Christmas looms and gift buyers everywhere are looking for gift guides. Here’s how this one works: in the run up to Christmas we have drinks, and other things,* thrust upon us to review. They all claim to be the perfect Christmas gift for our readers. We duly sift through the emails and pick out the ones that sound the best, and then taste them just to make sure. Only the finest boozes then make it into this gift guide.
As you can imagine, such rigorous drinking research takes time (we’re a conscious pair who don’t like to overshoot our recommended weekly booze units – at least not until Christmas actually arrives), so we update this list as we go. And we will update it some more next Christmas. So keep returning to this page and you’ll see some ace new additions added on a regularish basis.
We very much hope you like this selection and it goes some way to helping to ease the burden of Christmas shopping. And when you’ve finished buying for other people, pick out something for yourself and relax – it has been a tough year, you deserve it.
Merry Christmas everyone!
ORO Gin, 43%
‘A bottle of gin’ has been one of the most popular booze gifts in recent years. In our experience, in order to make it a success, your recipient is likely to want something they’ve not come across before and they’ll definitely want something that’s good enough to brag about to their mates.
We reckon ORO gin is a good contender. It’s a Scottish spirit, first launched in 2017, and contains 15 botanicals. Of these it’s the citrussy ones that lead the way, giving the juniper a pine forest freshness, while pleasant floral notes swirl around the senses. There’s also a bit of spice and some aromatic notes of lemongrass. It’s the kind of gin that will get your gin loving pals nodding in approval, using words such as ‘clean’ and ‘fresh’ as they flash their grateful ginsome grin.
For an even bigger grin, ORO has also put together some impressive hampers and outstanding cocktails.
Elephant in the Room Pinot Noir and Chardonnay
We love these bottles of wine from Australia because, not only do they taste great, but they also look great with their elephant-themed, witty illustrations – and when gifts are concerned, good looks can make all the difference.
Both wines are big on flavour, with the Chardonnay displaying buttery, fruity notes and our favourite, the Pinot Noir, full of rich, tannic juiciness. If you’re looking for a subtle sipping wine then these wines aren’t for you, but if you like to glug on a wine with a powerful punch then these Aussie bottles could be just the ticket.
Smokehead Skull Gift Tin
If you think Scottish whisky is too old fashioned as a gift for your hip friends then you’ve been looking in the wrong places. You should be seeking out Smokehead, a whisky brand that promises bold flavours, extreme expressions and fresh new serves.
You could opt for a bottle of Smokehead Original (43%) to see what they’re all about. It’s a single malt but with the smoke turned up to eleven and, with some spice giving it extra oomph, it certainly makes a change from the normal. But we suggest their gift tin gives an even better flavour of the Smokehead style, with their powerful High Voltage (58%) and inventive Rum Rebel (46%), aged in rum casks, nestling alongside the Original. Three flavoursome 50ml bottles packed in a tin based on the brand’s skull logo – there’s nothing old fashioned about this choice.
Shochu Kohaku no Madoromi
We’ve recently been exploring the trend for Japanese drinks (see the guide we have produced here) and are now keen advocates of Shochu, a spirit distilled from a mix of grains and vegetables that includes rice, buckwheat and sweet potato. We think it’s well worth your while exploring Shochu for yourself and introducing your pals to its boozy charms this Christmas.
Kohaku no Madoromi is a top of the range Shochu and it’s delicious. Much lighter than other spirits, and at 25% ABV not as strong, it has a delicate balance of flavours from the floral and fragrant to earthy, all wrapped in a subtly sweet mellow blanket of warming lovliness. And, for some reason we can’t fathom, it won’t set you back too much of your hard earned Yen.
BLOOM London Dry Gin’s Rose Gold Cocktail Kit
Gin fans can never have too many bottles of gin, and a few cocktail shakers can come in handy too. Which probably explains why gin + shaker kit gift sets have become so popular of late.
Bloom is the kind of gin you would describe as ‘floral.’ It has a fresh and fragrant aroma that instantly cheers you up and a lightness of touch that allows those floral notes of honeysuckle and chamomile to come through in the flavour. If you’re looking for a cocktail recommendation with which to put the Bloom and shiny golden shaker to practice then may we suggest an Aviation. Shake it up and let those flavours fly.
Celtic Whisky Distillerie, Gwalarn, 40%
A few weeks ago we took the Eurostar to France and visited the Brittany home of the Celtic Whisky Distillerie. While there we loaded up on gifts – Nick bought some Breton chocolates, Breton coffee, Breton preserves and even some Breton art. Rich got some sweets from the airport.
