The homestretch of the holiday season means only one thing for shoppers looking for a simple, easy-to-wrap gift: It's time to head to the liquor store and buy a bottle.
But in an era of designer vodkas, single-barrel bourbons and liqueurs made from every exotic plant imaginable, the task is suddenly not so simple. You need a bottle that makes a statement and that matches a person's particular taste or style.
We've tried to take some of the guesswork out of the equation with our "12 Bottles of Christmas" -- that is, a dozen types of bottles (most in the standard 750 ml size) that cover not only the various spirits, but also the personality types they embody, be it money-is-no-object snobbishness or I'm-game-for-anything daringness.
Keep in mind that not all bottles may be available at your local liquor store, but they can usually be found at higher-end or specialty merchants or through online purveyors.
1.) The Green Bottle:
360 Vodka ($30)
We're not talking green-colored, green apple-flavored or any other such thing. We're talking "green" as an eco-friendly state of mind. And this vodka, made from all-natural ingredients, promises that it holds true to environmentally sensitive standards.
The maker notes that "every bushel of grain" is "fully utilized" in the quadruple-distilled processing. The bottle itself is made from 85% recycled glass. Even the labels use "100% post-consumer waste paper." But even if you're not so green-minded, the good news is that the taste is fairly smooth in the style of other upper-tier vodkas.
2.) The Red Bottle:
PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur ($26)
Here, we're talking color -- since it's the season of red. But this pomegranate liqueur also packs the tart-sweet appeal of this fruit-of-the-moment (plus, it's a traditional holiday fruit). Another option: the classic French raspberry liqueur
Chambord ($28 suggested retail), which always makes a regal statement thanks to its crown-topped bottle.
3.) The Gold Bottle:
Gold Flakes Supreme vodka ($60)
There's gold in them thar vodka! Seriously, this French spirit is bottled with edible gold flakes. Perhaps that makes it more a novelty item than something for sipping, but it does look pretty on a shelf.
4.) The All-American Bottle:
Four Roses Small Batch bourbon ($28 to $36)
Is there any spirit more American than bourbon? While we covered it recently in
another story, we couldn't help but mention Four Roses, a Kentucky distillery whose roots go back to the 19th century, as a holiday option -- the small-batch version is among the more refined bourbons we've tasted of late. What makes it extra special is that this brand, once the top-selling one in the country, is now back on store shelves in this country for the first time in almost 50 years. (It's always been a big seller overseas.)
Bulleit Bourbon ($24) -- also an old-time name in bourbon, but we like it especially because of the design: The bottle, which comes packaged for the holidays with two glasses, has a smart frontier-gone-contemporary look.
5.) The "Beer" Bottle:
Samuel Adams Utopias ($140)
When is beer more like liquor? When it's this highly potent (27% alcohol content by volume) noncarbonated offering from the beloved craft brewer. The taste is vaguely reminiscent of beer -- the malty flavor is definitely pronounced -- but the syrupy richness makes this beer closer to a first-rate port.
6.) The Non-Bottle Bottle:
ShotPak ($6 to $9 for a six-pack).
Who says booze comes only in glass bottles? The clever folks behind ShotPak have packaged both spirits (vodka, rum, etc.) and premixed cocktails (Lemon Drop, Purple Hooter, etc.) in soft, highly portable pouches containing shot-size servings. A bit of a gag, to be sure, but it's definitely something we could see as a stocking stuffer.
7.) The Forbidden Bottle:
Lucid Absinthe ($60).
Absinthe was once the most verboten of spirits, known for its hallucinogenic powers. And that's the reason why it wasn't sold in this country for years. But the drink, generally made from wormwood, a kind of herb, is on the comeback trail. Lucid is a version full of that bracing licorice taste that is a signature absinthe characteristic.
8.) The Price-Be-Damned Bottle:
The Macallan in Lalique decanter ($12,000).
What makes this bottle so expensive? It's both the physical bottle, handcrafted by legendary glass maker Lalique at its factory in France, and the beverage, a single-malt Scotch aged for 55 years. Another option:
Limited Edition Hennessy X.O. Exclusive Collection ($200) -- a reputable Cognac in an attractive decanter; it's expensive, but at least not outrageously so.
9.) The Bottle Beautiful:
U'Luvka Vodka ($80 to $85 suggested retail price).
Granted, this Polish vodka, made from rye, wheat and barley, comes packaged with two stemless glasses. But the bottle, with its long, curvy neck, is such a work of art, we'd be hard-pressed to open it and drink what's inside. The vodka is also available without the glasses for $50 to $55.
10.) The Bottle of Something Sweet:
St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur ($33).
Sweet in a curious way, that is. This liqueur is made with elderflowers picked in the Alps; the taste has hints of everything from pears to lychees, but it's definitely one of a kind. Though it's positioned as a unique mixer, we think St Germain makes a sweet after-dinner drink -- literally -- on its own.
Godiva Caramel Milk Chocolate Liqueur ($27) -- it tastes just like it sounds, for better or worse. (But definitely for better, if you have a Godiva lover on your gift list.)
11.) The Bottle as Gift Set:
Patron Gift Pack ($84): Make that bottles. This is like a crash course in tequila and an incredibly cool gift all in one. You get four tequilas (in 375 ml bottles), representing four distinct styles and level of aging, including gold (anejo) and silver. But the nifty part is how they come packaged in a James Bond-worthy see-through suitcase.
12.) The Nostalgic Bottle:
Canadian Club Classic 12 ($20)
It's easy to take an old favorite like Canadian Club for granted. But the blended, mild-flavored whisky is still one of the best in our book -- great as a mixer, great over some crushed ice. And it recalls an era when folks didn't worry about single-malt this or that, a point the distiller is picking up on in its new manly promotional campaign ("Your dad was not a metrosexual," declares one ad.)
The Book About Bottles:
"The Business of Spirits" (Kaplan Publishing; $25).
We're including this 13th "bottle" as a bonus because it would make a fine companion gift to any of the aforementioned bottles. Rothbaum carefully explores how booze became big business and how it's gone upscale in recent decades.
In other words, this tome will explain why we're all searching for that perfect bottle.
Charles Passy is a Florida-based writer who covers food, travel, entertainment and consumer culture and products.