Under the Radar’s 2020 Holiday Gift Guide Part 2: The Drinker’s Guide | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Thursday, January 28th, 2021  

Under the Radar’s 2020 Holiday Gift Guide Part 2: The Drinker’s Guide

Let’s be real: most of us will need a drink after the year we’ve had

Nov 25, 2020 Photography by Austin Trunick
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There’s a reason why alcohol sales have shot up more than 25 percent during the last eight months. Whether you’re settling into a weekly Zoom happy hour, or just finding additional ways to unwind while binge-watching Arrested Development for the fourth time, it’s always nice to have a bottle (or several) on hand. That’s why we’re here to turn you on to a few of our latest discoveries before you finish your holiday shopping.

Stay tuned for the rest of Under the Radar’s 2020 Holiday Gift Guide, covering music boxed sets, video games, toys, movies, board games, alcohol, graphic novels, and more

Plus - you know what pairs well with any cocktail? A subscription to Under the Radar, so please keep that in mind during your holiday shopping.  

 

Brewferm’s Homebrew No-Boil Starter Kit

SRP: $100

At some point in every beer-lover’s life, they’re going to contemplate home brewing. Some of them of have a knack for it, boiling their ingredients in super-sanitized pots with exact measurements, like some kind of beer scientist. Way too many, though, have trouble those first few times – whether it’s following the written instructions, or missing an important step in the YouTube How-To video. Those people can wind up frustrated, and giving up – which explains why there’s so much gently-used beginner’s brewing equipment available on Facebook marketplace. But what if I told you someone had taken the most frustrating parts of home-brewing out of the equation, making it easier for a wannabe brewer to get their feet (and frosted mugs) wet?

As someone whose poor sugar-measuring discipline has turned swingtop bottles into dangerous hand grenades, I can speak from experience and say that BrewFerm’s No-Boil method is the most painless path to brewing your own beer that I’ve ever encountered. In their system, the wort – read: the boiled grains that give beers most of their flavor – comes in a canned, concentrate form, cutting out most of the hardest work. (If you’ve made frozen orange juice, you can make your own beer!) The whole brewing process took around an hour, most of which was spent cleaning and sanitizing the equipment that comes in the kit with the provided cleaner. After about a week and a half of brewing in the bucket, the beer can be moved to bottles (a premium kit includes a capper for a little bit more money). Even the bottle fermentation is easy, adding Lemonhead-like drops right into your empty bottles, so your sugar is perfectly measured and you can sleep comfortably knowing your bottles won’t explode on you.

As a dummy who also loves beer, it’s nice to find a brewing method that’s practically dummy-proof. The Sacred Saison Starter Kit offered on their website yields a whopping 42 bottles of beer – which is great for less than two hours’ effort, all told. A wide variety of Belgian-centric flavors are available for purchase as well, and Brewferm even offers a customizable subscription system at a nice discount under the regular price. That way, if the beer-lover in your life loves this gift, they can get refills however fast they’re able to drink them. This is the best entry-level brewing kit we’ve come across, and trust us – we’ve tried a few of them. (Learn more here.)

High Sierra Thermal-Lined Flannel (California Cowboy)

SRP: $148

Made in both men’s and women’s styles, the High Sierra is a luxury, thermal-lined flannel loaded with classy features such as a built-in bottle pocket and opener, a water-resistant zipper pocket for your phone (useful for wet/snowy activities), secure loops for your gloves and sunglasses, and a hidden pocket for your “pen.” (Wink wink, nudge nudge.) This thing is soft and warm, inside and out. Here’s a list of activities we would recommend wearing your High Sierra flannel for:

- Skiing
- Drinking a beer and watching the snow fall
- Shoveling that snow
- Drinking a beer in the garage
- Sledding with the kids
- Drinking a beer in a neighbor’s yard
- Tailgating (the jersey will slide right over)
- Hanging the holiday lights (while drinking a beer)

… as you can see, the possibilities are endless! From September through April, nothing beats a fine flannel, and these ones are among the finest. You can take your pick from a wide selection of colors and patterns, from a classic lumberjack red to brighter, more far-out designs. During a year when we haven’t been able to give out many hugs, a shirt like this will feel like a warm hug every time they slip it on. (Learn more here.)

Drinks by the Dram Advent Calendars

SRP: £150

One of our 2019 Drinker’s Guide’s top gifts returns in new varieties, as Drinks by the Dram offers a new range of boozy advent calendars featuring spirits that should match any of your giftee’s alcoholic fancies. There’s still time to get in on one of their twenty-four bottle countdowns, which will let that connoisseur in your life sample a wax-dipped, 3cl bottle of a premium spirit each day through Christmas – that is, unless they cheat and plow ahead, but we won’t judge either way.

