A dad who loves drinking spirits is particularly easy to shop for—get him a bottle of something delicious and odds are he'll be overdue for another by the same time next year. But that doesn't mean you have to resort to the same Scotch every time a holiday rolls around. No matter how adventurous (or unadventurous) the father in your life is, we've found a few bottles he'll appreciate.
If Dad Drinks Classic
Redbreast 15 Year
Some whiskey drinkers find Scotch too smoky, bourbon too sweet, or rye too spicy, but it's hard to argue with the charms of Irish whiskey. It's a spirit that often occupies the Goldilocks territory: not too strong, not too mellow. Made from both malted and unmalted barley, triple-distilled in a copper pot still, Redbreast emerges from the barrels complex and substantial; some of the whiskey is aged in sherry casks, lending it a weight and dark hue, while some is aged in bourbon casks, imparting characteristic vanilla flavors. There's a hint of fruit up front, spice on the finish—it's a robust and nuanced whiskey with obvious appeal to any brown-spirit fan.
Snow Leopard Vodka
Once you're above the bottom shelf, what really distinguishes one vodka from another? In many cases, it can be hard to tell. But Snow Leopard stands out for its texture—distilled from spelt, it's fuller-bodied and richer-tasting than most vodkas. It makes for a pleasantly weighty martini. Bonus: Fifteen percent of all of Snow Leopard's profits go toward preserving its endangered namesake, through a decades-old conservation trust that operates in communities across 12 Central Asian nations.
George Dickel Barrel Select
In my family, there's a love for Jack Daniel's that stretches back generations. (My Southern grandmother has a "T. U." every day at 5 p.m.; that stands for "the usual," a respectable pour of Jack Daniel's over ice.) But even dedicated JD drinkers don't necessarily see it as a special-occasion bottle. For something a little more celebratory, I've been giving George Dickel—like our friend Jack, a Tennessee-made, charcoal-mellowed whiskey. The brand's Dickel No. 12 is gift-worthy, but the Barrel Select is even better; made from whiskeys averaging 10 to 12 years in age, it's all vanilla and toffee in the aroma but spice and char on the finish—sophisticated and eminently drinkable.
Glenrothes Triple Pack Gift Set
Why give your dad one Scotch when you can give him three? This Glenrothes gift set carries three 100-milliliter bottles: the Vintage Reserve, Bourbon Cask Reserve, and Sherry Cask Reserve. A combination of 10 vintages from 1989 through 2007, the Vintage Reserve is mellow and fruity, the range of young and older whiskies contributing both bright, fresh citrus on the one hand and rich, oaky elements on the other. Sherry Cask (aged, as the name might suggest, in used sherry butts) leans toward dried fruit, and the Bourbon Cask (aged in bourbon barrels) toward creamy vanilla. The little bottles are more elegant than flimsy airplane bottles, and twice the size, so each can be shared—or Dad can savor a particularly generous pour.
For the Slightly More Experimental Dad
Beefeater Burrough's Reserve Gin
Even devout juniper-philes tend to prefer their gin in cocktails, rather than sipped on its own. But Burrough's Reserve is a rare thing indeed: a gin you can enjoy neat. A limited-edition passion project of Beefeater master distiller Desmond Payne, the Reserve is distilled in founder James Burrough's original copper pot still, then rested in barrels that once held the fresh, aromatic aperitif wine Lillet, picking up a light straw color and a touch of oak; it's a little weightier than standard Beefeater. I can tell you from experience that it makes a superior Martini or Vesper, but it may be at its most appealing served solo in a chilled rocks glass—while many gins are just too harsh and prickly for most drinkers to enjoy without tonic or vermouth, the short barrel-aging mellows the familiar juniper-citrus character of Beefeater just a bit, for a spirit that's smooth and satisfying.
