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Spirits of the Season: Best spirited gifts and libations for the 2017 holiday season

rokz Infusions
rokz makes a great lineup of apothecary styled bottles ready to be filled with a spirit of choice

Full disclosure: Monsters & Critics received free samples of the products mentioned in this article for review. However, the opinions expressed are independent and our own.

It’s the end of 2017 and we’re lifting a glass to the year that was, and the year to come.

Below we list the coolest last-minute gifts and brilliant stocking-stuffers to have at the ready.

These are the best libations, spirits, wine and mixology must-haves for the 2017 holiday season.

Organized by category, enjoy our “Spirits of the Season”:

Books for the mixologist

Two excellent choices we found for anyone who takes mixed drinks seriously. We fell in love with Fever-Tree: The Art Of Mixing (Octopus Books) by Mitchell Beazley, a compendium of drop-dead gorgeous chapters filled with recipes, lore, and schematics for creating the simple long drinks and cocktails that will establish you as the party genius.

Fever-Tree makes exceptional mixers sold worldwide

And the riotous Drink Like A Bartender: Secrets From The Other Side of the Bar by Thea Engst and Lauren Vigdor. This is a perfect primer for the lad or ladette who wishes not to be judged harshly by their pedestrian cocktail order.

In other words, you’re totally judged by the barkeep for ordering anything mixed with Jello, Fireball Whiskey or Jaegermeister.

Did you order a Fireball and coke? Back to school!

This is the perfect ‘time to grow up” book for those wanting to educate their palate and their mixology game too.

The Way of Japanese Whisky by Dave Broom (2017, Hardcover) Japanese whisky is, as they say, a playah in the field.

Blame the Japanese appetite for all things Scottish especially the native whisky, and combine it with their assiduous attention to detail has been consistently winning major international spirits awards.

All scotch lovers who sample the Japanese whiskies learn fast that they have done a loving tribute to the spirit.

Award-winning author and whisky expert Dave Broom has done his research, heading to Japan over 25 times in the past 12 years, and this gorgeous gift book details his personal journey around Japan’s whisky distilleries and the obsessed whisky culture of the country.

Each chapter details the histories, production details and extolls the virtues of the current whiskies with his tasting notes.

Dave dives deeply into the respect for tradition and the Asian twists of innovation, and why Japanese culture has warmed so mightily to the Scottish spirit.

Photos are stunning thanks to the eye of Kohei and this gift book is a thoughtful read for anyone who marvels at how one culture can pay homage and actually compete with established venerated distilleries half a world away.

Genius gifts for Savvy Drinkers

Got bourbon tequila, gin, rum or vodka?

Herb & Lou’s Infused Ice Cubes take all that pesky muddling and infusion alchemy and make it into a freezable flavor cube designed to instantly turn a spirit into a sophisticated cocktail. So smart!

These are brilliantly conceived and executed… and perfect for a lazier mixologist

Try Cucumber and Watermelon with clover, thyme and honey meant to make The Cecile” for tequila Blood orange and Ginger meant to make “The Cooper” an old-fashioned made with bourbon and Peach with Benedictine-inspired Herbs & Artisanal Bitters turns out  “The Clyde” for their Vodka recipe.

Whiskey Lovers

Check out the fun Whiskey IQ game and more at ForWhiskeyLovers.com

You want to do this game, perfect for winter break!

Set up a profile. Enter your code found on sample panel sent to you in the mail. Crack open the sample and put in your nifty Explorers glass, sip and answer the questions in the game! You’re up for the challenge.

Infusion alchemy

rokz assorted infusion kits
A perfect host/hostess gift or for anyone looking to up their cocktail game

Stunning presentation, useful and a perfect gift that is affordable, rokz infusions take just a few days and create a wonderful new spirit to create a masterpiece.

rokz Bloody Mary Mix Spirit infusion just needs added vodka, the spices in the bottle include chilies, sun-dried tomato, lemon peel, celery, garlic, horseradish, bay leaf, and salt. Ideal infusing time is 1-2 days.

Gin & Tonic is infused with rose, fennel and peppercorns, lemon peel and orange peel and the ideal infusing time is 3 to 4 days.

rokz Mojito infusion needs 3-4 day infusing time and is made with cranberries, citrus and hops for their fab festive Christmas cocktail, the Cranberry Hopiness, (2 ounces Rokz Cranberry Hop Infused Rum with 1 ounce fresh lime juice, 1 tsp sugar, and some mint leaves topped off with club soda.)

rokz Margarita is infused with ginger and vanilla, just add tequila and make their famous Lala’s Gingerita (2 ounces rokz Ginger Vanilla infused Tequila, 1 ounce Cointreau and 1-ounce fresh lime juice.)

Posh Pours

Camus VSOP
Classy bottle to go with exceptionally affordable cognac

Camus Borderies VSOP Cognac is posh but not a bank breaker. This has a deep amber burnish to the fruity yet dry aged spirit, with honey, vanilla, spices and a tea-tannin finish that makes it a sophisticated and lovely capper for the night. Stunning bottle too. Again, for the money (under $65) it’s our top cognac pick.

