Under the Radar’s Holiday Gift Guide 2019 Part 3: Cocktails | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Monday, December 16th, 2019  

Under the Radar’s Holiday Gift Guide 2019 Part 3: Cocktails

A drink for every occasion

Nov 27, 2019
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As the holiday season barrels toward us, it’s time to start prepping for all of the family gatherings, get-togethers with friends, and awkward office parties that are part of this time of year. If you’re looking for a great mixed drink for your next seasonal social setting, or are simply in need of gift ideas for a whiskey or cocktail connoisseur in your life, look no further the Under the Radar’s 2019 Holiday Gift Guide. We’re here to help.

Given the way in which bottle prices often vary widely by region and availability, please note the prices we give are only ballpark – you may pay less or more for the bottle depending on where you’re shopping.

And don’t forget: Under the Radar makes for exceptional drinkside reading material, whether you’re sipping martinis or downing bourbon, so consider giving a gift subscription this holiday season.

The Shaker & Spoon Cocktail Club

SRP: $50/month or lower with pre-payment

You secure the bottle of booze, and a Shaker & Spoon box will provide everything else you need to make a dozen, perfectly-portioned cocktails. For someone who loves perfectly-mixed, outside-the-box cocktails but for one reason or another has a hard time making it out to a great bar (Small children? Saving cash?), a Shaker & Spoon subscription is a gift that’ll knock them out of their seats on a monthly basis.

Before your box is shipped, you (or the recipient) will receive an e-mail outlining that month’s cocktail theme, which gives you some time to pick up the necessary liquor bottle in advance of its arrival. We sampled a box built around Jamaican rums. The company provides suggestions for bottles, and you should be able to find at least one of them at your local package store. The box then arrives with all of the other necessary (and fresh) ingredients – even the exotic ones that you’d never have on hand. (Ours had raisin syrup, which we’d have been too frightened to hunt down on our own but turned out to be delicious.) The idea is that you can try new drinks without having to find/purchase a bunch of ingredients that will inevitably go to waste: you’ll have the exact amount of everything to make four glasses of each of the three recipes. And these are good drinks, commissioned from expert bartenders around the world. To be honest, these felt like drinks we’d have to travel a long distance to taste – and here we were, partaking of them in the comfort of our homes. It was delightful.

Another thing we’d like to point out which might otherwise go under-appreciated is how eco-friendly the Shaker & Spoon shipment was. The box we received contained no unnecessary packaging, and many of the liquid ingredients had been funneled into small, 4oz glass bottles that are very re-usable around the kitchen. With as much waste as we’re receiving through the mail every day, it’s commendable to see a company go through the extra effort to cut down on it. 

A Shaker & Spoon subscription runs $50 per box when you sign up month-to-month, but the price slides down as low as $40 when you decide to order multiple months in advance. Because of that versatility, it’s a great one-off gift that you can even send to your favorite imbibers in lieu of, say, chocolates or a fruit basket. Once you’ve tried it once, though, we’ll warn you – you’ll be hooked. (Find out more.)

Bourbon Advent Calendar (Drinks by the Dram)

SRP: £149.95

A lot of times the lead-up to Christmas can be almost as exciting as the day itself. Holiday lights, parties, TV specials, festive commercials, cookies, 24-hour Christmas music—all of these build the anticipation from the moment Thanksgiving Dinner is cleaned from the table until Christmas morning arrives. As kids, one of our favorite pre-Christmas activities was the nightly advent chocolate: searching for the lowest number on a calendar, punching out the little cardboard window, and discovering a piece of chocolate in the shape of a teddy bear, snowman, or what-have-you. Nowadays kids are spoiled with entire racks of fancy advent calendars at the stores, from LEGO figures to PAW Patrol toys. Just because you’re grown up, though, doesn’t mean you need to miss out on the advent calendar fun.

