Holiday spirits - Nice and naughty gifts for tinseled tipplers

  • by Jim Gladstone
  • Wednesday December 19, 2018
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On Splasher, on Boozer, on Mincer, on Schmoozer! Even Santa agrees that this is a year that needs to be washed down with a stiff drink. To that end, we've made our annual list of nice and naughty gifts for the tippler (all available online as well as at local retailers). Let's raise a glass to optimism and send 2018 down the hatch.

Red nose? Check! Bowlful of jelly? Skip it. Bay Area entrepreneurs Carey Clahan and Sydney Rainin Smith have created Laughing Glass Cocktails, a line of attractively-bottled all-natural tequila margaritas that are plenty potent but low in calories. They're remarkably well-balanced (no sticky sweetness here) and ready-to-pour, in citrus, pomegranate orange, and a lip-tingling "Firecracker" blend incorporating pineapple and ancho chiles.

Fruits & nuts

Local libations in limited editions are on offer from the Sonoma Distilling Company. The Petaluma-based distillery has released two short-run seasonal bottlings, ideal for gifting. The Cherrywood Rye Whiskey makes a smart happy hour pairing with dried fruit and nuts, and the Cherrywood Smoked Bourbon is a warming fireside sip.

Rockin' on the rocks
"On the rocks" takes on new meaning with Blackened, a stunt-in-a-bottle produced in partnership with Bay Area favorites, Metallica. A combination of whiskeys and bourbons aged in black brandy casks, the basic blend actually has nice spice and a slightly honeyed finish.

But here's where things get headbangingly daft: While casked, each batch gets blasted with a range of Black Noise soundwaves akin to specific Metallica songs which, the marketeers boast, "cause movement of the barrel and the liquid...resulting in a deeper penetration of the spirit into the wood." You can find a playlist for your bottle online. Party on, Garth!

Spike it
Another Bay Area music maker, rapper G-Eazy, is a part owner of Stillhouse Spirits. Taking a note from craft brewers, who have lately reemphasized the benefits of protecting their elixirs from light, Stillhouse has created a line of sour mash whiskies packaged in rectangular stainless steel cans rather than bottles—with its handsome red-matte finish, the flask-like 375 mL size makes a great under-$20 stocking stuffer.

In addition to Stillhouse's traditional corn whiskey, there are flavor-infused varieties, including spiced cherry and apple crisp. And in a distinctive black can, there's super smooth Tennessee bourbon that's been rested in coffee beans, a perfect spike for your Christmas breakfast.

Sock it to me
The classic turducken of stocking stuffers is socks. This year, give your tootsies something boozy. We love SockGuy's flashy orange mid-century martini pattern, along with their "Beer Republic" style, which reimagines the California flag, setting our grizzly bear set on bright, bubble-punctuated yellow.

Super Green
Our favorite new gin, City Bright— poured at local watering holes including Whitechapel, Barvale, and the Sunset Reservor Brewing Co.— is made by Los Angeles' Greenbar Distillery. You'd be wise to keep it in the kitchen, because while City Bright has gin's requisite juniper kick, it doesn't go down like a fistful of pine needles. Instead, it sips surprisingly well with some of Californians' favorite cuisines—Chinese, Mexican, Thai and Indian—thanks to a vivid blend of botanicals including ancho chile, cumin, lemongrass, kaffir lime, Sichuan peppercorn, spearmint, and star anise.

Maple sweet
From snowy Vermont comes our favorite mixology gift of the year, the Runamok Maple cocktail pairing collection of infused organic maple syrups. Providing a more distinctive sweetness to drinks than simple syrup, just a few drops from one of the collection's concoctions (sold as a set) can add unexpected dimensions to your favorite brown liquor or a touch of welcome wintry richness to vodka (or even a coupe of champagne). The set includes four 2 oz. bottles: one each of maple syrup infused with ginger, hibiscus, and jasmine tea, and maple syrup, and one that's been smoked over pecan wood.

Write on
For your oenophile and beer enthusiast buddies who are obsessed with jotting down tasting notes every time they sip something new, handsome pens from Retro 51's Speakeasy Series will make the perfect gifts. The Pilsner version of their smooth-flowing, lacquer-finished retractable rollerball has a fizzy golden barrel design and is topped with a miniature bottle cap. The Vintage model has a deep red barrel and a sculpted cork. And there's probably no queer quaffer who wouldn't delight in the series' Absinthe-themed entry: Its emblazoned with a fetching green fairy.

Book and bar
Be Your Own Bartender, by the Bay Area's own Carey Jones and John McCarthy, is our favorite cocktail book of the year. The authors, who write a weekly column called "Liquor Cabinet Roulette" for Food & Wine online, have gamified mixology, creating playful decision trees to help readers pick their poisons: Want a whiskey drink? Great. Now, do you want to sip it slowly or throw it down? Drinking alone or by the fireplace with your honey? The questions go on, some silly, some serious, leading you along flow charts until you land on a recommended recipe. The 160 original cocktails here draw incredible variety from a small core of basic bottles, making it an ideal resource for home bartenders, and available at bookstores and online.