From prior experience, these advent calendars are an ideal way to broaden your horizons beyond your favorite brands. With the one-per-day spacing—if you’re disciplined enough to follow that rule—you’re forced to pause and appreciate what makes each sample pour unique, and perhaps even find a new favorite bottle. It’s all classy stuff, too, which is nice, since it gives you the opportunity to try before you buy that expensive bottle, so you can make sure you’re only investing in the tastiest beverages from your liquor store’s top shelf. (This year’s rum advent calendar contains – no spoilers – varieties that are up to 25 years old!) Choose from rum, gin, whiskey, scotch, bourbon, and more. (Learn more here.)

Michter’s Bourbons

SRP: $30 - $34 for 750ml of these varieties

The “US-1” – with a star in the middle, where that dash sits – found on the label of Michter’s four core whiskey varieties is a hat-tip to brand’s history, which dates back to one of America’s first distilling operations. Founded by a pair of Mennonite brothers in rural Pennsylvania during the 1750s, it was rumored to have kept George Washington’s troops warm during the cold winters of the Revolutionary War. Of course, the brand has changed hands, names, and headquarters locations many times over the centuries, but the core idea has remained: making damned fine American whiskeys.

Now based in Louisville, Kentucky, Michter’s offers four regular styles – meaning, there’s at least one that should please any American whiskey connoisseur’s palate. Their US-1 Kentucky Straight Bourbon is just what you’d hope to find at the starting point of the famed bourbon trail: caramel-y sweet, with a warming, oaky burn on the way down. Their US-1 Kentucky Straight Rye is another take on a popular favorite, brighter and more spice-forward, perfect for an Old Fashioned or served straight up. The US-1 Sour Mash is perhaps what the distillery’s best-known for, having won last year’s “Whisky of the Year” award from The Whisky Exchange and being their most popular style in decades past; with its unique blend of grains and a mash developed over years of re-use, it’s an interesting mix of bourbon and rye qualities, sugary sweet with a finish of peppery spice. Our personal favorite, the US-1 Unblended American Whiskey, is aged in whiskey-soaked barrels, which is why they can’t call this one “bourbon” proper – but the tradeoff is a flavor we found to be very rich and complex. (Imagine a barrel-aged beer, but the whiskey equivalent, if that makes sense.) Grab the bottle that sounds best to you or, better yet, one of each, and host your own tasting party. (Learn more here.)

High Camp Flasks

SRP: $125 for 750ml, or $85 for 375ml

They say the only thing as classy as drinking something nice, is having something nice to drink it from. Do they say that? Even if “they” don’t say that, we will – especially after getting our hands on one of High Camp’s ultra-slick Firelight flasks.

The Firelight is a high-end, feature-packed flask meant to help you take your favorite whiskeys or cocktails on the go. (The fact that the two flask varieties hold the exact amount of liquid you’ll find in the two most popular liquor and wine bottle sizes is no coincidence, if you get what we mean.) These handsome fellas come in three rugged colors: stainless steel, a darker gunmetal, and our favorite, copper. They’re insulated so that your drinks stay at the temperature you want, and you don’t need a funnel to fill them. The best part? Two magnetic tumblers – or one, on the smaller size – that pop off the top and bottom of the bottle, meaning you’ve always got drinkware on hand for yourself and a lucky pal. With the scooped, six-shooter design, they make the flask look like something an old cowboy would carry in his holster.

If you know an outdoorsy type for whom a fine bottle of bourbon is just as essential on their journeys as sunscreen and bug spray, this is a gift they’ll be carrying with them (full, of course) for many, many adventures to come. (Learn more here.)

Altered Dimension Wine Subscription

SRP: $153 shipped for 12-bottle box

If you’re like us, you’ve gone through a lot of mail order wine in 2020. (This year has made getting wine delivered necessary in more ways than one.) While there are many wineries and curators out there to choose from, none appeal to the eyes as much as the tongue as Elicit Wine Project’s Altered Dimension line, which come in some of the most attractively-patterned bottles we’ve ever seen. They offer up a rosé, sauvignon blanc, and cabernet sauvignon, all equally handsome on your tabletop – and if you’d like, you can mix and match a case of twelve at a discount and have it delivered to your door at intervals that match your drinking pace. (Learn more here.)

Proof Syrups

SRP: $33

Even as a big fan of Old Fashioneds, it can feel like a big hassle to fix myself one of my favorite drinks. My biggest hang-up is usually having simple syrup on hand – I never use it fast enough to not have to throw a bunch out when it looks gunky, and I’m never motivated enough to make it fresh in small batches. Then there’s measuring, pouring, dashing the bitters . . . most of the time, if I can get the ice cubes into the glass before I start drinking the bourbon, I consider myself lucky.