Drinks by the Dram offers a whole range of boozy, yuletide essentials, from drinkable ornaments (yup!) to liquor-dispensing crackers, to our favorite: their boozy advent calendars. They offer advent calendars for most any taste, from Scotches to gins, rums, cognacs, and Japanese whiskeys. Their Bourbon Advent Calendar contains 24 wax-sealed, 30ml drams of bourbons from across the United States, and they’re not your everyday bottles, either. A lot of the selections are from lesser-known and harder to track down distilleries, or are limited or premium releases from the more famous brands. (We won’t say which—why spoil the surprise?) If you need a great gift for a discerning whiskey lover, we can’t imagine a better way for them to tick down the days of the holiday season while trying a new whiskey each night. (Find out more.)

Bottles

Courvoisier Limited Edition Sherry Cask Finish Cognac

SRP: Around $43 for a 750ml bottle

Know someone up for a different spin on their cognac? This limited edition Courvoisier was aged in the liquor’s distinctive French oak barrels, then moved to sherry casks where it matures and absorbs those flavors for several more months. The results are a full-bodied and smooth cognac that has an extra layer of dried fruit flavor. For any cognac or brandy enthusiasts you might know, this is a great opportunity to give them something special that they’re unlikely to have tried, as the variety only just debuted this year. Oh – and it’s absolutely delightful when you use it in place of whiskey in a Manhattan. (Find out more.)

Egan’s Vintage Grain Irish Whiskey

SRP: Around $46 for a 750ml bottle

Grain varieties are a bit unusual among Irish whiskeys, which more often are distilled purely from malts such as barley. The results can be whiskeys that are something like the Irish cousin of American bourbon – and Egan’s Vintage Grain accentuates those qualities by being aged in ex-bourbon barrels. The flavor is something that’s a little more forward than what you’d typically associate with Irish whiskeys, greeting your mouth with spicy notes and a bright flavor that hints of apple. Think of it as the Irish version of an American Rye. It’s a flavor profile that any whiskey connoisseur will want to check out. (Find out more.)

Heaven’s Door Double Barrel & Straight Rye Whiskey

SRP: Around $50 for a 750ml bottle

What is Bob Dylan up to when he’s not touring with his band, curating archival recordings, or accepting a Nobel Prize for literature? Among other things, he’s collaborating with renowned distillers to produce Heaven’s Door, a line of American whiskeys. (That’s as in “knocking on heaven’s door,” in case you missed it.) The three inaugural varieties include a Tennessee Bourbon, the Double Barrel Whiskey (which goes through two aging periods in different barrels), and our favorite, a Straight Rye Whiskey, which has all of the bright, spicy notes we want from a good rye, but goes down smoother than many others we’ve tasted thanks to their unique method of air-drying their barrels. The handsome-looking bottles were made to resemble the iron gates Dylan welded himself in his personal ironworks studio. These bottles make a great gift for either the whiskey fan or the Dylan fan in your life. Know someone who’s a fan of both? Well, then they're a no-brainer. (Find out more.)

Nolet’s Silver Dry Gin

SRP: Around $44 for a 750ml bottle

Nolet’s holds the title of oldest gin distillery in Holland—the motherland of gin. It’s commendable, then, that after spending centuries making their gins, Nolet’s isn’t afraid to break free from tradition. Nolet’s Silver Dry Gin is a gin for gin connoisseurs, and for those (weirdos, IMO) who can’t stand the stuff. Nolet’s Silver Dry Gin dials back the liquor’s signature juniper flavors—they’re still there, but they don’t dominate—to let a bouquet of fruit (peach, berries) and floral flavors come to the foreground. It’s delicious, and perfect for mixing up many interesting, gin-centric cocktails over the holiday season without having your drink taste like the pine needles that fell off your Christmas tree. Nolet’s Silver Dry is anything but usual, and it’s a welcome (and very tasty) new spin on gin. (Find out more.)

