Finding the perfect gift for the bourbon lover in your life may seem like an easy task at first. After all, there are many great gifts for men who love to drink out there. There are also so many bourbons to choose from, whether it’s an affordable option, a bourbon meant to be sipped neat, or just a solid standby bourbon that’s always well received. But if you’re going to gift a bottle — to yourself or to someone else, no judgment here — then your best option is to pick something that stands out.
FEW Bottled In Bond
FEW started in 2011 in the Chicago suburb of Evanston. The brand leans hard on pre-Prohibition appeal, but there’s good reason behind it: Evanston was once known as the “seat of Prohibition,” and it was the headquarters for the temperance movement. Marketing aside, FEW makes many great whiskeys. It’s also well known enough in whiskey circles to be recognizable at first sight, yet not so big-name that everyone already has bottle. FEW’s Bottled In Bond Bourbon sips nicely when poured neat, and is bold enough to stand out in a cocktail. As the name says, it’s bottled in bond, which means it adheres to strict rules: bottled at 50 percent ABV (100 proof), aged at least four years in American oak in a federally bonded warehouse, and it’s made by one distillery at a single distillery in one season.
Breckenridge Rum Cask Finish
The world’s highest distillery is already well known for its bourbon — locally in the Breckenridge tasting room, throughout Colorado (and as the whiskey of the Denver Broncos), and across the country thanks to the distillery’s many awards. The flagships usually take center stage, though. For a more unexpected bourbon gift, go for the rum cask finish. It starts with Breckenridge Bourbon, then is aged in the distillery’s Colorado Rum casks (which itself were first bourbon casks, to make things full circle). It’s a mellowed out bourbon without losing any flavor. While the bright colors and rum cask influence might initially scream tropical cocktails, it’s a bourbon I’ve enjoyed neat more often than mixed this year.
Basil Hayden Red Wine Cask
It seems like there’s a new type of cask finished bourbon released every week. Some are complete misses, but that just makes it all the more special when an experimental cask finish hits all the right notes. Basil Hayden Red Wine Cask is possibly the most easy drinking whiskey I’ve had all year (in a pour-me-another-glass way, not a boring way). It’s the perfect gift for someone who is just getting into their exploration of America’s spirit, and looks good on the bar cart of a whiskey connoisseur, too. The brand takes its signature Basil Hayden Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey and ages it in casks that previously held California red wine to lend a dried fruit layer that complements the toasted vanilla notes in the whiskey.
Frey Ranch Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Grain-to-glass is a well worn marketing term these days, but Frey Ranch takes the concept to another level with what it calls ground-to-glass. All of its whiskeys are 100 percent grown, malted, distilled, matured, and bottled on the Frey Ranch farm in Fallon, Nevada. The Straight Bourbon Whiskey is made with winter wheat, non-GMO corn, winter cereal rye, and two-row barley that’s distilled and aged for five years before being bottled at 90 proof (45 percent ABV). Sure, it’s strong enough to hold its own in a cocktail, but this is one that is best to sip neat to fully take in the flavor.
Balcones Texas Pot Still Bourbon
Texas grains take the spotlight at Balcones. For the Texas Pot Still Bourbon — which is impossible to miss on the shelf or bar cart thanks to its bright red label — uses Texas grains that are milled, mashed, fermented, and distilled onsite in Waco. It claims to have the tallest copper pot stills in the world. But just as Kentucky distilleries often note the weather as an important aging factor, so too does Balcones. Big temperature swings help draw the flavor out of the barrel and imprint a special taste on this big, yet sippable, bourbon.
Redwood Empire Pipe Dream
Northern California is better known for wine and cannabis than whiskey, but the whiskey that’s made up here is just as worthy of seeking out. Redwood Empire takes its name from the famous string of redwood forest in the region that stretches up into Oregon. Pipe Dream uses a high percentage of corn for a nice sipping sweetness, and the blend is made up of whiskeys between four and 12 years old. It takes its name from the 14th tallest tree in the world, which rises more than 360 feet in the Patriarch Forest of Humboldt Redwoods State Park.