Growler Werks' uKeg is a great gift for beer lovers anywhere - even at the beach.
As part of my annual series of Holiday Gift Guides, I’m tackling one of my favorite subjects, adult beverages. But unlike most magazine gift lists you will see, based on press releases, I have personally tried every one of the items on this list to give you quality assuredness. Please check out my other themed 2017 gift guides for Food Lovers, for Kitchen & Home and for Cyclists.
Form & Function:I won’t mince words: Portland’s Growler Werks just makes some of the coolest looking products in the world of food and drink, and they work great as well, so if you have a beer lover on your list, you can’t really do better than one of these. The company’s uKegs are works of art that also keep craft beer fresh, cold and carbonated, the way the brewer intended it to be. They use readily available food grade CO2 cartridges to basically replicate kegs so you can take home craft beer from any brewery or store that fills glass growlers and have it on draught. These awesome growlers come in two sizes, 64 or 128 ounces, and three finishes, stainless, copper and black, and all are gorgeous and heavy duty - you can’t go wrong, but I personally love the copper ones! ($149-$250)
Mark Ryan Winery
Washington wines are not as famous as California's. But Mark Ryan winery might change that.
Washington’s Wine Stunners: When it comes to stunning US wines, most people immediately think California, and some of my favorites that have made it into this gift guide over the years include Napa & Sonoma blockbusters like Caymus, Jordan, Silver Oak, and so on. But this year I am drinking some killer wines from Washington, and if you want to give a thoughtful gift that says more than “I picked the first thing I saw in the red wine aisle,” consider this stellar boxed set from the acclaimed Mark Ryan winery, featuring three of their best wines. Mark Ryan McNeilly started making wine in 1999, and his first vintages were crushed, pressed, and aged in the garages of friends and family. In the 18 years since, the winery has become a Pacific Northwest superstar, showcased on better menus across region. While still a boutique operation, Mark Ryan now has a core lineup of 10 award-winning wines (all consistently rated over 90 points). This year they’ve created a new premium holiday three-bottle gift package of their hardest-to-snag favorites: the 2014 Lonely Heart, an elegant 100% Cabernet Sauvignon; the 2015 Dead Horse, a Bordeaux-style blend that’s perfect for cellaring; and the 2015 Long Haul, a Merlot-leaning red that’s ideal for accompanying holiday suppers. I have to admit that while the Dead Horse, which got 94 points from Wine Advocate, would likely improve with age, I couldn’t wait, I had it with dinner and it was fantastic, the kind of big, bold fruit forward red you’d swear was quintessential Napa - except if it was labelled Napa it would cost twice as much (or more). The Lonely Heart, a 100% Red Mountain AVA cab, is even better and got 95 points. This is a pretty awesome selection and impressive looking gift for $210.
The Coravin device lets you open a bottle without really opening it, keeping the remaining wine fresh.
Wine Saver: A few years ago, Coravin revolutionized the way wine is enjoyed at both home and in restaurants by allowing opened bottles to be preserved perfectly as if never opened. This technology lets restaurants pour much better but less demanded wines by the glass without worrying about turnover, and lets people at home enjoy great wines without worrying about finishing the bottle in a sitting. The newest innovation is the Coravin Model Two Elite Wine Preservation Opener, a unique gadget that uses patented technology to access and pour wine from a bottle without pulling the cork. It’s easier to use than a standard corkscrew, looks cool, and comes in unique colors like rose gold. But most importantly, it preserves the wine remaining in the bottle for weeks, months or even years. It is sold at Coravin.com and at Bloomingdales, Sur La Table, Neiman Marcus, Total Wine, Best Buy, Amazon and Bed Bath & Beyond ($350).
Ayala is the best champagne house many people have never heard of.
Brut Force: I previously visited Champagne Ayala, one of the world’s oldest producers and one of the most important labels in the history of champagne, and wrote about it here in detail. Founded more than 150 years ago by a Spanish noble family, Ayala was long one of the top five producers, but the house’s fortunes waned until 2005, when new French owners decided to turn things around. It is the only significant house whose flagship vintage product is a blanc de blanc, from 100% white grapes (chardonnay). But more importantly, it is one of the only houses making a Brut Nature ($45), a nod to the Spanish roots, more associated with cava, in which no sugar is added for secondary fermentation, a more complicated production resulting in a drier wine. The entry level non-vintage offering, Brut Majeur (shown), is a traditional three grape blend of chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier that offers exceptional quality for the price ($55) and has made Wine Spectator’s Top 100, also garnering 91points from Wine Enthusiast. Simply because it is a lesser known label of very high quality, any Ayala makes a distinctive gift hat also happens to be delicious.