Proof takes all the hard work out of fixing an Old Fashioned with their ready-to-go cocktail syrups. Mix two ounces of your favorite whiskey with half an ounce from the Proof syrup bottle, add ice and garnish with orange peel, if you will. It takes only a minute, and you can multiply your ratio to pre-mix a bunch of cocktails in just as much time, if you’re having guests.

Plus, they taste really good. We may be old fashioned – catch what I did there? – but we really like their Traditional blend, which nails a classic, Old Fashioned flavor. If you want to shake it up and get fancy, though, they make Black Walnut and Maple Bacon syrups, which are just as tasty as you can imagine. Each bottle makes 32 cocktails, which should last anyone a good, long while – or make a huge batch for a party, once we’re able to host those again.  

If you can’t decide on one variety, just go for their Old Fashioned Master Set, which includes all five flavors, a bar mat, and a booklet of recipes. (Learn more here.)

Somrus Cream Liqueurs

SRP: Around $30 for 750ml

Somrus is a brand of Indian-inspired cream liqueurs, offering a refreshing change-up for anyone who’s grown bored with pouring Bailey’s in their coffee. Their best variety for this purpose is, quite appropriately, called Somrus Coffee: a rum- and cream-based liqueur which uses coffee and a touch of chicory that reminded us of the last time we had a spiked coffee down in New Orleans. Their classic, however, is still the one you need to try if you haven’t yet. Now called “Somrus Chai” – formerly “Somrus Original” – it blends Eastern spices like saffron, cardamom, pistachio, and cinnamon into a delicious medley that’s great in the tea it shares its name with, on ice, or poured over vanilla ice cream. (Seriously – you need to try this.) In a season of indulgence, Somrus Chai tastes as rich and decadent as you’ll find. It’s the perfect thing to stir into your hot drinks all winter long. (Learn more here.)

Shots Box Subscription Club

SRP: $49 - $85 per box, depending on style

Exploration is half the fun for spirits lovers: trying brands you’ve never had before and potentially stumbling onto a new favorite bottle. Shots Box is a subscription club that allows you to easily taste many different varieties from the comfort of your home – and during a pandemic, that’s especially helpful. Each month, you’ll receive a curated box of sample-sized bottles – choose from whiskey, tequila, gin, vodka, or even a “holiday dessert shots” box for the season, full of flavored spirits and liqueurs. It’s a gift that’s easy to have shipped directly to a friend or loved one you won’t be able to see in person this year – and, if they do find a new favorite, full bottles can be ordered directly from their website. (Learn more here.)

Drinkmate InstaFizz

SRP: $65 for a starter bundle with 20 cartridges

As someone who loves their seltzers but hates the toll that plastic bottle take on the environment, Drinkmate’s InstaFizz is a welcome addition to our pantry. These stainless steel water bottles come with a small chamber at the bottom for an eight gram CO2 cartridge; with a pair of simple twists and a good shake, you can turn any liquid into a bubbly, carbonated beverage. With hydration in mind, water and a bit of fresh fruit can make an excellent seltzer. But, given this is a drinker’s guide, the cocktail possibilities are endless – so much as a simple screwdriver (vodka, orange juice) suddenly becomes a fizzy, mimosa-like drink with little effort. The best part? The steel CO2 cartridges are 100% recyclable, and the maker will even accept them back and thank you with rewards points for being eco-minded. (Learn more here.)

Palmetto Whiskey

SRP: $38 for 750ml

Distilled in Anderson, South Carolina, Palmetto’s Whiskey is a 21% rye aged in new oak barrels, instilling it with a subtly sweet, caramel-like flavor. Palmetto Whiskey is smooth – almost dangerously smooth, going down so warm and easy that it’s easy to forget you’re drinking something that’s nearly 90 proof. (It can sneak up on you if you’re not careful.) If you’re drinking it neat or on rocks, it’s a perfect after-dinner glass, the sweetness almost providing a dessert-like drinking experience that’s in no way cloying or overly sugary. Having that base layer of a nice meal already in your stomach will also help ensure you don’t overdo your limit with this beverage, because when something goes down this easily, your temptation will be to top off your glass again and again.  (Learn more here.)

Palmetto Apple Pie Moonshine

SRP: $27 for 750ml

. . . piggybacking off our last suggestion, Palmetto had been making moonshine for years before getting into the whiskey game. They offer a traditional, 105-proof “White Lightning” style that will knock you on your ass, alongside a handful of less aggressive, flavored varieties that include blackberry, peach, and the seasonally-perfect Apple Pie. This award-winning moonshine uses locally-source cider and comes with a cinnamon stick floating inside the Mason jar. It’s delightful, and comes with such a long list of cocktail recipes that you’ll need to order several jars to try your way through them all. Some are simple – like adding a shot to your favorite pumpkin beer – while others are a bit more involved. (The Apple Pie Cider suggests hollowing out an apple to use as a drinking vessel, resulting in a cocktail that highly Instagram-worthy.) We’re looking forward to mixing up a Christmosa as soon as Santa brings the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day broadcast to a close. (Learn more here.)

