can Christmas sampler and an eight-can Hanukkah one.
The red bottle
You’ll need to have deep pockets for a bottle of Beringer’s Eighth Maker Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon — it’s a whopping $400, which is pricey even by California trophy-bottle standards. But this sip, from the producer that calls itself California’s longest continuously operating winery, may just be worth it for its hearty taste (think blackberries and black cherries, says the Beringer team) and yet surprisingly delicate texture (the tannins are “fine grained,” the producer notes). The packaging is as superlative as the bottle, with the glossy wooden case almost worthy of being used to store prized jewels. The bottle’s name refers to Mark Beringer’s role as Beringer’s eighth winemaker — the company was founded in part by his great-great-grandfather Jacob.
The green bottle
In this case, we mean “green” not in the color-minded sense, but in the save-the-planet one. And Mijenta, a small-batch tequila producer, says it takes the environment seriously. The company’s sustainable practices include ensuring all of its packaging — the label and box — utilizes the waste from agave, the plant that goes into making tequila. It’s a laudable mission, but the tequila itself — in its “blanco” (meaning un-aged) iteration ($50) — deserves praise as well. The sip is clean-tasting with a variety of flavor notes, from honey to pineapple.
The bourbon-for-beginners bottle
Bourbon continues to be the go-to drink for countless whiskey fans, with the made-in-America, heavy-on-the-corn sip especially appealing to the millennial set. But let’s face it: Not everyone is born a whiskey drinker. Enter Black Button Distilling’s Bespoke Bourbon Cream ($35). The Rochester, N.Y., distiller has crafted a liqueur that’s almost too easy to sip — with hints of bourbon (naturally) but plenty of farm-fresh New York cream to give it a smooth texture. Just chill it and you have yourself a fine end-of-day beverage, but it works well in a variety of cocktails, such as a Black Button Russian, a variation on a White Russian.
The bourbon-for-the-savvy-set bottle
Of course, there are also plenty of savvy bourbon drinkers out there — and also those who appreciate a bottle that has been packaged in style. Kentucky distillery Woodford Reserve aims to appeal to such sippers with its Baccarat Edition (for $2,000 — yes, a bourbon with a four-digit price tag). First, a little about the liquid: It’s a bourbon aged for an additional time in casks that were previously used for Cognac, so the taste has a pronounced refinement (the Woodford team points to the “subtle spiciness and a creamy confectionary finish”). And the bottle? It’s a handmade crystal decanter straight from Baccarat, France, a destination known for all things glass. When you finish the bourbon, you can refill with the sip of your choice — or buy another bottle if you have any leftover cash.
The bottle of bubbly (with a built-in cooler)
Sure, you can buy a fancy-schmancy bottle of sparkling wine, as in vintage Champagne, for the loved ones on your list. But it won’t likely come with a built-in “chill box.” That’s what Italian winemaker Ferrari Trento calls the container that holds its Brut sparkler ($26.99). The bottom half is basically a built-in cooler that ensures the wine stays chilled for four hours. Putting aside the cold factor, the sparkler is an exceptionally good one for the price — similar to a Blanc de Blancs Champagne in that it is made with white grapes, but with a liveliness all its own.
The Italian bottle
Granted, we just told you about an Italian sparkling wine. And we suggested a great cream liqueur made with bourbon. But that won’t stop us from also suggesting the Italian-made cream liqueur, Disaronno Velvet ($29.99). It’s distinctly Disarrono, meaning it’s rich with that amaretto taste. But the cream takes it to a whole other level. Some might argue it’s not a terribly complex sip. Our response: We’ll drink whatever you leave over.
The Japanese bottle
It’s been said frequently in recent years, but it bears repeating: Some of the best whisky in the world these days is coming from Japan, a country that makes sips similar in spirit to Scotch but with a rarefied quality, a certain delicacy, that lend them a uniqueness. But which bottle to buy? We’ve always enjoyed the Suntory line of whiskies, but Nikka is another long-established producer worth noting. Among its latest releases are two bottles aged in former apple brandy casks, the Yoichi Single Malt and the Miyagikyo Single Malt. At $249.99 each, neither is exactly entry-level, but they provide a heavenly sipping experience, with subtle hints of sweetness. It must be those apples.
The chocolate bottle
The bottle here is from The Dalmore, a celebrated Scotch producer with a history going back more than 150 years. Specifically, it’s Dalmore’s 18-year version, which benefits from all that nice aging — the distillery is known for its careful selection of casks — and has flavors ranging from coffee to citrus. So what about the chocolate? The Dalmore has upped the ante with a special $299 gift set that pairs the spirit with a box of bonbons from the artisan-minded Vosges Haut Chocolate company. Naturally, the sweets are infused with Dalmore whisky.
The bottled cocktail
High West is a Utah distillery known for its creative offerings (we’re fans of its Campfire — a one-of-a-kind blend of bourbon, rye and peated Scotch). Now, it’s also gone into the bottled-cocktail business, with both a barrel-finished Manhattan and barrel-finished Old Fashioned (priced at $29.99 each for a 375 ml bottle or $49.99 each for a 750 ml one). At a time when there’s an abundance of ho-hum canned cocktails on the market, this is an alternative for serious sippers who demand a well-crafted drink produced with quality spirits. The barrel aging of the cocktails adds character as well. And the 375 ml bottle makes for a great stocking stuffer.
The Metallica bottle
You may know Metallica as one of the all-time definitive heavy metal bands, a group that has won just about every industry honor, from multiple Grammy awards to enshrinement in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But Metallica is also the guiding force behind Blackened, an American whiskey created in collaboration with the late and lauded distiller Dave Pickerell. It is a blend of bourbon and rye that is noteworthy because it is aged for a final stretch of time in former brandy casks, all while being “pummeled with the low hertz frequencies of Metallica’s music,” according to the Blackened team. The idea of that sonic “enhancement” is to get the liquid interacting more with the wood, giving it an extra boost of flavor in the process. Blackened comes in a standard version ($49.99) and limited-edition “Batch 106” offerings ($49.99 and $54.99). Gift it or sip it and be prepared to say “Enter Sandman.”
The “bottle” of ice cream
Tipsy Scoop is just what its name implies, an ice-cream company that flavors its flavors with honest-to-goodness booze. (Though you’ll need to devour quite a lot to feel tipsy.) For the holidays, it has come up with a fun way to turn the frozen stuff into drinks — namely, a mail-order Holiday Cheers Cocktail Kit ($84) that includes pints of its ice cream and a variety of Blue Chair Bay rums, plus add-ons ranging from sprinkles to caramel sauce. Instructions for making different cocktails are part of the package as well. The kit delivers on its promise of a boozy good time, but if you want to order the ice cream by itself — and trust us, it’s delicious — packages of just the pints are available as well. Flavor options range from Cake Batter Vodka Martini to Spiked Mint Chocolate Chip.
The bonus bottle
Why stop at 12 picks? For our bonus 13th selection, the game is on — literally. Sommify is a new board game ($49.99) that, in the words of its creators, teaches you how to “blind taste like a sommelier.” Players must provide the wine bottles, which are then sampled from concealed bottles (you’ll need someone to take on the task of serving). The game challenges participants to detect characteristics of each offering, from tannin levels to acidity. Players will have to decide what the winner takes home, but we say a bottle is the perfect prize.