Cocalero Clasico

SRP: Around $25 for a 750ml bottle

Far and away the most festively-colored beverage on this list, this popular South American spirit actually wasn’t available in the United States until just this past summer. (It’s named for the coca leaf, which comes from a plant that is part of the heritage to many people of the Andes region but was prohibited in many countries due to its involvement in the production of cocaine.) This liqueur is infused with notes of the coca leaf, along with juniper, orange peel, green tea, ginseng, ginger, and other herbs. The result is a drink that tastes fruity, floral, and naturally sweet, without any of the cloying, candy-like aftertaste you get from many other sweet liqueurs. Cocalero is one of the biggest surprises of any new-to-the-market liqueurs we’ve tasted in years.

Being so beautifully green, it’s perfect to serve straight up over ice at your next holiday party. If you want to get fancier without losing any of the color, try mixing up a few Cocatonics – a festively green twist on the gin and tonic – for your fellow revelers. (Find out more.)

Skewball Peanut Butter Whiskey

SRP: Around $30 for a 750ml bottle

Now this is interesting. Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey is exactly what it sounds like: a peanut butter-flavored whiskey. Stay with me, okay? It’s not that hyper-sweet peanut butter taste you get from a Reese’s Cup – not to knock ‘em, but you know what I’m talking about – but the flavor of actual peanut butter, the kind you’d dig out of a jar with a butter knife and spread across a sandwich. I’m not sure how they got that flavor into the whiskey, but Skrewball’s peanut butter flavoring tastes genuine. It’s more than good enough to drink straight over ice, but just think about the world of flavor opportunities that opens up for whiskey cocktails!

Skrewball’s website recommends combining it with rye, bitters, and a cherry for a PB&J Old Fashioned (yum), or with raspberry liqueur and half and half for a creamy, pink glass of Peanut Butter & Jealous. Here’s one for you: what do you get when you combine it with white rum, pineapple juice, and coconut cream, and serve over ice? A Peanut Colada. (Skrewball’s website has no shortage of punny recipes for your perusal.)

Our favorite application, though? Spiked hot cocoa. Try to find something better than the powder pouches, and for your own sake, use hot milk instead of boiling water. Once you’ve got the cocoa in your mug, top it off with the Skrewball. We swear, it’s the closest we got to recreating a warm Peanut Butter Blossom cookie – y’know, the traditional Christmas cookie with the Hershey Kiss pushed into the middle – and we can’t imagine a more comforting drink after coming in from the snow. (https://www.skrewballwhiskey.com/#home" target="_blank">Find out more.)

Hornitos Black Barrel Tequila

SRP: Around $30 for a 750ml bottle

Tequila is a drink we more typically associate with spring and summer holidays, but you might reconsider the whole way you think about it when you try the perfectly seasonal Apple Barrel cocktail. Combine two parts Hornitos Black Barrel Tequila – which starts as a primo Añejo but is so named because it’s matured in charred oak barrels, instilling smoky flavors normally reserved for whiskey – with one part apple cider, three quarters part lime juice, and a half part maple syrup with dashes of bitters, shake, strain, and then garnish with a slice of apple. The results are a drink that will blow your normal mulled ciders out of the water, and is a perfect way to send off the final days of autumn in style. (Find out more.)

Mad March Hare Irish Poitin

SRP: Around $30 for a 750ml bottle

We won’t blame anyone if they haven’t heard of poitín – we’ll admit, we hadn’t either until recently. Pronounced “put-cheen,” it’s essentially an Irish version of moonshine. Illegal for centuries but finally allowed to be made again in the late 20th century, Mad March Hare’s 80-proof, 100% malted barley version is great gateway into Ireland’s formerly forbidden elixir. And like moonshine, it goes down straight with a nice burn that’ll warm your body from the stomach up for a solid ten minutes, or can be enjoyed in a variety of cocktails. It’s great in a Bloody Mary, or in one of the suggested recipes on their website – we enjoyed the herbal and tangy Wild Friar, which combines equal parts Mad March Hare, Chartreuse, lime juice, and Maraschino. (Find out more.)

