The holidays are coming up fast! Especially in this time of social distancing, when we might not be able to visit with our friends and family, finding the right gift for the holiday season can be difficult. Thankfully, whiskey is a great option — durable enough to be shipped, yet still something that can be a shared experience even hundreds of miles away. But which one to gift?
How Much Should I Spend?
Whiskey is a wild world. There are some bottles that retail for under $10, and some that go for multiple thousands of dollars. The range is pretty much infinite.
For the purposes of this gift guide, all of our prices are based on a 750ml bottle of whiskey (which is the “standard” size for a whiskey). There are half bottles available at 375ml, and even smaller single shots available, but the 750ml is the gold standard. That’s the size we recommend to gift, as a smaller bottle is kind of odd for a gift. (Although, in all fairness… we here at Thirty One Whiskey are whiskey experts, not gift-etiquette experts.)
How much is that bottle going to set you back? Well, according to our database, as of November 2020 we have 18 five-star reviewed bottles of all kinds of whiskey. For us, three stars means that the bottle is worth the price — but five stars means that the bottle is an above-and-beyond experience for the price you pay. For those five star reviews, the average price per bottle is $49.37.
Expand the range a bit to three stars and above (of which there are 124 reviews out of our total 185) and you’re looking at an average of $37.55.
So, what that means for you, is that for a “good” bottle of whiskey you should be expecting to pay close to $40. But for a truly great bottle of whiskey, you might only need to increase that budget about $10. It all depends on how much you really like your gift recipient, I guess.
Which Kind of Whiskey Should I Get?
There are a lot of different kinds of whiskey on the market. If you want a rundown of the different options this article is a great resource, but there are still a minefield of options. How do you know which kind of whiskey to get for your loved one?
Well, the best advice here is to ask (if possible). Usually, whiskey drinkers have at least a general area of spirits that they prefer, whether that’s Canadian whiskey or a smoky peated scotch. From there, you can head into our reviews and narrow down your search by type and price range to find the perfect bottle.
If your recipient is a whiskey novice that doesn’t know what they like yet, or you otherwise can’t directly ask them, then the best and safest choice is a bourbon.
When it comes to an American bourbon whiskey, most people think of bold and powerful flavors. Which is true, and generally a good thing. Bourbon tends to be a sweeter whiskey, appealing to a larger audience than some of the other options on the market. And for those who might be afraid of that bold flavor, the secret is that, although bold flavors can be toned down, there’s nothing in the world that can improve a whiskey that’s too weak. Additionally, thanks to the strict legal requirements for a bottle of bourbon you are less likely to get a complete dud of a bottle.
One word of warning, though: when it comes to bourbon, if you really don’t know your recipient’s preference, you should probably avoid a “straight” bourbon. These bourbons tend to be aged longer and pack more of a punch than a typical bourbon. I know… I just said strong whiskies can be toned down if needed… but even then, a straight bourbon might be a little much. If you want to play it safe, just avoid them as gifts.
Going on the price range we just defined, here’s a list of the five best bourbons in our reviews for under $40:
My Recipient Likes Jack Daniel’s, Can I Get Something Similar?
Some people look down on Jack Daniel’s whiskey, but I really like it. I think it provides a great, flavorful value for your money, and it works well in a number of drinks. Thankfully, if you’re buying for someone who is a Jack’s fan, we can specifically narrow down your search — because Jack Daniel’s is a very particular variety of American whiskey called Tennessee Whiskey.
I won’t bore you with the technical definition of what that means here, but you can read all about it in our article on the different kinds of whiskey if you’d like. All you really need to know is, as a legally protected definition, things labeled as a Tennessee Whiskey are all made the same way, and generally taste the same. We’ve reviewed a few of them on our site, and here’s the top five Tennessee Whiskey options for under $40:
For the full list of Tennessee Whiskey we have reviewed you can check this article here.
What About a Scotch Drinker? What Should I Get Them?
Scotch drinkers, especially in the United States, tend to be a bit snobby with their selections. Scotch can get exceedingly specific, even being broken down into different sub-regions within their tiny nation each with their own distinct flavor profile.
