Great Whisky and Spirit Gifts for Less Than $25

by Jim Wang on 30 January 2014 4 comments

Are you looking to find a gift for your spirits aficionado friend?

Are you on a budget? (Or simply want to get the biggest bang for your buck? Seriously though, who would ever say no to that question?)

I'm a big fan of scotch whisky, which is just whisky produced in the great country of Scotland, and every year I'm trying to think of great gifts for my friends who are also fans of a distilled spirit (vodka, tequila, rum, bourbon, etc.). When it comes down to it, they're all the same — a distilled spirit that has been aged, and they're all pretty impressively good. Which means that most of the gifts I'll be suggesting here today might be marketed as "scotch gifts" or "whisky gifts," but they apply to any distilled spirit. The same characteristics that make a glass great for whisky, because it funnels the aromatics, will also make it great for sipping tequila or rum.

So, if you're looking for a gift for your friend and want to spend less than $25, where should you start? (See also: The Ultimate Gift Guide)

Whisky

What better gift to give your scotch loving friend than scotch? Nothing really!

In general, scotch will be more expensive than some other spirits because of the aging period. Scotch must age for a minimum of three years, while bourbon has no specified duration. So it's easier to find quality cheaper bourbon than quality cheaper scotch because you don't need to age bourbon as long. Tequila is another spirit with no aging requirement; all of the regulations on tequila involve the type of sugars (blue agave) used to make it. If you don't need to have the spirit sit in a barrel for years, you can make more, faster, and for less. A Glenlivet 12 being sold today was distilled and put into a barrel in 2001. (See also: How to Make Moonshine)

If you want to buy scotch, the best option is to go with a blend because then you'll get a mix of ages, the minimum of which will still be three years. There are plenty of fine choices at under $25 including Famous Grouse, Johnnie Walker Red, Dewars, and Chivas Regal 12 (the 12 means all the scotch in the bottle is at least 12 years old, not a bad deal for under $25).

If you don't want to buy alcohol, or you feel uneasy shipping it as a gift, there are a lot of accessories you can gift instead.

Glassware

Does it really matter what kind of glass you use to when you drink scotch, tequila, or bourbon? Yes and no.

The glassware designed for spirits often has a tapered mouth to funnel the vapors and aromas, so you can get more scent per sniff. That said, we've been drinking Old Fashioneds out of regular tumblers for years and no one has been the wiser. I think part of the fun is the pageantry of it all. You take the bottle out of your case or off the shelf, you pull the cork and it makes that plunk sound, you pour a dram into your fancy glass with the tapered mouth, you savor the aromas, and then finally you take a small sip. (See also: 5 Best Wine Openers)

Is it the same if you do all that and pour it into a plastic red Solo cup?

In terms of glasses, Glencairns, which resemble a tulip bulb, are all the rage right now in the scotch world. They're inexpensive, you can usually get a set of four for less than $25, and they look very nice. They feel good in the hand, they have the tapered mouth to direct the aromas, and they are bottom heavy so you aren't afraid you'll tip it over. If you think they look funny, you can always get regular Old Fashioneds tumblers.

Decanters

Decanters can be fun, and they add to the pageantry of enjoying a spirit, though no distilled spirit needs to be decanted in order to "breathe." Using a decanter is strictly for looks.

Personally, I like the look of bottles of scotch as they are because they're often beautifully designed and the bottles themselves have unique profiles. Given no functional purpose, I find decanters themselves to be silly for scotch, though they make sense for something like red wine. (See also: 10 Great Wines for Under $10)

That said, they can be very attractive, make for nice gifts, and are extremely cheap if you go strictly glass. If you want crystal, or even leaded crystal, the price starts to creep up. I generally try to avoid leaded crystal, even if the risk of lead poisoning is relatively low, and stick with more inexpensive glass.

Whisky Stones

A lot of people like to drink spirits "on the rocks," which is fancy bar speak for "with ice." If you want some chill to your spirit but don't want the pesky water that comes from ice, soapstone or metal cubes are your best option. These are generally very inexpensive and often come in nice boxes and gift bags. In terms of function, they won't get your spirit super cold, but they will take it down a few degrees depending on the volume.

As for the soapstone versus metal cube debate, it's tough to say. The metal cubes themselves are not metal throughout; there is usually a gel core that freezes and cools, so in terms of total cooling capacity, metal wins out. As for durability, a stone can't be more durable than stainless steel, right? Finally, looks is a matter of opinion.

Whisky Books

Last, but not least, you could always buy your friend a book about their favorite spirit. I like to put books about spirits into two categories:

  • History of Scotch: A book that gives you a grand overview of the history and landscape of the spirit. Reading this book will give someone a greater appreciation of the spirit.
     
  • Survey Book of Tasting Notes: A book that goes into great detail about the various distilleries and their bottlings in a category. Reading this book will give someone a list of things they might want to try and a reference book against which to compare notes.

If you're going to get a book, pick one of the types above and get it in a nice hardcover version they can leave on their coffee table. For example, if I wanted a history of scotch type of book, I'd look to Helen Arthur's "The Single Malt Whisky Companion or Michael Jackson's "Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch." If I wanted a tasting notes type of book, I'd look to "101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die" by Ian Buxton.

I hope this guide gives you a good start on your shopping adventure for your spirited friend.

Have any favorite spirits or spirit accessories? Let us know about them in comments!

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Guest

Concannon Irish Whiskey got a 94 rating and sells for $20 - 22 around here. For those not familiar, Irish has some of the sweetness of bourbon and some of the smokiness of Scotch and should delight fans of either. But be careful - it's way too easy to drink more than you had planned!

Jim Wang's picture

I haven't gotten into irish whiskey (yet) but I know that in terms of price, it's more budget friendly than scotch at times!

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Eric

I got a whiskey related gift a couple of years back that I love. Ice ball makers. The ice balls give maximum surface area to keep the drink super cold and melt slower than ice.

Jim Wang's picture

Did you get a mold or an actual melter? I think the ones that melt down a huge cube are probably overkill but molds are great. I almost don't even care about the cooling factor, ice balls just look awesome. :)