Friday, November 25, 2011

Gift Shopping Tips, Part Two.

Let’s say someone on your list likes whiskey and you are thinking about giving them whiskey as a gift, but you don’t feel entirely confident making the selection yourself.

This post is for you.

On Wednesday, I told you about the outstanding giftiness of my book, DVD and newsletter. All I’ll add is how great would it be to give someone the book and a great bottle, or the DVD and a great bottle? This post is meant to help you with the great bottle part.

To begin, you have to know what your gift recipient usually drinks. If all you know is that the person drinks whiskey, that’s not enough. Even if you know they drink scotch or bourbon, you’re still flying blind. Your best bet is to find out what specific brand or brands they like and if you can get them in order of preference, all the better. This is especially important for scotch drinkers.

Armed with that information, you can make good use of your neighborhood whiskey monger.

First, it’s never wrong to give someone exactly what they usually drink. If that’s what the person likes, why rock the boat? The typical gift-giver, however, feels compelled to do something ‘special.’ Fair enough. That’s why many major brands offer gift packages at this time of year.

The typical whiskey gift box contains a bottle and two glasses, but sometimes it’s a cocktail shaker or something else. They try to price the gift boxes close to the product’s regular price, so they’re usually a good value. Your gift recipient can always use a couple more glasses.

You won’t have many choices because typically each brand only does one gift box per season.

Another good tip is limited editions. Find out if any of the brands your recipient likes is offering a limited edition. The real question will be whether the store has any in stock. Because they are limited, in short supply, and usually sell out, they are automatically giftable.

Don’t confuse limited editions with commemorative bottlings, although either might make a good gift. If the person is primarily a whiskey drinker, then they probably won’t care about a commemorative bottling, which is a special bottle that contains the same whiskey as usual. Jack Daniel’s and Maker’s Mark, among others, do a lot of these.

On the other hand, if your gift recipient is a Jack Daniel’s or Maker’s Mark fanatic, a commemorative might be perfect.

A true limited edition is more than a different bottle, it’s a different whiskey. Although the only difference may be age or proof (i.e., alcohol content), sometimes it’s completely different, like the annual Master’s Collection by Woodford Reserve. Four Roses does two annual limited edition releases. You can also find limited editions in the scotch, Irish and Canadian whisky segments. Just tell the whiskey monger your recipient’s usual brand and ask if that line has any limited editions available.

Warning. Limited editions can be expensive.

Another possibility is that your whiskey monger will have a house selection of your recipient’s brand. This is a type of limited edition. The store’s whiskey buyer selects a specific barrel of that whiskey, then the whole barrel is bottled for exclusive sale at that store. This makes a great gift because it is simultaneously special and unique, yet also exactly the same as the recipient’s usual brand. It’s usually a good value too because it rarely costs more than the regular product, and sometimes less.

Similar, and with some overlap, is the line ‘step up,’ also a good gift. Many brands have a ‘good, better, best’ hierarchy, with pricing to match. Often the Johnnie Walker Red drinker really prefers Johnnie Walker Black, but it’s too expensive for regular use. For that person, a bottle of Black is the perfect gift.

This can sometimes go wrong. The Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 drinker may prefer it to the more costly Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel, but it’s worth a shot. You’ll get an A for effort.

The riskiest course is to tell the whiskey monger what your recipient drinks and then ask, “can you recommend something similar?” There you mainly need to know that your recipient likes to try new things. That way, even if they don’t adore your gift, they will at least enjoy the experience of trying it.

Finally, you need a good whiskey monger. Most should be able to provide this level of service, the best ones thrive on exactly this challenge, but there are no guarantees. Trust your instincts. If you don’t feel the love, go somewhere else.

If you hope to receive a whiskey gift you might want to print this out and leave it in a strategic location.

1 comment:

Jordan said...

While I was just buying them for myself, I'm pretty fond of some of the packs of minis on offer right now. On the bourbon front, the Jim Beam Small Batch pack is only ~$20, which is pretty good considering the prices of the bourbons inside and what it would cost to get full pours at a bar. On the scotch side, the Balvenie and Glenfiddich packs are also attractive and the former even has a bottle of the 21 year-old Portwood, which is one that I'd be unlikely to get as a pour, but is only $6-7 in the context of the pack of minis.

No matter what, it seems like a good way to do a vertical tasting for a rather reasonable amount of money and offers a way to try whiskies that might otherwise be outside your normal budget.