Despite my reviews and posts often geared towards the bourbon snob, one of the more common questions posed to me is actually from people entirely unfamiliar with bourbon. It’s simply this: What kind of bourbon makes a good gift?
The answer is simple in a lot of ways, but hard to answer correctly in a general setting. As with any other gift, giving bourbon requires a little thought and consideration. To whom are you giving the gift? What is the occasion? What is your budget?
So what do I give the bourbon newbie?
A bourbon novice probably isn’t going to fully appreciate a barrel proof 20 year old bottle of whiskey that cost you $250. In fact, they’ll probably struggle to drink it without adding a liter of cola. In either case, you’ve not really accomplished much with the gift. Look for something no more than 90 proof, maybe lower. This ensures a more approachable, less potent whiskey that they can enjoy as they develop a palate for higher proof bourbons. Basil Hayden is an excellent gifting bourbon for this at 80 proof. It’s very approachable, attractively packaged, and can be found in the neighborhood of $35.
What about an experienced bourbon fanatic?
It may be important to consider their current preferences. What do they like to drink now? If they drink wheated bourbons such as Makers Mark, Weller, and Pappy Van Winkle, you should probably look for something wheated. You might even consider the Bernheim Wheated Whiskey (see Matt’s ModernThirst review). It’s not a bourbon, per say (though it’s very close), but it’s heavy in wheat and could be an interesting diversion.
If they like high proof bourbons, look for something barrel-strength. These are sometimes limited release, and tend to be in the $40+ range, but are becoming more common and very popular with the bourbon crowd. Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve (See my review), Four Roses Single Barrel Reserve, George T. Stagg, etc. are all higher proof bourbons sold as “barrel strength.” Bookers and Bakers are also higher proof bourbons popular with the bourbon crowd.
If they like rich, oaky bourbons, look for something with age. Due to current demand, aged bourbons are harder to find. But Noah’s Mill is bottled at 15 years of age. Eagle Rare is sold aged 10 years. Elijah Craig and Old Forester both sell 12 year old bourbons. Jim Beam has just released their “Signature Craft” line that is bottled at 12 years as well. Anything older than that usually requires a pretty lucky find, and the outlay of a hefty sum of money.
Most bourbon lovers will appreciate anything limited release, or hard to find. The Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (George T. Stagg, Eagle Rare 17 year old, William LaRue Weller, and Sazerac 18 year Old Rye) is very popular, and very hard to find. Buffalo Trace’s Single Oak Project is rare and offers a level of interaction on the project website. Willett offers a family estate bottled bourbon (and also a rye) that is limited and sometimes hard to find as well.
And something new and recently released makes a great gift. I recently gave a bottle of Black Ridge to a friend within weeks of it appearing on local shelves, and he loved it (review).
But remember that a standard bottle of bourbon isn’t the only gift for a bourbon lover. Personalized bottles can be purchased on several of the distillery tours. Both Jim Beam and Makers Mark allow guests to hand-bottle bourbon on the tour to purchase later. That personal touch makes any bottle a thoughtful gift. And there is a myriad of bourbon-related gifts that work well for the bourbon lover who has everything already. Distilleries are out to make money, so they’ll sell anything with their logo on it. Hats, shirts, glasses, flasks, bar mats, decorative barrel heads, etc. can all make great gifts. You can buy flasks, decanters, aerators, videos, ice molds, whiskey stones, and more. There are countless books on bourbon and bourbon makers available from Amazon as well. So don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Bourbon lovers will appreciate it.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the 2,000lb elephant in the room: Yes, Pappy Van Winkle makes a ridiculously good gift. Yes, it’s very good bourbon. No, I don’t know where you can get it. Yes, I’ve had all their offerings at least once. No, I don’t have any extra. But if you find some, I am not opposed to receiving gifts, so keep ModernThirst in mind!