Nothing warms on cold and rainy winter nights like a good bottle of liquor — better yet, one given by (and possibly shared with) a good friend. Allow me to recommend some of my top quality favorites, including a few cocktail mixers, many of which can be found at K&L , the Jug Shop , D&M , John Walker & Company , Cask , and other local stores and suppliers.
A port is really just fortified (spirits-enhanced) wine: sometimes sweet, sometimes dry, ideal for after-dinner sipping. For those who might tire of another bottle of wine, this gift travels a slightly different path. Graham's 10-year Tawny Port is one of the more common ports but packs plenty of flavor for the price, making it a fine intro for the uninitiated. It carries floral, sweet currant, and spiced apple notes, with a whisper of creamy chocolate.
For the cocktailian on-the-go, what could be better than a retro travel box of five of the best bitters in existence from German wonder duo, Stephan Berg and Alexander Hauck? The Bitter Truth travel box (www.the-bitter-truth.com ) includes three mini-bottles of the gents' Creole, Orange, Chocolate, Old Time Aromatic, and award-winning Celery Bitters. It's an affordable, quirky gift that (bonus) showcases your savvy and panache.
From local bartender Jennifer Colliau, this line of artisan syrups for cocktails eliminates resorting to crappy, generic grenadine — Colliau's grenadine remains the best I've tasted — or attempting your own gum syrup. Small Hand products (www.smallhandfoods.com ) are made with organic cane sugar, gum arabic, and fruits. There's regular, pineapple, or raspberry gum syrups, for everything from pisco punch to tiki drinks, and an orgeat (almond syrup most commonly known as a Mai Tai ingredient) made with California almonds.
Go Dutch by giving the gift of Bols Genever, genever being the original Dutch gin. A bottle normally retails for the price of an entire Dutch Courage set, which includes a bottle and two tulip glasses for the traditional Dutch ritual of kopstootje (pronounced kop-stow-che). Translated as "little head butt," it's essentially a glass of beer, traditionally a lager, mixed with a shot of genever. Proost!
I adore legendary distiller Parker Beam, whose Parker's Heritage Collection remains a thrilling pinnacle of what bourbon can be. Though many will never forget his profound Golden Anniversary bourbon, this year's release is truly unique. Instead of the corn-dominant notes of typical bourbon, this 10-year aged, cask-strength edition combines winter wheat and corn, bottled at 63.9 percent straight from the barrel. Open it up with a splash of water or sip neat. Either way, whiskey fans will marvel at bracing, rich layers of caramel, maple, and, yes, wheat ... but also at the incredible smoothness for a spirit of this proof.
You won't go wrong giving any Craft spirits (www.craftdistillers.com ) to an aficionado. If she isn't already a fan of this incredible Ukiah distillery, she'll fall in love with Craft's brilliant brandies and grappas or exquisite bottlings like Crispin's Rose Liqueur. Consider newer releases such as Low Gap Craft-Method Whiskey made with malted Bavarian hard wheat. Where many white whiskeys are harsh and bracing, at 90 proof, it's intense yet balanced. Or try the recently acquired Los Nahuales Mezcalero (mezcal fans will know it as the former Los Danzantes). As with all Craft products, small production and artisanal techniques are behind this smoky-but-clean, Oaxacan-grown mezcal.
For the peat monsters among you ... or rather, for those who don't fancy the standard Laphroaig 10-year, which, like many in the line, hits hard with that peat. Extra aging has mellowed this Islay single malt to a robust but roundly balanced pour. Alongside peat smoke, enter honey, vanilla, hay, anise, and toffee nuttiness, minus the medicinal properties some tell me they get on the nose in other Laphroaig expressions. This one changes the game, and, in my opinion, best exemplifies Laphroaig's possibilities.
New to the market is a sampling experience a California wine fan can enjoy from home: Tasting Room (www.tastingroom.com ). Discover new favorites or taste a winery line side by side (all samples are also available as full-sized bottles). Choose from six-pack sets of 50 ml bottles in groupings by winery, region, or type (for example, California cabs). Nicely packaged in a slim black box with winemaker's tasting notes, consider it a home wine tasting for the cost of tasting at the winery itself.