If you already know all this and know the region your recipient likes best, you can head to our reviews tracker where we’ve broken out our reviews by region for your convenience. But if you don’t know the details, then to keep it simple, it really comes down to one question:
Blended or Single Malt?
These days, when we think of whiskey we expect that everything in the bottle came from a single barrel or at least a single distillery. But that’s actually a relatively new concept. The earliest scotch whiskey was almost exclusively blended, with the bottlers buying whiskey stock from multiple distilleries and blending it together to create a new and unique flavor. That tradition carries over to today, where the most popular scotch in the world (Johnnie Walker) is actually a blended scotch whiskey.
There are some great blended scotch whiskey options available. If you think your recipient isn’t the kind to turn their nose up at a blend instead of a single malt, here’s the top five in that category for under $40:
That said, not everything is a blended whiskey. The “single malt” scotch whiskey might be relatively new but it has a strong following and a deep bench of options.
With a single malt whiskey, all of the spirit in the bottle comes from a single distillery. You still might have a blending of different years of production (the age statement on the bottle reflects the youngest drop of whiskey in there, not the oldest) but it’s all from a single source.
Here’s a list of the top five single malt scotches we have in our reviews for under $40:
You can find more single malt scotch whiskey in our article here.
What About a Gift That Isn’t Whiskey?
While whiskey makes a great gift, it can also be a little complicated. Things like different state laws regarding shipping whiskey, age restrictions for purchase, and other annoyances can sometimes make it a difficult gift.
For those times when whiskey isn’t an option, here are three suggestions for alternate gifts which would improve the whiskey drinking experience.
1: Whiskey Glasses
If you want to drink whiskey, you should probably have some glasses to drink it out of. Having good quality glasses goes a long way towards improving the overall experience.
Getting some whiskey glasses seems like a good, cheap, and easy recommendation. There’s a ton of them on Amazon. But, as easy as this sounds, this can also be a minefield.
Whiskey drinkers may have a specific set of glasses or a specific style that they prefer. A quick look in their cupboard (if possible) should give an idea of whether this is the case.
As for me, I like to recommend these handmade whiskey glasses from Simon Pearce. The craftmanship on these cannot be beat, even if the price might be a tad high for some gift price ranges.
2: Books About Whiskey
If glasses aren’t in the cards, then maybe a good book would help? It’s probably the easiest thing to give as a gift, and chances are your recipient will learn a thing or two that might improve their whiskey drinking experience.
I recommend Aaron Goldfarb’s Hacking Whiskey, a book about all the strange and quirky drinks that you can make with whiskey and how the different flavors interact to form something amazing.
3: Ice Cube Ball Press
Barring all else, there’s probably one thing that most whiskey drinkers want but have never ever thought it was worth the price to actually buy: an ice cube ball press.
Ice cube balls are the ideal format for cooling down your drink. It’s the maximum amount of ice you can squeeze into the glass with the minimum surface area, meaning that your ice melts slower and dilutes your drink less.
There are molds you can use to try and freeze an ice cube ball, but I’ve never got one that works well, honestly. It always leaks, gets messy, and never turns out the way you expected. The easier way to do it is to freeze a cube of ice and then melt it into a sphere, which is what this thing does.
The problem is that these things ain’t cheap. The cheapest one I can find is ~$125, and they only go up from there. If you’re looking for a cheaper option I’d recommend a large square ice cube tray, which should only be a few dollars.
Whiskey (and whiskey related accessories) have always been an easy, go-to gift for any occasion, but especially around the holidays. Nothing like knocking out four or five gifts with one trip to my local distillery or liquor store! And in this weird 2020 year of social distancing, I know I can rely on sites like Drizly, Zachy’s, and Total Wine to ship whiskey to loved ones near and far. At least, in the United States — your local laws may vary.
Or, if you have a local distillery, consider supporting small businesses and using them for gifts!
And if my family and friends ship me some whiskey gifts, too, I’ll appreciate and enjoy them just as much, if not more — especially if they come paired with another bottle on the other end of a Zoom call for us both to enjoy and spend a little socially distant quality time with loved ones.