Even the person who has everything probably does not have a professional champagne saber, like this one from Berkel.
Open Sesame: The holidays are a time for celebrating and celebrating means champagne. There’s just something about the popping of a cork that gets the party started. But dating back to the Napoleonic era, even cooler than popping the cork was cutting the neck off the bottle off with a saber, a real commitment to finish every last drop. This method is still practiced around the world in some fine restaurants, and you can do it yourself at home if you have a steady hand - and a champagne saber from Berkel, the company that literally invented the meat slicing machine and makes the really gorgeous ones you see in fancy Italian restaurants. Berkel offers two models, the basic Champagne Sabre ($219), specifically designed for opening sparkling wines and ensuring a clean cut, and the Superior Champagne Sabre (shown, $499), a luxury accessory that includes a custom display rack and unique handle.
Bollinger is a great champagne, but this gift box makes the 2006 Rose even better.
Pink Is Better: I love pretty much all champagne, and it is the world’s most quality controlled wine, with rules that ensure that even the least expensive entry level bottle of French sparkler is at a bare minimum very good. If it comes from France and says champagne you really cannot go wrong, but rose is even better, my favorite style. Bollinger, Queen Elizabeth’s bubbly of choice and the movie favorite for secret agent James Bond in every 007 film since 1978, is especially renowned for rosé, and the current vintage release is the Bollinger Rosé 2006 ($140), available for gifting in a limited edition metallic gift box that says “wow.”
The Blender's Dog from Jameson is the hot Irish whiskey of the season.
Slainte: Irish whiskey is some of the world’s best whiskey, and has been growing in both quality and popularity in recent years. One of the newest and most notable offerings is The Blender’s Dog, the second expression in Jameson’s The Whiskey Makers Series. The Blender’s Dog celebrates the art of marrying whiskeys and was concocted by Jameson’s head blender Billy Leighton. Perfectly balanced, it’s a complex blend that your intended recipient has almost certainly never heard of or tried ($70).
The Bristol Bourbon Glass from Simon Pearce isn't just fro bourbon - it's my new favorite spirits glass.
Better Whiskey Drinking: I have a lot of high end glassware in my house - it’s an occupational hazard of covering wine and spirits. But I’ve never had a favorite whiskey glass like the new Bristol Bourbon glass from revered Vermont glassblower Simon Pearce ($55). It’s shaped like a classic Glencairn tasting glass, but much heavier, with a real heft in the hand. It looks great, feels great and works great (I’ve had no technical difficulties drinking whiskey and rum from it!). Simon Pearce also has a collection called Love Your Brian with more ornamental pieces, which benefits the non-profit LoveYourBrain, founded by Simon’s son Kevin Pearce, who was the nation’s second best pro snowboarder before he suffered a traumatic brain injury while training for the Olympics (he is the subject of the documentary The Crash Reel). The glasses are awesome, but pretty much anything you find at the Simon Pearce site will make a wonderful artisanal holiday gift for the food and beverage fan.
El Tesoro is one of the world's best tequilas, but the 80th Anniversary edition is even better.
Mas Tequila: I remember 20+ years ago when tequila had not yet become a spirit for connoisseurs, and one of the earliest ultra-premium labels to arrive in this country was El Tesoro, the first great tequila I can recall tasting. Made only with 100% estate-grown agave, it still makes a great gift (the Añejo is$65 and Paradiso Extra Añejo $100). But to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the distillery, they just released one of its most aged tequilas ever, the eight-year-old El Tesoro 80th Anniversary Limited Edition. There are only eight casks in existence, and the U.S. is the only market receiving bottles ($200).
Lock, Stock & Barrel
Any whiskey lover will appreciate this new old rye.
Oldie But Goodie: The Cooper Spirits Co. is an independent producer of innovative, quality spirits, and just launched its Lock Stock & Barrel 18-Year Straight Rye Whiskey, the third and newest release in the high-end Lock Stock & Barrel series. It is one of the best and oldest straight ryes on the market, double distilled from 100 percent rye grain (most rye is not), then aged in new charred American Oak barrels for 18 years and bottled at 109 proof. The age, taste, rarity and striking matte black glass bottle with embossed label and wood cork closure make it a great gift choice ($230).
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