91 points, Beverage Testing Institute (Jan 2014)

Best tasting Reposado Tequila and Most Awesome Upcycle EVER

Clase Azul Tequila Reposado in blue and white lithesome decanter (center below)  is not only full of delicious Agave nectar reposado tequila but delivers a stunner bottle you can turn into a gorgeous vase when finished.  All of their varietals can be upcycled in this fashion.

Look at these bottles, they house amazing tequila, and can be upcycled into gorgeous vases

What’s not to love? You get a superior tasting tequila and stunning handmade decanter. American oak barrels age this reposado tequila for eight months after the distillation process. Each bottle is made with high-quality white ceramic and then hand painted by artisans.  Beautiful and thoughtful and affordable, a trifecta of perfection.

One Stop Shop

Low calorie and all natural, Laughing Glass was invented by two moms and made for that person who wishes not to mix, nor to measure or even squeeze a lime.

Carey Clahan and Sydney Rainin-Smit
Laughing Glass founders Carey Clahan and Sydney Rainin-Smith have invented a delicious ready made margarita, really!

It’s a tasty screw top pre-made margarita ready to go, concocted with super premium Blanco tequila, and natural citrus and pomegranate and a hint of organic agave nectar. We were dubious at first but chilled and poured on ice, we found Laughing Glass to be one of the best ready-made cocktails ever sampled. Brilliant to have on hand for impromptu margarita emergencies!

Sometimes, you just need things to be easy.

Scotch, Part Deux

Scotch happens to be one of our favorite spirits, so we had to dive deep into some other notable winners that you might be unfamiliar but you NEED to be familiar with, so consider it our PSA for craft and unusual small batch scotches you CAN afford:

Lost Distillery Stratheden Archivist Selection Small Batch

Lost Distillery Auchnagie Archivist Selection Small Batch

Lost Distillery Gerston Archivist Selection Small Batch

Indian scotch? Yes!

Paul John Indian Bold Single Malt Whisky 46% Alcohol Peated Single Malt Whisky Non-Chilled filtered
Scottish Peat is brought over to Goa from Islay for their Bold, where it dries their6-row Indian barley.

Vanilla, Caramel, citrus, honey, and smoke? Meet Sia Scotch blend,  was founded by American woman Carin Luna-Ostaseski.

This blended scotch made in Scotland with 50% Speyside, 40% Highland, 10% Islay 40% to 60% high malt for a grain ratio of 86 proof (43% ABV.)

American Made Craft Spirits

From Clear Creek Distillery is McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt Pot Distilled Whiskey, made with a fermented mash of 100% peat-Malted Scottish Barley and barrel-aged for three years in Oregon Oak. Exceptional, smooth and the perfect example of an American distillery getting the smoke and floral notes right in a complex three-year-old whiskey. Bravo. Affordable too.

Hood River Distillery’s Trail’s End 6 year Kentucky Straight Bourbon finished with Oregon Oak 45% ABV 90 Proof.  Absolutely delicious is Trail’s End Bourbon, Kentucky straight bourbon aged for seven and eight years.

This whiskey is then aged in Oregon oak before being bottled at 90 proof.  You will love it for Old Fashioneds, or sip with whiskey stones.  One of the REALLY great affordable craft spirits.

Rum, Please

Please seek out Don Q Oak Barrel Spiced Rum made with 3-year-old rum. This exceptional Puerto Rican rum is perfect for mixing with Egg Nog and is redolent with spices, vanilla, honey and incredible lingering notes that make mixing it a sin.

We love this and the opulent pour of Don Q Anejo Puerto Rican Rum – both crafted by the Serrallés family down in Puerto Rico. This is so complex and lovely.  Do not ruin it with Coke.

Organic, Please

Oregon Tilth Certified American Harvest Organic Vodka is a crystal clear, crisp and a hint of sweetness winner. Made with Snake River water, organic winter wheat, organic agave nectar, and clocks in at 80 proof. Production and bottling take place in Rigby, Idaho.

Exotic Pours

Pretty in pink: A rich and lush saké that is highly mixable with champagne, prosecco or cava bubbles.

Sake One Moonstone Plum is another Oregon made concoction that is pink, ultra smooth and is a ginjo-grade saké laced with a natural plum flavor that delivers a lingering afternote of citrus and almonds.

A juicy fruit infusion inspired by Japanese plum wine that we preferred topped with a nice pour of seasonal bubbles. For those who like it sweet, you can drink it chilled neat, or drizzled on vanilla ice cream.

Red, Red Wine

Last but never the least is a great holiday table recommendation from Gainey Vineyards 2014 Patrick’s Vineyard Selection.

Deep ruby red, luscious and decadent, the 2014 Patrick’s Vineyard Selection is a single-vineyard, Bordeaux-style blend of 84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot and 6% Petit Verdot.

Made for the holiday table, this leggy, dense, complex and fragrant wine has notes of black cherry, boysenberry, blackberry and an aroma of cassis smoke and vanilla among many intriguing flavors.

It ticks all the boxes: Earthy, spicy, toasty structured tannins, mineral perfection. Good lord, its a fabulous red wine made for the people who love to drink them.

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April is an accredited entertainment writer, interviewer and television critic. She is a current member of the Television Critics Association (TCA), Gay and Lesbian Entertainment... read more
April Neale
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