I know there are merely a little less than two weeks until Christmas, but in the grand scheme of things, this is plenty of time to cross the booze aficionado off your list.
For the beer, wine or whisky lover in your life, it may prove far too tempting to want to go out and get them a bottle of their favourite brand and plonk it under the Christmas tree.
As a fan of this kind of gift, I can assure you it will be well received. There is nothing wrong than the gift of booze.
That said, if you want to get creative and aren’t sure where to start, here are a few ideas for you:
The Glencairn glass
Whether it’s beer, wine, whisky or cocktails, the proper glass can make or break the drink. Some people have a well-equipped collection, and some don’t.
But if you’ve been to your friend’s place and he’s a big beer drinker, but all he has is pilsner glasses, help a brother out.
A new set of glasses, plus a sampling of beer best suited for it, would make a great gift. Beer Advocate has a great breakdown of appropriate beer-to-glass pairings.
As for whisky, the one thing I’ve noticed at all the tastings I’ve been to is the glass. Single malt Scotch is always served in one of two glasses: One that looks like a mini wine glass, or a Glencairn-style glass (pictured above).
The glass was designed after the nosing glasses used at distilleries in Scotland, and allows whisky drinkers to take in the aromas, as well as the flavours of their favourite single malt. Both Kensington Wine Market and Willow Park Wines and Spirits carry glasses of this type, and they’ll run you in the neighbourhood of $17 a glass. But well worth it.
Other than glassware, you couldn’t go wrong with a fun bottle opener (I was given a hammer opener last year), decanters, corkscrews, or, if you have a friend who loves making cocktails, a proper ice cube tray that will allow drinks to stay cold, while preventing dilution. These are also good for people who like whisky on the rocks.
You may think that books about booze are the last thing your drinking buddy is going to want. But if you know someone serious about anything, there’s a book, or magazine for them.
For whisky lovers, there’s Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible, Whisky Advocate Magazine, or the Whisky Yearbook. Or 101 Whiskies to try before you Die. Those are just a few, but the list does go on. And on.
For the wine drinker on your list, a subscription to Vines Magazine, or Wine Access would be a start. As with whisky, there are hundreds upon hundreds of wine books on the market, and you could start with a book about a favourite wine region, or a beginners guide.
As a stocking stuffer, I note Springbank Cheese Company just released a great little pairing guide that lays out pretty plainly what cheeses go with which beers, wines and whiskies. If your friend or family member loves to entertain, this is a cheap and easy little guide, at about $6.
If the drinker in your life has all the hardware and isn’t much for reading, there’s nothing better than getting into the thick of it: Learning, exploring and, most importantly, tasting.
A good start would be right at the source, and with four local breweries open for tours — Village, Big Rock, Wild Rose and Minhas Micro Brewery — it’s easy to go see how the pros do it.
Big Rock also invites speakers into their shop for the popular Big Rock Lecture Series, and offers up Craft Brewing Courses at Heritage Park.
For a good mix of booze and food, several restaurants in Calgary offer winery dinners or, better yet, brewmaster dinners on a regular basis. Craft Beer Market is ringing in the New Year with a dinner hosted by Horizon Beers, for example.
Outside of the breweries, there is a lecture or special event for everyone on your list. Willow Park, Co-Op Wines & Spirits, Kensington and Crowfoot Wines and Spirits all offer myriad events, tastings and talks on everything from Oregon wines to the world of Congac. These are fun outings for friends, and offer a great educational experience.
For that person on your list looking for a deeper educational experience, there a few WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) courses in Calgary, including through Willow Park and Fine Vintage Ltd.
For the whisky drinker, a membership in the Scotch Malt Whisky Society would make a great gift, with a gift-ready membership kit, and access to great events.
So there’s a handful of great ideas that don’t involve buying booze, sort of.
Buuuuuuuuut, if you really want to buy someone in your life a little holiday cheer, I have some suggestions.
Almost everyone and their dog puts out a holiday variety pack, or winter sampler, including Big Rock, Granville Island, Rickard’s and Fernie Brewing. And it’s not hard to find a gift pack of some sort that includes a fancy glass. But, as a beer drinker, I offer these suggestions of something to give:
* Innis & Gunn Winter Treacle Porter – Sweet treacle porter matured in a whisky barrel. Nuff said. And they do make a nice Christmas gift set, with three bottles — the porter, Original and Highland Cask, and an Innis & Gunn glass.
* Wild Rose Cherry Porter – It’s not Christmas in Calgary without it.
* Hop City Barking Squirrel Lager – This is new to the Alberta market, and was a pleasant surprise when I first tried it in Kingston, Ont. A nice amber-coloured lager that isn’t all that familiar around here.
* Anything from Unibroue, but particularly Maudite, Raftman or Trois Pistoles.
It’s tough for me to give wine advice. I know what I like, but there’s so much I don’t know about. And I’m willing to admit it.
If you’re buying for an office gift exchange, or on a budget, Prospect Winery out of B.C. is a good purchase, especially the Red Willow Shiraz.
For a red wine that tasted like you paid more than you did, I really liked the Angel’s Gate Pinot Noir when I tried it earlier this year.
Mission Hill offers a great selection of wines out of the Okanagan, as does Quail’s Gate, and both have mid-range selections, red and white, that would make anyone happy to receive as a gift.
If you really want to go all out for a gift, it would be hard to go wrong with anything from Terralsole in Italy. These earthy yet fruity red wines don’t go cheap (Kensington lists the ’06 reserva for $92, and the ’04 for $399.99), but these are wines any collector on your list would appreciate, and be happy to cellar. And if you’re really nice, you may be around when they crack one open for you.
Mark Davis/Getty Images For (Belvedere) RED/AFP
If you’re buying spirits for someone for Christmas, I have one recommendation for you: Don’t be cheap.
If your friend loves making V&T or G&T, don’t skimp on the V or the G. For gin, try Hendrick’s, and for Vodka, perhaps a Belvedere Pink Grapefruit. And maybe consider pairing with some premium tonic, like Fever Tree. It actually does make a difference.
When you get into whiskies, there are some great Irish or Canadian whisky that has had plenty of maturation time that won’t break the bank, like the Jameson 12-year, or Highwood Distillers Century Reserve 21-year.
As for single malt Scotch, there Glenmorangie is a great example of really tasty whiskies that don’t cost a lot of cash, like the Quinta Ruban and the Lasanta. Glenfarclas.
The Glenfarclas Family Cask 1997, which Kensington Wine Market has exclusively, is an amazingly robust cask-strength Scotch that seems a steal at $109.99.
So there are a few suggestions, easy enough to suss out.
Now have a happy holiday and remember to enjoy responsibly.