But the greatest gift we secured in our luggage was the local whisky. Celtic Whisky Distillerie produce two outstanding single malts – the vanilla sweet Glann Ar Mor and the peaty Kornog, each combining Scottish tradition with some French know-how. Our gift suggestion is their newest release, Gwalarn, a blended whisky with a faint waft of smoke and a great deal of elegance. It’s decently priced too, making it a perfect introduction to Breton whisky. Salut!
The Cheese Geek, ‘The Dean’ – Cheese & Cheeseboard Gin
Any occasion can be improved with the introduction of a good cheeseboard. Christmas is an especially good time for loading up on cheese, not least because it’s one of the finest gifts you can bestow upon those you care about most. And it goes so well with booze.
Here in Somerset we rate the cheese and cider combo highly, but also enjoy it with a good bottle of ale. Wine and Sherry drinkers love a side of salty, creamy cheese to nibble and, at The Cheese Geek, they rate gin as a perfect match.
The Cheese Geek’s Hamper, The Dean, is cheese and gin nirvana. It features three choice cheeses – Vintage Poacher from Lincolnshire, Perl Wen from Carmarthenshire and the mighty Cropwell Bishop Stilton – along with a jar of Damson Fruit Cheese and a bottle of Sipsmith Cheeseboard Martinez. Despite living in Somerset, where quality cheese is plentiful, we regularly look to Wales to help fill our cheeseboard, and the soft, Brie-like Perl Wen is one of the first on our shopping list.
As for the Martinez, it is a fine, chestnut coloured gin-based aperitif. Specially crafted for the Cheese Geek, Sipsmith has infused its gin with figs, grapes and fresh orange before combining it with vermouth. We love it, you’ll love and, most importantly, the cheese will love it too.
Stoneleigh Sauvignon Blanc, 13%
Are you someone who wants to give a bottle of wine, but doesn’t trust their own knowledge to know what to get? You know your mate like a bottle of wine, but you’re not exactly sure what type they prefer and you don’t want to offend them with something they won’t enjoy. For a safe bet, we suggest a good quality Sauvignon Blanc, such as this bottle from Stoneleigh in Marlborough, New Zealand.
We can’t think anyone would turn their noses up at the fresh fruity aromas emanating from a glass of this, while the zesty tang to the flavour can be enjoyed on its own or with any number of light lunches or suppers. It’s the kind of sophisticated white wine all-rounder that anyone can enjoy.
Glen Moray, Warehouse 1, 2008 Manzanilla Finish, 54.6%
Earlier this year we joined forces with Glen Moray to conjure up some home grown, summer cocktail recipes, so we hope you’ll forgive us for suggesting our distilling friends’ latest release in our gift guide.
Glen Moray’s core Speyside expressions are among the most accessible around, and their spirit is ideally suited to pulling unique flavours from various casks. For this limited edition release the whisky has been finished in Manzanilla casks – a dry sherry produced around the coastal Spanish town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. According to Glen Moray, the whisky is “a partnership of river and sea, bringing together the soft Spey water of Glen Moray’s spirit with the slightly sea-salt tang of Manzanilla sherry.”
We’ll also add that it combines a fruit salad freshness with an almost savoury matureness that dries to the finish, with hints of that vinous sherry lingering with the oak. We think it could be an ideal whisky partner for your Christmas cheeseboard (see above).
OPIHR Spiced London Dry Gin Travel Mug Gift Set
If you know someone who could do with spicing up their gin collection now that winter is here then point them in the direction of Opihr. Better still, treat them to this gift set and they’ll also have a handsome tin mug so they can enjoy it while out braving the elements.
The gift set comes in three flavours – Szechuan Pepper, Black Lemon and, our choice for Christmas, Aromatic Bitters. Drinkers of this fine gin will get warming whiff of citrus with some exotic bitter spices, and they might even detect some alluring smoky notes when they come to sipping it. Who says gin is best as a summer tipple?
Minor Case Straight Rye, 45%
To show you’re up with the latest trends in the booze world, consider purchasing a rye whiskey for your chums this year. Having seen little attention for decades, they’re suddenly all the rage, with distillers at home and abroad scrambling for a piece of the action.
Our choice of giftable rye comes from America’s whiskey heartland, Kentucky. Named after a relative of the legendary Beam family (yes, he really was called Minor Case and worked at the Limestone Branch Distillery that produces this rye) it’s a two year old whisky that has been finished in sherry casks.
Rye whiskey is noted for having an extra kick of spice to other grain spirits (which works wonders in a Manhattan cocktail) and, in Minor Case’s case, these are sweetened by the fruity sherry notes before leaving some drier, cinnamon and clove infused oak at the finish. Your mate will be boasting of his new found love for rye whiskey for many Christmases to come.
