For this year’s American Whiskey Holiday Gift Guide, DrinkInsider takes a look at some of the best bourbon and rye whiskeys at different price points, from $20 to $100+. Many of the higher price point whiskeys can be hard to find, so we’ve included a few options where appropriate (* = hard-to-find, ** = very hard-to-find). No matter what your price range, anyone of these American whiskeys will be a terrific gift for the bourbon or rye lover in your life.
If you’re under the impression that you can’t get good whiskey for less than $30, your gravely mistaken. As the quality of American whiskey has continued to rise, it has become easier to find really solid stuff at the lower price ranges. Old Weller 107 is often on shelves for under $20 and this “wheated” bourbon can easily go toe to toe with some whiskies two times its price. If you’re looking for a $30 or under rye, Rittenhouse Rye is a great value. For a while, Rittenhouse was becoming pretty hard to find as demand for this tasty $20 whiskey was sky high. But I think you’ll find it a lot easier for this holiday season to pick up a bottle.
Stepping up to $30-$40 puts you in a sweet spot for some really awesome smaller release and vintage whiskies. One of my favorite annual releases in this price range is Evan Williams Vintage. Their 2003 release should be rolling out to retail just as this year’s holidays come around. The 2002 is still readily available, though, and although it wasn’t as delicious as the 2000 or 2001, it’s still a great sipping bourbon. Two other stand out selections in this price range are Four Roses Small Batch and Rowan’s Creek. Both of these are crowd pleasers and any bourbon fan – new or seasoned – will be happy to unwrap one of these bottles. In fact, Four Roses is doing a $30 gift pack for the holidays this year with the Small Batch bottle and a branded flask. Sounds like a great gift idea to me!
There are a number of gems in the $40-$50 price range. Willett Pot Still is one of my favorite whiskey gifts to give because not only is the juice great, but the bottle is one of the coolest on the market. Shaped like a pot still, this whiskey will definitely bring the wow factor. Another stand out whiskey in this price range is the Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year 107*. Granted, any bottle with the Van Winkle name on it is going to be hard to find. But, you’ve got two things going for you with the 10 year release around the holidays. One, most people are looking for the 15, 20 and 23 year Pappy’s or the 13 year rye. And, two, ORVW just recently released their fall allocation so if you get out to a good liquor store soon, you may be able to find a bottle of the 10 107 hanging around.
Okay, now we’re getting into the really interesting stuff. In the $50 – $75 price range you’ve got lots of great whiskies to choose from – including many that are limited edition, one-off releases. If you’re looking for something really wild, I’d recommend High West’s Campfire. Released earlier in 2012, this is the first blend of bourbon, rye and Scotch I’ve ever tried and it’s damn delicious. Another new release to the market is the E.H. Taylor Rye* which may be a little difficult to track down, but worth the look. This is a fantastic small production rye and even the most extreme whiskey aficionados will be psyched to see this under the wrapping paper.
It’s obvious that if you’re prepared to spend almost $100 on someone’s gift they’re probably special to you. And, in that case, you should probably get them a really special whiskey. The thing about American whiskies in this price bracket is that the best ones are
often hard to find. So, you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled, but here are a few to track down. The newly released Four Roses 2012 Limited Edition Small Batch is simply fantastic. It just received a score of 96 points from Whisky Advocate and I gave it some pretty high reviews as well. Also available in this price range is the hard-to-find, but always amazing, Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. These whiskies are released two times per year – the fall release just came to market recently so you may be able to find some around. All of the BTAC’s are superb American whiskies, but my favorites are George T. Stagg**, Sazerac 18** and William Larue Weller**. Another great whiskey in this range is Parker’s Heritage. Both the 2011 release (Cognac finish) and the 2012 release are world class and I can’t recommend them highly enough. I think you’ll find that the Parker’s are quite a bit easier to find than the BTAC’s, and to be totally honest, I think they’re every bit as good (if not better in some cases).
Once you’ve reached the $100+ price range for American whiskey, you’ve come pretty close to the pinnacle. Sure there are American whiskies that can get up into the $200-$300+ range (and even higher), but unlike Single Malt Scotch, this ultra premium price bracket for American whiskey is fairly limited. One obvious (but incredibly difficult to find) whiskey to seek out in this range is Pappy Van Winkle 20**. This is my favorite of the Pappy’s and it’s absolutely going to get you big time bonus points if you give this as a gift. The newly released Elijah Craig 20 is another great bourbon in this price range, and it’s certainly easier to find than Pappy. And finally, keep your eyes out for some of the older Willett Bourbons**. These are far and few between, but they are tremendous whiskies if you can find one.
There you have it, a complete guide to making sure your bourbon- and rye-loving friends, family and significant others will remember you this holiday season as the one who gave the best damn gift of them all.