Liquor is the preferred alcohol of choice for 31 percent of Americans who drink, according to a recent Gallup poll. That’s the highest percentage on record, trailing beer’s 37 percent but topping wine by two percentage points. The differential is even more striking among 18 to 34 year olds, of which 40 percent of respondents drink spirits the most compared to 42 percent beer and 16 percent wine.
The ascension of the spirits category over the past two decades is only more motivation for retailers to stock the perfect bottles for gifting and gathering ahead of the holidays. This includes trending tequilas, of course, but also stand-out bourbons, after-dinner liqueurs, and one-of-a-kind barrel picks.
As the busiest time of year approaches, SevenFifty Daily asked retailers across the country which spirits they’re most excited to have in stock this holiday season. (All spirits are listed with price per 750-ml bottle at the noted establishment, unless otherwise stated.)
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Forthave Spirits ‘Black’ Nocino Liqueur, Brooklyn; $32.99 per 375-ml
Chris Leon, owner, Leon & Son Wine and Spirits, Brooklyn
Leon & Son highlights wine-based amaros, vermouths, and liqueurs, especially those made in New York. “I love carrying nocinos, a walnut liqueur,” owner Chris Leon says, noting that he stocks both classic Italian and domestic bottlings. “The warming, rich profile speaks perfectly to the holidays. And as small production versions are being made locally by producers like Forthave and Faccia Brutto, they feel perfectly at home on our shelves.”
Black, Forthave’s nocino, is made in Brooklyn with freshly foraged black northeastern walnuts. Orris root, lemon peel, and cane sugar round out the spirit for a liqueur that’s just as good on its own after dinner as it is over ice cream or in coffee. The flavor profile of nocino is ready-made for gatherings centered around a large meal, Leon adds. “It’s not only specialized, small production, but also a perfect after-dinner sipper for anyone’s post-meal drink.”
Cathead Distillery ‘Old Soul’ Bourbon, Jackson, Mississippi; $79.99
AJ Kiamie, owner, Kiamie Package Store, Oxford, Mississippi
As a store with a long connection to Mississippi—Kiamie Package Store is the oldest in the state, opening shortly after the repeal of Prohibition there in 1966—AJ Kiamie, the current owner, likes to support local distilleries by suggesting a barrel pick from Cathead Distillery, the state’s first legal distillery.
“When buying gifts around the holiday season, or anytime, I really like to attach a back story and let people know it’s something different,” Kiamie says. “We try to take pride in Mississippi and what we do, and this is our Mississippi bourbon. It’s got a great label and it’s a delicious whiskey that most people probably haven’t tried.”
Loco ‘Puro Corazon’ Tequila, Jalisco, Mexico; $346.50
Rachel Malm, product specialist for agave and agave-related spirits, Bitters & Bottles, San Francisco
After years working in the hospitality industry, Rachel Malm now brings her cocktail expertise and spirits knowledge to her role as a product specialist at Bitters & Bottles in San Francisco, focused on highly-curated spirits and cocktail supplies, including artisanal syrups, bitters, and bar tools. “This season, I am most excited about agave spirits,” Malm says. “For people looking for a standout gift, I almost always suggest ultra-premium tequila.” And Loco Tequila’s striking bottle design and presentation box is prime for gifting, with a flavor profile made for sipping.
Loco Tequila’s range “showcases a spirit driven by the same sense of technique and terroir that defines the wine world,” Malm says, with Puro Corazon standing out for its well-structured and aromatic qualities, with notes of fresh agave, honey, and herbs. For those who like aged spirits, Loco Ambar is a limited production reposado aged in new French white oak barrels as well as barrels that previously held Irish whiskey, stout beer, and Pedro Ximénez sherry.
Frank August Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon, Bardstown, Kentucky; $79.99
Timothy Brinkmann, proprietor, Brinkmann’s Wine & Spirits, Brentwood, Tennessee
This year, Timothy Brinkmann is most excited to stock Frank August Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon in his Brentword store. “This is a must-stock for the holidays because it’s a great price point for gift giving,” Brinkmann says. Its minimalist bottle design with a heavy brass topper can have a second life as an aesthetic decanter on home bar carts, too.
