Even if you know your boss would love a good bottle of bourbon this holiday season, or a rare Japanese whiskey would be ideal for your significant other, if luxury alcohols aren’t your forte, cherry picking the perfect one can be a shot in the dark. When we’re in this kind of predicament, sometimes it feels easier to spend as much money as we can afford to impress, but considering that a bottle of high-quality liquor can range anywhere from $50 to $1500, it pays (literally) to have at least some knowledge about how to choose an expensive alcohol that’s actually up to snuff. Not to mention the fact that, “The line between what’s luxurious and what’s trending has blurred over the years due in large part to celebrity endorsements and name drops in top-charting songs” says Ernesto Breijo, food and beverage general manager at The Standard Spa Miami’s Monterrey Bar. Which begs the question, when looking to gift an alcohol that feels truly special, how do you know if an expensive price tag is actually reflective of its quality or is it just hype?
We hate to say it, but it helps to do a little homework. When trying to distinguish a good bottle, make yourself aware of the obvious markers of an alcohol’s luxury like its “smoothness, distillation, and aroma,” says Breijo, as well as, “the brand’s history, design and marketing.” These factors all give significant insight into whether you’re buying a worthy spirit. Steven Minor, corporate director of beverage at 1 Hotels & Resorts recommends seeking out apps like Tequila Matchmaker to learn about alcohols you’re interested in. Plus, when you’re educated on your purchase, “you can give the person receiving the gift a cool snippet about the brand and what makes it different,” Minor says. “That may open their horizons if they’re used to only consuming a handful of popular main stream brands.”
And while these tips are extremely helpful in terms of knowing what to look for in a luxury liquor, arguably the most important factor when it comes to gift-giving is in the specificity of knowing the receiver. Tim Sweeney, head bartender and partner at NYC’s Pebble Bar encourages putting the receiver’s tastes and what they value at the forefront, as opposed to getting them a bottle you’re interested in trying...and hoping they share. “Is it a sipper of whiskey who is looking for something new to try? [Or] Is it someone who would just love to have the most exotic looking bottle sequestered in their den on display to show off?” Sweeney asks. Taking these factors into consideration can put you on the path to making a selection the recipient is sure to love.
To get you started on your way, our experts have each shared their top favorite alcohols (and one cocktail set) to gift for the holidays, from a liqueur made by monks to an 18-year-old whiskey, below.