Kahlua Rum & Coffee Liqueur

SRP: Around $23 for a 750ml bottle

This isn’t a bottle we’re only recommending as a gift – though it would make a good one – but as something you should probably just have on hand throughout the holidays. We love our Kahlua as a substitute for creamer in coffee – it’s the perfect way to spike your cup when the kids wake you up at 5 a.m. on Christmas morning after you were up until 1 a.m. wrapping and assembling presents. OR, use it to whip up a batch of Peppermint White Russians – mix equal parts Kahlua, vodka, and peppermint schnapps over ice in a rocks glass, and top off with whole milk – for your Ugly Sweater Holiday Party. (Find out more.)

Cocktail Mixers and Accessories

Bogart’s Bitters (The Bitter Truth)

SRP: $34.99

Many home mixologists already have a modest collection of bitters to work with, but Bogart’s may be the godfather of dashers. Based on a legendary bitters brand, Bogart’s has been around since at least 1862, when it was mentioned in the earliest-known cocktails recipe book by Professor Jerry Thomas. (He’s considered the father of the modern cocktail, and helped spread the popularity of everything from the Old Fashioned, Sour, and Tom Collins nationwide.) The folks at The Bitter Truth have recreated what is possibly the first-ever bitters recipe, pulling off an Indiana Jones-like feat of booze archeology in tracking down the earliest-known surviving bottle from around 1900. (That label and bottle design are reproduced here for their resurrected version.) It spices up our go-to Old Fashioneds, and works in almost any bitters-required recipes. If you want to give your favorite home mixologist the gift of cocktails that taste like they came out of a time machine, take a look at this Bogart’s revival. (Find out more.)

Cocktail Bitters – Bar Pack or Traveler’s Set (The Bitter Truth)

SRP: $34.99

These two embossed, tin boxes each house five varieties of The Bitter Truth’s fine range of cocktail bitters. At 20ml each, it’s a great opportunity to taste a bunch of new bitters without dropping a lot of money or risking a larger bottle sitting in your liquor cabinet untouched for years on end. (As another perk, they’re TSA-friendly – meaning you can carry a treasure trove of mixed drink ingredients with you on your next trip.) The “Bar Pack” includes their self-explanatory chocolate, cucumber, peach, and olive bitters, as well as a cool tonic bitters, which have the citrus and juniper notes that call to mind a classic gin and tonic. The “Traveler’s Set” has more classic, spice-oriented flavors such as the Creole, celery, orange, and our two, personal favorites: the Jerry Thomas and aromatic bitters, which bring notes of cinnamon-clove and gingerbread, respectively – making them perfect for stowing in your suitcase during holiday travels.

While these bitters can go into a limitless variety of fancy cocktails, they shouldn’t be reserved for only your fanciest mixed drinks. We’ll let you in on our secret: we can’t always afford to drink top shelf. Heck, we even find the middle shelves higher that we can reach at times. But you know the old saying, right? “Bitters Make Even Bad Bourbons Better.” Okay, no one says that, but there is truth in it. If you know someone with top shelf tastes but a bottom shelf budget, maybe try introducing them to bitters. They’ll take a glass of whiskey that’s “just fine” but “perfectly affordable” – we’re talking about the Benchmarks, the Heaven Hills, Old Overholts, et al – and turn it into a drink that tastes far more high-end. These travel packs can essentially serve as flights of bitters, and gifting one to that less discerning drinking buddy might open them up to a world of flavors they had no idea even existed. (Find out more.)

Jack Rudy Old Fashioned Bundle (Jack Rudy Cocktail Co.)

SRP: $35.00

Based in South Carolina, the Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. – named for the owner’s grandfather – have quickly built up their reputation for creating some of the finest-quality cocktail mixers in small batches, from grenadine to syrups to cherries for garnish. (We first sought out their products when Alton Brown sang praises of their tonics on his podcast five years ago.) While any bottle from their wide range would make a tasty addition to any mixologists’ home bar, they also offer bundles – like this Old Fashioned bundle, which includes their famous demerara syrup, bitters, and bourbon cherries – which only require a nice bottle of whiskey to whip up a top shelf cocktail. (Find out more.)