Whitley Neill Gins

SRP: $32 for 750ml

Gin is such a rich and broad variety, with almost limitless flavoring opportunities – it’s a shame that so few home bars branch much beyond a handful of big brands. Whitley Neill is a name we’ve seen appearing on more and more of our spirits store shelves over the last year, in a few different flavors, and we had to give it a try. (Although it was new to us, the Neill family has been distilling gin since the 18th Century.) “They Original” is an English Gin inspired by South Africa, utilizing a blend of exotic botanicals that includes Baobab, Cape Gooseberry, and Orris and Angelica Roots alongside more traditional flavorings like coriander, cassia, orange, and lemon. (And, obviously, juniper.) The results are a very, very smooth and aromatic gin: a pleasing sipper cut with a light amount of tonic.

While that one’s a really good gin, those looking for something very different this holiday season should be steered towards Whitley Neill’s wonderful Rhubarb & Ginger flavor, which is delightfully tart and flavorful. Use it to whip up a batch of “Christmas Crumble Collins,” a seasonal spin on the classic cocktail. (Learn more here.)

Dixie Mint Vodka

SRP: $23 for 750ml

Distilled six times from nothing but the best Missouri corn, Dixie Vodkas are about as American as vodkas come. Their line currently comes in six flavors, including interesting and unusual varieties such as Black Pepper (perfect for bloody marys) and Wildflower Honey. When it comes to the holiday season, however, we’re going to steer you towards Mint – which is every bit as delightful a spirit to spike that cup of hot cocoa you make after building a snowman with the kids, or shoveling the driveway. No joke: Dixie have one of the most generously robust cocktail recipe pages we’ve seen on any distiller’s website, which we’d encourage you to peruse for inspiration. To be honest, though, mint is one of those ideal flavors for your own cocktail experimentation, as it goes with so much – one of favorites we’ve stumbled across is using it to spike a hot mug of peach tea. (Learn more here.)

Slane Irish Whiskey

SRP: $29 for 750ml

A triple-casked Irish whiskey, Slane hits the tongue with a sweet, almost fruitlike first punch, and mellows to an oaky, toasted flavor that gently warms your palate. This one’s a sipper: one that you’ll want to pause to appreciate. The blend of three casks it’s pulled from include virgin oak casks, seasoned casks that previously held bourbon, and sherry casks. We can’t tell you which one of those gives Slane Irish Whiskey its delightful orange peel and vanilla notes, but that’s why we stick to the imbibing – and leaving the distilling up to the experts. (Learn more here.)

Well Told Etched Glassware

SRP: $15 - $16 for rocks glasses or pint glasses

Anyone will appreciate a gift that helps them class up their home bar, and Well Told Designs offers a wide array of personal and meaningful ways to do that. Their etched barware lines allow you to present your friend or loved one with a detailed map of their college town, quotes from their favorite piece of literature, or – if you want to get extra personal – a map of the night sky on the night you met. There are so many cool options to choose from, and you could spend an hour browsing their website looking through them all. Do that, and you might checking several names off your gift list as you find items perfect for numerous drink-loving people in your life.(Learn more here.)

Puncher’s Chance Bourbon

SRP: $35 for 750ml

This 90-proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon is named after an old turn of phrase from the boxing arena, which refers to the long shot odds an underdog has at winning the match. In whiskey form, Puncher’s Chance has much higher odds at pleasing the lucky recipient of your gifted bottle. Blending 4-, 5-, and 6-year-old bourbons, it’s very sweet up front: imagine caramel, maple, and orange. It goes down warm, with a hint of dark chocolate bitterness at the very end. Each swig is a journey over the palate, as there’s a lot more to take in than with many other bottles you’d find at a similar price. Plus, the label art – with a growling tiger – is beyond cool. It’s the kind of bottle you’d keep on a shelf in the man cave and bring down to cap off an evening with the guys after Fight Night. (Learn more here.)

Movie Night Menus Book, from TCM

SRP: $22

The fine folks at Turner Classic Movies present this book of recipes inspired by classic cinema. These aren’t only drinks, but snacks and hors d’oeuvres – enough to host an entire movie night and keep your guests fed and liquored up. The chapters inside span from the silent era through the 1980s, including classics like Casablanca and Sunset Boulevard to Moonstruck. Some recipes are more involved and will take some time to assemble, while others – a shot and a can of beer for Rocky – are simple, yet perfectly-themed. Each chapter includes some history and interesting trivia – the booze-flooded Thin Man, for example, came just after the end of prohibition, and helped make cocktail parties suddenly very fashionable. This is a gift that’ll surely be loved by any foodie or film fanatic. (Learn more here.)



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