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Spirited Gift Guide

Posted on  | October 27, 2014   Bookmark and Share
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Tips on helping customers get the right bottle for the right person.

The pressure of seasonal giving often brings retailers a slew of customers not accustomed to spirit buying, knowing only a little about the gift recipient’s preferences. Helping buyers make the right choice provides sellers with an opportunity to make a sale and create a return customer. For lots of reasons, spirits are the better gifting choice. Unlike wine, it’s a gift that generally lasts; inexperienced buyers can feel more confident about the value of the gift; and with the explosion of interest in spirits, it’s generally easier to communicate its value.

So herewith, we present a fast guide to the sorts of questions every retailer can expect to be hearing soon:


Buying a present for a boss should be a no-experiment game. Stick to the big brands at a slightly higher price point. Crown Royal Monarch, a limited edition of the wildly popular Canadian whisky; Johnnie Walker Platinum 18 Year Old Blended Scotch; and the remarkable Wild Turkey American Spirit are all exceptional “a step above” choices. Or perhaps one of the new rums from Bacardi in the Facundo line; blended before aging, unusual among rums, Eximo would score points with any dark-rum-loving boss.


“I want to get something for my Millennial nephew.” It’s said Millennials, those rascals between 21 and 32, want products with a story. Perhaps an aged sipping rum, Don Pancho Origenes, produced by legendary Cuban rum distiller Francisco “Don Pancho” Fernandez, globally recognized as one of the most experienced and respected master blenders in the world. Plantation Rum has a great back story: produced and aged in Barbados, it’s then shipped to Cognac for finishing in small French oak barrels, combining funk with finesse. Millennials also have shown a great interest in more robust spirits —Marca Negra Tobala Mezcal, made from a specific agave genus, is intensely smoky but fruity and flavorfully modern.


As American whiskey booms, suppliers roll out many year end treats that can delight the bourbon fan. Parker’s Heritage Collection is an annual release – this year, a 13 year old wheat whiskey bottled at 63.7 percent alcohol. Made the year master distiller Parker Beam first crafted Bernheim Wheat Whiskey, this batch uses too much wheat to be called bourbon, but it’s something special. There’s also Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, an annual limited expression of a 140-year-old brand selected from a single day’s production. Lower on the price scale is the annual Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage bottling.


“My mother loves everything French… what’s something I can surprise her with?” Does Mom like apples? Calvados, the Norman spirit made from a variety of ancient and obscure apples, can be aromatically intriguing and subtly fresh at any age. Suggest anything from respected producers Christian Drouhin and Roger Groult, among the best-known high end distillers. Or perhaps Mom would like to try Armagnac, Cognac’s robust and intense cousin. At about $100, there’s one of the finest French brandies ever made: the Hors D’Age from producer D’Artigalongue.


Flavor hounds have a hard time resisting the tasty Castries Peanut Rum Cream liqueur, a combo of rum and peanut butter cream. The cinnamony rum cream RumChata has been a big hit. Sans cream, Southern Comfort Gingerbread Spice is another new option for the spicy set. For a sweet-tart options, there is the hibiscus, cinnamon, clove and spice-laden Sorrel Liqueur. Also consider one of the new old-fashioned rock and ryes—Mr. Katz’s made in Brooklyn, or Slow & Low, from the company that created St-Germain Elderflower. And for chocophiles, the gift to give or receive is Dorda Double Chocolate Liqueur.


Canadian whisky has long been popular with outdoorsmen. Lot No. 40 is 100% rye and a slightly higher proof; aged in new American oak and with a portion of the rye malted, it’s tangy and intriguing. Pike Creek is aged 10 years in a non-climate-controlled warehouse and then finished in Port pipes, making it slightly sweeter. Or go way outside the box—Tap 357 is 80 proof Canadian blended with Québec maple syrup.

Does the giftee like something a bit sweeter for sipping from the flask when ice fishing? Bird Dog flavored whiskies come in peach, cinnamon, blackberry and maple flavors.


Organic spirit selections are becoming far more common, so this should be easy for most retailers to make informed suggestions. Among tequilas, Casa Noble and Alquimia, among many others, are widely available. For the vodka lover, such brands as Tru, American Harvest, Square One and Prairie come to mind; among the gins, there are Crop and Farmer’s. Papagayo is an organic rum, but in brown spirits, organic options are harder to find. There is a Scotch that fills the bill, however-—Benromach Speyside Single Malt—and now A. Hardy offers a VSOP organic Cognac.


There are all sorts of “starter” whiskies to recommend; among bourbons, those with a higher wheat content, like Maker’s Mark and W. L. Weller, have long been known as approachable and accessible for neophytes. Irish whiskey in general is considered especially drinkable, making suggestions like Jameson Black Barrel or Tyrconnell Madeira Cask Single Malt good step-ups in price and value. For single malt Scotch, stick to the favorites—Glenlivet, Balvenie or Macallan; their popularity guarantees they’ll be greeted as crowd-pleasers.  Remember that gift-giving is not about you—it’s about the giver and recipient. You may want to stock a couple whiskies that appeal on a completely different level, e.g. Ron Burgundy Scotch and the just-launched J.R. Ewing Bourbon.


Tequila nuts are as serious as whiskey collectors in their search for the unique. The line of single-estate expressions from Ocho (by their very nature limited) have won rave reviews. Barrel finishes are a recent evolution among tequila producers, so expressions like Herradura’s Port or Cognac barrel finished reposados would be a treat—the latest  expression, just released, is a reposado finished in Scotch whisky barrels. Shoppers looking to splurge on extra añejos might like the fairly new 1800 Milenio and Avion Reserva 44. Gran Patrón Piedra is not only extra añejo, having aged three years in barrel, it is also distinguished by its production process, via which the steam-cooked agave is slowly crushed with a two-ton “Tahona” stone wheel.


Among the many one-offs now available, suggest Old Pulteney Navigator, a no-age-expression Scotch created to commemorate the 2013-’14 Clipper Round the World Yacht Race. Aged in a combination of ex-bourbon and ex-Sherry casks, Navigator is rich, balanced, yet briney and citrusy. Glenmorangie’s new single malt, Taghta, is said to be the world’s first crowdsourced whisky. Matured in double first-fill Sherry casks, Highland Park Dark Origins combines rich sweetness with a balanced smoke and spice quality. Expand the Highland malt lover’s horizons into the world of peaty Islay Single Malt with Laphroaig’s less-peaty Select and Cairdeas Amontillado expressions. The Select is a blend of four different wood-finished single malts; the latter is 8-year old Laphroaig double-matured in ex-bourbon barrels then finished in Amontillado casks.


Hipsters love the new, quirky, local and unusual. Offer this customer one of the smoky American whiskies—High West Whiskey Campfire or Corsair Triple Smoke, made using cherry wood, beech wood and peat to smoke the barley. Hillrock Single Malt uses only estate ingredients, a real locavore’s dream, while any of the exquisite Germain-Robin California brandies would be the talk of the cocktail party. For some colorful street cred, consider also the graffiti-esque Rhum Clément bottle designed by artist JonOne.


For the fashion-forward, image can be everything. A sleek bottle and the use of fashion icon actress Chloe Sevigny in advertising make Absolut Elyx a smart choice. “Disaronno wears Versace” a special edition, with Versace-designed printed sleeve, supports Fashion 4 Development, a campaign that uses fashion to tackle issues in the developing world. Hennessy Cognac VS this year offered the fourth of the brand’s Limited Edition series with a new design created by acclaimed American contemporary artist Shepard Fairey. What could be more fashionable than that?  


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