Whiskey Cigar Glass (Corkcicle)

SRP: $24.95

We have no scientific evidence to back this up, but we’d presume that most people who love cigars also love whiskey. They’re hobbies with similarities that go hand-in-hand, with regional varieties, blends, and aging playing a big role in the flavors of both a cigar and a nice glass of scotch. Corkcicle’s Whiskey Cigar Glass is a nice way to combine the experiences, with a round notch cut into the side that’s the perfect place to stash your stogie between puffs and sips. (Find out more.)

Plunks (Whiskey Sciences)

SRP: $24.99

It’s all personal preference, but some people insist whiskeys taste better with a little bit of water added in to “open it up.” (Personally, I like to add a bit of H2O to my scotches and Irish whiskies – I think it makes a noticeable difference in the taste.) Developed by Whiskey Sciences, Plunks are a whiskey stone that’s frozen with a thin layer of water around it that slowly melts as it cools your pour. This leads to a drinking experience that evolves over time: at first, you’re drinking the whiskey nearly straight, but after a little bit of time the water works its way in and you’re tasting the drink with that distinctive “bloom” which comes from watering it down in just the slightest amount. The best part? Unlike an ice cube, the melting stops, and you won’t be left with the watery mess that inevitably comes from any of those big, fancy-looking ice blocks. This is one of those gifts a whiskey lover won’t know they needed until they try it. (Find out more.)

Books: Hacking Whiskey and Gather Around Cocktails (Dovetail Press)

SRP: $20 each

Looking for an adult equivalent of that amazing toy chemistry set you received for Christmas when you were ten years old? In Hacking Whiskey, writer Aaron Goldfarb walks fans through recipes, experiments, and ideas they can try with whiskey in their own homes. Some of our favorite sections in this informative yet humorously-written volume include methods for hacking a reasonable facsimile of the legendary (read: rare, and often prohibitively expensive) Pappy Van Winkles by blending less-expensive bottles you’ll probably actually be able to find at the store, and ways to punch-up and infuse whiskeys with interesting and unusual flavors. If you know a whiskey fan who seems ready to step up their game, Hacking Whiskey can help them get there. It can turn a simple whiskey enthusiast into a Bill Nye of Booze. 

Goldfarb is also the author of Gather Around Cocktails, a cocktail recipe guide for navigating almost any holiday occasion that comes your way. For the upcoming month alone you’ll find cocktails for everything from lighting the menorah to taking down the Christmas tree. If you know someone who absolutely needs the right mixed drink for any occasion, this gift would make for a handy reference book. (Find out more.)

“Probably Whiskey” Enamel Campfire Mug (Swag Brewery)

SRP: $19.99

You already know which friend this would be for. These stylish, sturdy, sixteen ounce mugs from Swag Brewery are perfect for coffee – or, of course, whatever else you’d like to put in there. With their durable, metal construction, they’re especially perfect for camping, or for tailgating those 1 o’clock football games. (Find out more.)

Single Malt Scotch Caramels (McCrea’s Candies)

SRP: $17.95 for 5.5oz tube

McCrea’s Candies is a Massachusetts-based company dedicated to making “the best caramel in the world—nothing less,” and well, shoot, we can’t say we’ve ever tasted any better.  Of particular interest to anyone reading this gift guide should be their Single Malt Scotch variety, flavored with Ardmore. The result is a sweet candy with the unmistakably smoky, slightly peaty characteristics of a great glass of single malt. It’s enough to satisfy a sweet tooth, for sure—but also a hankering for a swig of whiskey. Other indulgent and interesting caramel varieties from McCrea’s include Rosemary Truffle Sea Salt, Dark Roasted Mocha, and Basil Cayenne. You can go for a single-flavor tube, a full Flavor Family set with all of their flagship offerings, or even sign them up for a Caramel of the Month club, which delivers 36 candies to their door every 30 or so days. (Find out more.)



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