It’s that time of year when every whiskey enthusiast starts getting frantic emails and messages, “My Mom (Dad, Uncle, Best Friend, Niece, etc.) loves bourbon and I want to get them a bottle they’ll love. Where can I buy a bottle of Pappy (Blantons, Weller, Henry McKenna, Antique Collection, Parker’s Heritage, Michter’s 20, Birthday Bourbon, etc.)?” This bourbon gift guide answers all your questions about buying for the bourbon lover.
Picking out a bottle or gift for a bourbon lover can be challenging for a whiskey enthusiast, but to a non-bourbon drinker it’s terrifying. So I’ve put a list together of some tips to buying for your favorite bourbon lover if bourbon is not your thing.
(Post may contain affiliate links.)
First, a few things NOT to do:
Don’t Go Looking for Pappy and Other Unicorns
No true bourbon lover expects a bottle of Pappy or Birthday Bourbon under the tree or for a special occasion. We call those “unicorns” – bourbons so rare to find in the wild (on a store shelf) that they’re practically unobtainable.
A whiskey lover won’t expect you to source a bottle of Pappy van Winkle bourbon for them as a gift. We know how hard they are to find. Sure, if one falls in your lap and you want to give it a good home we’ll take care of it for you, though. . .
Many of the unicorn bourbons are “allocated.” This means that the supply is so low across the country that liquor distributors may only give a few bottles, if any, to select stores. I’ve heard that larger, high-end, high-volume stores are most likely to get allocated bourbons. However, that may only translate into a few bottles. And those stores may choose to put the bottle in their tasting room rather than sell it outright.
Be wary of the secondary market
Don’t buy hard-to-find bourbons on the secondary market. For one thing, purchasing liquor outside of the government’s liquor distribution system is illegal. Distilleries and brands are starting to crack down on Facebook groups and bust people selling and buying on the secondary market.
Secondly, you have no real assurances that the bottles you purchase will contain the whiskey you think. Counterfeit sellers may find empty bottles of Pappy, the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, or Birthday Bourbon, fill them with inferior bourbon and reseal them for resale on the secondary market.
Some just take a similarly shaped bottle and create a reproduction of the label of a unicorn bourbon for the bottle. Top counterfeiters will know what kind of top, cork, label, sealing tape and plastic cap any bottle would need to pass inspection.
So what CAN you buy? There are a lot of ways to give a bourbon lover something they’d love.
Buy a Single Barrel Selection or Store Pick
My easiest solution for this bourbon gift guide: my go-to suggestion for anyone asking about picking a bourbon for a whiskey lover.
Find out a great local store for purchasing whiskey. I’m not talking about a Total Wine, BevMo or Liquor Mart. Rather, a small, local store known for its whiskey selection. Oftentimes those smaller, local stores will do what is called a single barrel selection or store pick. This means that people from the store either went to the distillery or had samples shipped to the store and they selected one of the barrels to buy in its entirety.
Each barrel is unique, and the bourbon from each barrel is unique. While each distillery produces hundreds or thousands of barrels of bourbon, the magic of bourbon is that each barrel has a different taste that comes from the wood of the barrel, its position in the warehouse, and the amount of time it’s aged.
Single barrel selections and store picks are one of a kind. The bourbon from the barrel is bottled, either at barrel strength or proofed down to a lower alcohol proof. But the bourbon in that barrel is unique. Once the bottles of bourbon from that barrel are sold, there will never be another bottle of that particular bourbon again. Ever.
So head to a local whiskey shop and find out if they have any store picks or single barrels they would recommend.
Buy a Bottle Made Locally
If you’re buying a gift for someone in a different location, state or region, find a bourbon they likely haven’t tasted that’s made in your region. While every bourbon lover has bottles they favor, for many whiskey lovers trying something new is one of our favorite things.
Experiencing a different type of bourbon, or a different type of finish, or a different combination of mashbills thrills us. Even if we don’t love it, it’s a data point, and one we can trade out with another whiskey drinker.