Distilled in Bardstown, Kentucky, Frank August selects eight to 12 barrels per batch for a complex and viscous 100-proof bourbon, and Brinkmann’s was the first Tennessee store to carry it. “When our customers fall in love with a small batch bourbon, like they have with Frank August, they are eager to grab the next batch upon release,” says Brinkmann. “Four batches in, I can say they just keep getting better and better.”
Alma del Jaguar Blanco Tequila, Jalisco, Mexico; $49.99
Sisco Larson, general manager and wine club director, Joe’s Wines & Liquors, Memphis, Tennessee
Joe’s Wines & Liquors specializes in cordials, amaro, and additive-free tequilas, and is host to thriving wine, beer, and spirits clubs. This gifting season, Sisco Larson, the general manager and wine club director, is recommending the additive-free Alma del Jaguar Blanco Tequila, blended from two organic tequilas: one fermented with Champagne yeast and another using native yeast.
Made in the Los Altos town of Arandas, it uses agaves grown on a fifth-generation estate. It’s bottled unfiltered at the distillery, leading to full flavors of citrus, pineapple, salinity, and cooked agave. The packaging is environmentally conscious, using locally sourced or recycled materials, and a portion of the proceeds go to the Northern Jaguar Project. “[It’s an] authentic artisanal tequila that will change how your friends and family think about tequila,” says Larson.
Barrell Craft Spirits Seagrass Rye Whiskey, Louisville, Kentucky; $90
Jesse Warner-Levine, co-owner, Convive Wine, New York City
The driving force behind opening Convive for Jesse Warner-Levine and his business partner was to offer bottles with a high quality-to-price ratio and personalized recommendations. Sky-high prices and scarcity in aftermarket sales of bourbon have led to consumers trusting their local retailer more to suggest worth-the-price whiskeys. Barrell Craft Spirits Seagrass Rye fits into that category. The 100 percent Canadian rye whiskey is finished in barrels that previously held apricot brandy, Martinique rhum, and Madeira for a round and complex flavor profile.
It has a richness that will appease those who like sweeter tones in their whiskeys, but as a cask-strength bourbon, it also satisfies those who appreciate the power of the spirit, Warner-Levine says. “It’s something that will appease both fronts, so we can recommend it to make everyone happy,” he says.
Fortaleza Winter Blend 2022, Jalisco, Mexico; $350
Eduardo Ruiz, owner, Blend Beer Wine & Spirits, Denver, Colorado
Eduardo Ruiz’s Blend in Denver zeros in on all agave spirits, but particularly tequila. “We are specific about our tequilas: the way they are made, the production, and obviously the quality,” says Ruiz. “We don’t have any tequila with additives or that are mass produced (diffused). The more unique the better.” This holiday season, Fortaleza’s Winter Blend is on his list of notable bottle picks, favored for its storied history, high standards, and limited allocations (the exact price is linked to the number of bottles produced).
“Fortaleza Winter Blend is that perfect bottle either to enjoy with the people you love or as a gift,” Ruiz says. “It’s a special allocation made once a year, with different notes every year. It makes it a unique product and we are always excited for what the master distiller will come up with for the next release.”
Willett Pot Still Reserve, Bardstown, Kentucky; $50
Mike Fisk, chief sales and marketing officer, Evergreen Liquors, Bardstown, Kentucky
Bardstown, Kentucky, has no shortage of places to try high-quality bourbon, but Evergreen Liquors stands out for bourbon enthusiasts. “We are in the heart of bourbon country, so by far bourbon is our specialty,” says Mike Fisk, the chief sales and marketing officer. “We have a huge selection of bourbon that is made in Kentucky as well as some other areas of the county, and we also have a tasting bar that allows customers to try some of the most allocated bourbons in the world.”
Willett Distillery’s Pot Still Reserve is a popular holiday bottling thanks to the packaging and the spirit itself. “It’s a great gift because the juice is great and the bottle design—shaped like a pot still—is one of the most unique bottles on the market,” he says. And at about $50, it’s an eye-catching gift or home standby that won’t break the bank.
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Nickolaus Hines is a journalist who writes about beer, spirits, food, and travel. He’s the food and drinks editor at Matador Network and has written about drinks for Liquor.com, Men’s Health, October, Hop Culture, Supercall, and VinePair.