Hernö Sloe Gin, 30%
Most of our family members have received a bottle of sloe gin on one Christmas or other, but they’re usually taken from our stash of home made sloe gins (which are strictly NOT FOR SALE). If you want to lavish one of the finest festive tipples on your family but haven’t been picking, pricking and steeping your own sloes then may we suggest you seek out Swedish distillery Hernö’s sloe gin.
It’s just the kind of tart and jammy, smooth and mellow sloe gin we like, that will simultaneously perk you up and calm you down (a trick we need performing on regular occasions throughout the festive period). Is it as good as our home made sloe gin? Of course not, but it gives it a mighty close run for its money…
Highland Nectar Scotch Whisky Liqueur, 35%
Whisky liqueurs have become a bit of a thing in the last few years, but it’s American flavours that have generally led the way – apple pie, peanut butter, chocolate cookies and other dessert-based confection. For a touch more class we suggest the newly released Highland Nectar, a Scottish whisky that has been sweetened and infused with herbs, spices and fruits.
It’s smooth and creamy to sip and is packed full of the flavours that Christmas demands: cinnamon and cloves, orange and vanilla, some stem ginger warmth and a touch of fire from the whisky. It’s the kind of thing that is so right for Christmas that we reckon your gift recipient will have the top off the bottle within five minutes of unwrapping it.
Noilly Prat Original Dry Vermouth de France, 18%
For far too long, vermouth was relegated to something that only got hauled out of the cupboard when somebody fancied shaking or stirring a martini. With the recent cocktail boom it found itself used in more recipes, but it’s still very much under-appreciated as a drink in its own right.
Things may be changing, with various artisan vermouth makers springing up from nowhere, but if you’re looking to gift a bottle of fortified, herbal infused wine, then we suggest you opt for what has long been considered the best. Noilly Prat Original Dry Vermouth uses secret ingredients based on the original 1813 recipe with a blend of two aged white wines as its base. The combination of the botanical flavours, and a very dry finish, make it an excellent aperitif when chilled and served with ice. With all sorts of pine and bitter herb notes at play, along with some floral touches and speckles of spice, it not only tastes great served neat but also shows off its prowess in a martini and more.
Angel’s Envy Bourbon, Port Finish, 43.3%
How do you add a festive touch to an all American bourbon? We think finishing it in Port barrels does the trick, as evidenced in this bottle from Angel’s Envy.
With some whiskeys you really have to quiz your senses hard to work out what the finishing cask might be, but with this one it’s obviously Port from the second you open the bottle. It has a rich, sweet red grape flavour that makes the booze seem thicker and smoother, while the bourbon’s vanilla spices marry well with the port and oak. We also detect some chocolate orange flavours that ramp up the festive feel an extra notch. A unique bourbon that comes into its own at this time of year, and with one of the most stunning looking bottles too.
Natural History Museum X Cooper King Distillery Discovery Gin, 40%
If you’ve got a friend who demands that their gifts are environmentally sound then they deserve something that not only meets their standards but is of excellent quality too. And we’ve got just the thing. The Natural History Museum has recently teamed up with Yorkshire distillery Cooper King to produce an exclusive gin that claims to be ‘carbon-negative.’ Using 100% renewable energy, for every 700ml bottle one kilogram of carbon dioxide equivalent is removed from the atmosphere and one square metre of English woodland is planted.
The gin itself is a breezy affair – sweet aromatic botanicals shine through with a hint of herbal freshness (basil and lemongrass are featured among the ingredients) and we suggest serving with a small amount of tonic and a herbal garnish of your choice (which is rosemary for us). You’ll be very much rewarded with a refreshing G&T that tastes of the great outdoors. And to further the environmental creds it’s worth noting that the lightweight bottle is made from 55% recycled glass.
BUY exclusively from the Natural History Museum shop
Loch Lomond Inchmoan 12 Year Old Whisky and Chocolates, 46%
There is reason enough to get your pals a bottle of Loch Lomond Inchmoan 12 Year Old Whisky – it’s a cracking liquid with an upfront flavour of delicious sweet vanilla and some gentle smoky peat and warming spices chugging along in the background. But for a limited time there’s even more reason to add this whisky to your Christmas shopping list: the promise of chocolates.
The distillery has teamed up with Scottish chocolatiers Cocoa Ooze to conjure some very whisky-friendly chocolate truffles and, with Inchoman 12 Year Old, you’ll find a superb box of dark chocolate and sea salt to enjoy with it. Other pairings include 12 Year Old Inchmurrin with milk chocolate, orange and cinnamon and the classic 12 Year Old paired with milk chocolate and apricot. Get them while they last and you can decide if your recipient gets both parts of the gift.