Taketsuru Pure Malt Japanese Whisky
While die-hard whisky fans have known for years that Japan creates some of the world's finest single malts, it's still a pleasant surprise to the casual drinker. Anyone who appreciates Scotch (or good spirits in general) will embrace Nikka's exquisite whiskies, such as the Taketsuru Pure Malt, named for the company's founder, who studied in Scotland before bringing whisky distilling back to Japan. Between its Yoichi distillery on Hokkaido and its Miyagikyo distillery near Sendai, Nikka produces an astounding range of spirits—some sherry-sweet, or fruity and malty, others intensely peaty—which are blended to create bottlings of balance and profound elegance. Taketsuru has a slight fruity character, lingering sherry on the finish, sophistication throughout; let's call it the Macallan of Japan.
Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva Rum
What do you buy the whiskey-drinking dad looking to branch out? Consider aged rum. Sure, he might associate rums with punches and Daiquiris, but this Venezuelan-made, pot-stilled version with 12 years of age on it is as satisfying as a pull of great whiskey when served neat. In fact, I'll go so far as to say it's one of my favorite spirits, full stop, to drink on its own. Dark caramel and vanilla on first whiff, rich and velvety-smooth as you sip, it's like drinking a crème brûlée—but with a long, dry finish. Let Dad add an ice cube if he must, but first, he really should give it a try without.
For the Hip, Adventurous Dad
La Venenosa Sierra de Jalisco Raicilla
These days, even the most learned drinkers come across bottles they've never seen before. But it's much rarer to find a whole spirit you've never seen before. Raicilla is distilled from agave, like tequila and mezcal, but few people have heard of it, since it only entered American markets in 2014. La Venenosa, the only brand importing the stuff right now, offers four raicillas. Each is made using a different species of agave, by a different distiller, and in a different sort of still. The resulting bottles vary so wildly, it's hard to believe they come from the same plant. La Venenosa's entry-level black label, Sierra de Jalisco, has a vibrant acidity that I've never encountered in a spirit, with various earthy-fruity-vegetal elements playing around it. If Dad's a fan of funky mezcals, he'll enjoy its incredible complexity—and La Venenosa's three other raicillas get even wackier from there, with flavors that range from Gorgonzola cheese to tropical and smoky.
Half Moon Orchard Gin
Walk into any liquor store these days and you're likely to find more small-batch gins than you knew existed, some straying quite far from traditional juniper flavors. Many seem more like novelties or, sadly, gimmicks than respectable spirits. But the Half Moon Orchard Gin from Tuthilltown Spirits is an exception. The New York–made gin is distilled from wheat and apples, resulting in a faint but perceptible dried-apple character alongside prominent juniper and cardamom—an exciting dimension that works especially well in cocktails, going to show that experimentation can be a good thing. Try it in a White Lady, or a gimlet with a rosemary garnish.
The 36th Vote Barreled Manhattan
Your dad may indulge in the occasional barrel-aged Manhattan at his favorite cocktail bar. But, unless he's a cocktail geek of the highest order, chances are he's not drinking them at home. That'll change once you present a bottle of "36th Vote" from Utah's High West Distillery. A premixed 2:1 rye-vermouth Manhattan with a few dashes of bitters, it spends three months aging in used rye barrels, which integrates the ingredients and contributes a pleasant additional layer of woody character. Give it a quick stir over ice for chill and dilution, spray an orange twist on top, and you've got a drink worthy of any cocktail bar—no barrel required.
If your dad has a taste for the bitter, whether in a Negroni or as an after-dinner stomach-settler, he's probably a fan of earthy, complex Cynar. But this year, the artichoke-flavored amaro upped the ante by releasing a higher-proof version of the original. At 70 proof, or 35% ABV—significantly stronger than the original's 16.5%—it's a different beast. It's even more effective as a digestivo; a Cynar 70 and soda feels closer to a highball than a light aperitif; and it's wonderfully robust in cocktails, elbowing its way into the spotlight. Quite alluring for amaro fans, perhaps a bit too much so; drink responsibly.
Note: Samples provided for review consideration and photography.