A Lowcountry fruit brandy that demands to be sipped neat. A reputation-defying flavored rum. And the next-wave amaro producers that are popping up outside of Europe. Here are all the bottles you’ll want to get your hands on this holiday season.
For the Person Who Needs a Quick Getaway
Plantation Stiggins’ Fancy Dark Pineapple Rum ($35)
For decades, flavored spirits have been an industry punch line. That’s because a majority of these cheap, artificially doctored vodkas and rums have been dictated more by desperate marketers than distillers. But the category actually has a far more distinguished past than its current iteration, something cocktail historian David Wondrich brought to light with his Plantation Stiggins’ Fancy Dark Pineapple Rum. A collaboration with Maison Ferrand and named after Reverend Stiggins from Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers, this lush rum captures the true essence of the fruit by infusing dark rum with Queen Victoria pineapple flesh and rind. Originally made as a one-off for the 2014 Tales of the Cocktail convention in New Orleans, Plantation now has this in its regular rotation. Try with any tiki drink, swizzle, or daiquiri recipe.
For Your Boss
Jefferson’s Ocean Aged at Sea Cask Strength Bourbon ($99)
Call in a favor to a seafaring friend, load up bourbon barrels onto his ship, crisscross the equator four times, and visit five continents. Then take a sip. This was the whimsical endeavor of Trey Zoeller whose initial experiment (just three barrels)—to see how an ocean voyage would effect the maturation process on 8-year-old Kentucky bourbon—has turned into an annual tradition at Jefferson’s. Their briny, caramelly Ocean Aged at Sea Cask Strength Bourbon, which Zoeller likens to “salted caramel popcorn,” sounds like a lot of effort. Because it is. Which is why you’ll want to save the expense on someone well worth the price tag, namely the person who signs off on your paycheck.
For Your Hipster Cousin
Lo-Fi Apertifs Gentian Amaro ($25)
A Black Manhattan has become his go-to cocktail. His bar cart has more bittersweet liqueurs than a Fellini film. And there are rumors of a discreet Fernet tattoo on his inner bicep. European amari—digestifs macerated with a proprietary blend of herbs and aromatics—is a millennial obsession. And now stateside craft distillers are capitalizing on the movement with their own excellent examples, such as Liquid Riot Bottling Co.’s (Portland, ME) Fernet Michaud and Lo-Fi Brand Aperitifs (Napa, CA) Gentian Amaro. For newbies, the latter is a particularly great introduction to the category with a juicy Cali white wine and grape spirit base that helps temper some of the more medicinal elements (i.e. cinchona bark, bitter roots, etc.).
Related: How to Make a Holiday Mojito:
For the Travel Buff
Nikka Whiskey Coffey Gin ($53)
Good luck finding a bottle of Japanese whiskey anymore. After critic Jim Murray shocked the liquor world by proclaiming a single malt from Yamikazi distillery the best in the world in 2015, demand has skyrocketed across the globe. But the country’s distilling prowess doesn’t stop at brown tipples. Exhibit A: Nikka Whiskey’s new Coffey Gin, which implements a coffey (or column) still to produce a silky spirit with a rare combination of botanicals. Besides the usual juniper and coriander, Nikka steeps their gin with four types of Japanese citrus (yuzu, kabosu, amanatsu, and skikuwasa), as well as apples and tangy sansho peppers. Released for the first time earlier this year, it’s already proving to have the same kind of cult-like appeal as its pricier, aged predecessors.
For the Ultimate Foodie
High Wire Distilling Co. Watermelon Brandy ($80)
Think of Charleston’s High Wire Distilling Co. as the boozy brethren to Southern culinary champion Sean Brock. What the Husk chef has done for Jimmy Red corn, benne seed, and Carolina Gold Rice, High Wire husband-and-wife team Scott Blackwell and Ann Marshall (along with head distiller Nick Dowling), are now doing for other star regional products. A small-batch rhum agricole utilizes fresh-pressed sugarcane grown at Lavington Farms in the ACE Basin of South Carolina (they also make one from Blizzard Branch in Middenford). Their Southern Amaro leans on yaupon holly, Dancy tangerines, and other local, foraged ingredients. And High Wire’s extremely rare Watermelon Brandy ($80) is painstakingly produced from the flesh of 300 Crimson Sweet watermelons. If you’re not in the area, order online from their official retail partner, Cordial Fine Wine & Spirits in Washington D.C.