Adnams Cream Liqueur and Adnams Blackcurrant Gin
Suffolk brewery Adnams is one of our favourites in the land, producing an incredible amount of first rate beer that we’ve often featured on this site. But it might be news to some folk that they also have more strings to their bow than malt and hop based booze.
Mosey on over to their online shop and you’ll see everything from fancy wines to a range of whiskies. We’ve been browsing their immense selection of drinks and have picked out these two bottles that we think would make particularly good gifts…
Adnams Cream Liqueur, 17%
Everyone loves a cream liqueur at Christmas yet, for years, there has been very little in the way of choice. It looks like this might change soon and Adnams are hoping to lead the charge with their version of the drink. As you would hope and expect it is luxuriously creamy, but it’s also got a touch more sophistication to the flavour than your average creamy booze. The spirit used has been aged in French oak barrels which adds some oaky spice to each sip, providing depth to the slightly fruity, vanilla and milky booze. Pour it over your pudding or add it to a cocktail if you wish, but we’ll be drinking ours neat with just a brace of ice cubes for company
Adnams Blackcurrant Gin, 40%
We grow lots of blackcurrants. They’re not the most versatile fruit in the kitchen, but they’re certainly one of the best for booze and their tart, fruity character comes to its own at Christmas. Adnams have distilled a whole load of blackcurrants with juniper berries, star anise, liquorice and cassia bark to make a handsome gin that has a delicious fruity kick to it. Those other botanicals help to bring out some extra boozy warmth that makes it even better suited to sipping at this time of year. We think it’s well worth trying this one neat before adding a mixer, with lemonade or sparkling wine being our choice of cocktail-making partners.
Afon Mel Mead
One of our favourite discoveries this year has been Afon Mel, a welsh-based meadery who like nothing more than squeezing** honey from their own herd of free-range bees to make a variety of delicious, honey-based boozes. Our pick of their range (and not just because the name makes us laugh) is Moon Juice, a crisp refreshing apple mead (or cyser, to use the correct term). Best of all, if you nip on over to their website you can purchase a selection of gift sets (including the aforementioned Moon Juice) featuring a bottle of mead and a lovely hand-thrown, hand-glazed mead mug from which to sip.
Lakedown Brewing Co.
We are sad to admit it but we both spent a good deal of our youth ‘fishing’ on the local lakes and waterways of our respective hometowns. And by fishing, we mean either staring at an immobile float for hours on end or clambering around in trees to untangle nests of fishing line thanks to the complete inability to cast properly. Had we lived anywhere near the Wealden valley we would almost certainly have paid a visit to the Lakedown Trout Fishery in an attempt to improve our shoddy fishing skills. Besides four spring-fed lakes, Lakedown Fisheries also has an onsite brewery and taproom serving a selection of their beers which would obviously have piqued our interest even further.
Now it might be us reading too much into the Lakedown Brewing branding, but we detect something rather fishy going on… That script-y font used in the logo? Inspired by tackle masters Shakespeare we reckon. The circular graphic device used on the packaging? Surely it represents the ripples caused by a splendid, iridescent trout kissing the water’s surface? Or does it go deeper**** than that? Are those circles hinting at the target motif adopted by the Mods and a certain incendiary rock group, headed up by a be-permed trout-loving frontman who just so happens to have set up the Lakedown estate back in 1981???? We may never know, and you most certainly won’t care one way or another. Bottom line**** is that their beers are great, so we heartily recommend that you cast***** your mouse pointer to Lakedown Brewing and net****** yourself a box or two for Christmas.
Drinks by the Dram 12 X Irish Whiskey Collection
Drinks by the Dram produce some great giftable collections. In the run up to Christmas you can enjoy one of their excellent advent calendars and, to keep the momentum going through to the new year, they also produce a range of ‘12 drams of Christmas’ collections.
These boozy bundles make great gifts, featuring 12 x 30ml bottles of spirits that allow the lucky recipient to discover some new favourite drinks before it’s time to bring the decorations down. The collections include tequila, rum and gin, but this year we’ve picked out their Irish Whiskey set, guaranteed easy drinking after the Christmas excess with the excellent Writers Tears, Teeling and Hinch among the brands included. And if your pal is postponing drinking for a while then they only have a few more months to wait until it’s St Patrick’s Day. Sláinte!
*Salt. You would not believe how many emails we receive promoting salt.
**We think that’s how it works
*** Pardon the pun
**** See above
***** See above
****** See above