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Looking for that perfect gift for the bourbon lover in your life? Although a bottle is a safe bet, there are a ton of other great options to consider. "If I were buying a gift for a bourbon-loving pal, I would create a little gift pack to create an at-home unique Old Fashioned,” says Crystal Chasse, the beverage director of Talk Story, a rooftop bar at the McCarren Hotel in New York. "I would make sure to include some of my favorite unique bitters for bourbon drinks ... Add in some beautiful glassware and a unique ice tray, and you’re set!"
From orange twists to whiskey stones, here are the best gifts for bourbon lovers, according to beverage professionals and bourbon distillers.
Best Overall: Bittercube Blackstrap Bitters
"I would personally appreciate the gift of Luxardo cherries, Bittercube’s Blackstrap bitters, and an old school crystal rocks glass to complete a delicious Manhattan," says Mike Tindal, the director of food and beverage for FireLake Grill House & Cocktail Bar in Minnesota. "Add your favorite bourbon, a chunk of ice, stir and enjoy!"
Made in Milwaukee, each batch of Bittercube's bitters takes 25 days of maceration to complete. Its Blackstrap bitters are earthy in flavor, made with three types of cinnamon, two types of molasses, sassafras leaves, sarsaparilla, nutmeg, mace, kola nut and gentian. They're great in cocktails with brown spirits (not a surprise as the brand was founded by two bartenders), or try them in an egg white cocktail to balance out the creaminess.
Related: The Best Bitters
Best Splurge: Yama Glass Cold Brew Tower
"I think a perfect gift for both bartenders and bourbon lovers alike would be a Japanese cold brew tower," says James Loden, a bartender at Time Out Market Chicago. Designed for crafting barista-level cold brew, this tower is made from hand-blown borosilicate glass. "[It] can provide at-home infusions that are sure to be a conversation piece when displayed," he says. "Dehydrated fruit, vanilla, wood chips—the possibilities are endless.”
Through a three-hour brewing process, the tower moves water (or bourbon) through a ceramic filter (where it drips down through a swirling valve in the center), steeps it, and infuses the liquid in the carriage at the bottom, ready to be poured into a rocks glass. Each infusion makes six to eight cups of liquid. The boldness of the infusion can also be controlled by tweaking how quickly the liquid drops down.
Best Value: Stainless Steel Whisky Stones
Juan Fernandez, the beverage director of The Ballantyne, A Luxury Collection Hotel, Charlotte, is a fan of these stainless steel whiskey spheres. “They put a solid chill when I feel like cooling down a whiskey, but do not want to water it down," he says. "Whiskey stones gained a lot of popularity over the past 10 years, but unfortunately, many options are not very effective. But this set of steel spheres are excellent for chilling down whiskey for 30 to 45 minutes without dilution."
This set of four, food-grade whiskey balls come in a silicone tray, which can also be used to make perfectly round ice cubes. The included metal tongs make it easy to pop the spheres and ice cubes in and out of drinks.
Related: The Best Whiskey Stones
Best Budget: Collins Orange Twists
"A fat orange peel slab is one of the joys when drinking an Old Fashioned,” says Henri Schock, co-owner of Bottlehouse and Mr. West Cafe Bar in Seattle. “Providing both flavor and aromatics, it is a crucial component when building this classic cocktail." Specifically, Schock keeps a jar of Collins orange twists at home when he craves an Old Fashioned but doesn't have any citrus on hand. "They're evenly cut strips of peel that provide the flavor and aroma you'd typically get from fresh orange peel.”
The preserved orange peels are curved into a swirl before being popped into the jar, so when you’re ready for a drink, just pull one out and garnish your favorite cocktail. Or, use the twists to top a dessert or baked treat. "I also love to use the syrup in the jar instead of simple syrup (or a sugar cube) for a truly over-the-top citrus experience," says Schock.
Most Unique: TumiaLAC Glass Tumblers
"To me, the most important gift you can give a bourbon lover is a glass they will love drinking bourbon from,” says Blair Bowman, general manager of Khora in Cincinnati. “[This one] was given to me a few years ago, and it is the only glass I drink bourbon from at home.”
The heavier weight of the glass—similar to what you’d get from pricier crystal rocks glasses—is a nice touch, while the swirling rings of color add a playful feel. Each dishwasher-safe, hand-blown tumbler is made from recycled glass, making every product unique with subtle nuances. The glasses are also made by the Arturo family in Mexico, who have been making glassware for over 40 years.
Best Book: The Complete Whiskey Course
In his flagship tome, renowned whiskey expert Robin Robinson dives into the "water of life," covering everything you need to know about the world of whiskey. In 10 "classes" (or chapters), Robinson walks readers through whiskey history, how to define different local whiskeys, how to understand different styles (think American whiskey, as well as Scotch, Irish, Canadian and Japanese whiskies), and how aging and finishing can define a dram. Along the way, Robinson recommends his favorite bottles, including bargain options and splurge-worthy spirits.
"This book is a one-stop-shop for aficionados,” says Natalia Cardenas, brand ambassador of Woodford Reserve. "It covers history and the roots of distillation in ancient times to modern production, profiles of over 170 whiskeys, and there's even a chapter on 'How to Taste Whiskey.'"
Best for Cocktail Lovers: Cocktail Kingdom Julep Cup
The major difference between a julep cup and a regular mug is temperature control: julep cups are made with 100% copper and have a food-safe lacquer finish that protects them from tarnishing and keeps drinks ice-cold. Though copper can be costly, this iteration is made with 100% nickel for a weighted, expensive feel. That said, the metal keeps drinks chilled for at least half an hour.
This 12-ounce Cocktail Kingdom julep cup is designed to hold up through tough bar services. Tip: make this a gift set by adding a Lewis bag and a mallet.
Best Bottle: New Riff Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
If you’re going to gift someone a bottle, make sure it’s a unique one. Kentucky-based New Riff Distilling distills its spirits against the grain: every bottle in its range is certified bottled-in-bond. This designation means that the bourbon must be distilled by the same master distiller in the same distilling season (at the same distillery), aged for a minimum of four years in a bonded warehouse, and bottled at 100 proof.
This high-rye bourbon has a mash bill of 30%, giving it a beautifully complex spiciness with caramel notes, as well as a big heat finish from the high proof. It’s a great bottle from an independent distillery with a story any bourbon lover will geek out over.
Related: The Best Bourbons
Best Personalized: Bourbon Barrel Flight with Glasses
Explore the various flavors and noses of bourbon via a comparative tasting. This set of four Glencairn glasses show off the subtle aromas and tastes of bourbon. Fill up each one with different aged bourbons, different cask finishes, or similar whiskeys from different distilleries, and compare the nuances of each dram (or see if you can identify them blind). Each dishwasher-safe glass also sits on a stave carved from a reclaimed bourbon barrel.
Best of all, you can personalize the stave with the recipient’s name, location and year of choice—consider memorializing a birthday, wedding date or another special year. Each set is handmade by woodworkers in Arkansas.