Personally, I love opening bottles of bourbon and whiskey I haven’t tried before – especially if there’s a link to the state or region where it’s made. Every bourbon gift guide should include gifting new bourbons to whiskey drinkers.
Buy a Huge Bottle of Their Daily Drinker
Bourbon lovers refer to their favorite bottles they sip on every day as their “daily drinker.” If you know what bourbons your friend loves, and what they drink more of than anything else, a huge bottle of their daily drinker dressed up with a holiday bow or wrapped in a fun holiday onesie will always be a favorite gift.
Buy a Top Expression or Specialty Bottle from their Favorite Distillery
No bourbon gift guide is complete without mentioning a way to expand a bourbon lover’s bourbon collection. The largest distilleries sometimes offer more expensive bourbon expressions. Sometimes these are available only at the distilleries themselves, but sometimes they’re available through distribution. Do a little research online and find out what bottles might be available that would be a step up from their usual drinker.
For example, If you have someone who loves Old Forester Bourbons, but they haven’t tried the full set of Old Forester’s expressions, 1870, 1897, 1910, 1920, pick up a bottle of something they haven’t tried. If you’re buying for a Woodford Reserve fan, look for one of the Master’s Select offerings.
Get a Picture of their Bar
Be a little devious: have their spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend take a picture of their bar or bar cart. You can take that picture to a local whiskey store or another whiskey friend and ask for suggestions. Or, look for bottles that are nearly empty and find them a replacement.
If you know what bourbons they drink the most of, you can look for other bourbons made by the same distillery that they may not have tried.
Give a Bourbon Experience
Whiskey lovers enjoy learning about whiskey almost as much as they love drinking it. Some distilleries offer high-end experiences, from day long classes in bourbon education and tastings to whiskey tasting flights of their harder to find expressions.
Think about a gift certificate to Moonshine University – either for their online Bourbon Steward Certification or their Executive Bourbon Steward certification taught in person at their location in Louisville. It’s a one day course in everything bourbon and wonderful for the whiskey enthusiast.
To find out what bourbon experiences they might love, find out their favorite distilleries. Check their website or social media to find out what types of fun experiences they offer their fans.
While extensive in-person are experiences right now may be on hold during the pandemic, you can get more information about the kinds of experiences offered on site with a call to the distillery or a visit to their website.
If you know they’ll end up on the Bourbon Trail once pandemic precautions are no longer in place, consider one of these experiences:
- Cooperage Tour of the Brown-Forman Barrel-Making facility
- Michter’s Legacy and Founder’s tours
- Angel’s Envy Bottle Your Own
- Woodford Reserve has a full day Bourbon Academy
These are just a few of the many fabulous experiences available at distilleries and bourbon tour companies in and around Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail, but any distillery is going to have special events to offer for the bourbon lover.
If you aren’t close to one of the major distilleries, and your bourbon lover hasn’t been on a distillery tour, getting to tour and taste at one of the smaller, local craft distilleries is still a fabulous adventure. A gift certificate for a tour or two can be even better than a bottle.
Buy Bourbon-Related Gifts
If buying bourbon seems daunting, there are plenty of other items to wrap up for a bourbon lover. (Note that I am an Amazon affiliate and I earn a small amount from qualifying purchases.)
We LOVE a great heavy rocks glasses for drinking our bourbon and bourbon cocktails. Something heavy with a great base is my preference like these:
- Set of 2 old fashioned glasses: https://amzn.to/3mpjUmW
- Set of 2 Hand Blown heave base rocks glasses: https://amzn.to/37klOix
- Set of 2 Spey Whisky tumblers: https://amzn.to/33x2w8q
If you want to give them a batch of old fashioneds, you can head to my Bold Old – Batched Old Fashioned cocktail article and give them a bottle of pre-made cocktail to go with their new glassware! If they favor another whiskey cocktail, head to How to Batch a Cocktail for instructions on how to batch any cocktail at home.
Or get them a whiskey glass designed for nosing and tasting bourbons – the Glencairn.
- The classic glencairn, set of 6 (in case they want to do flights): https://amzn.to/39FYoXV
- These Libbey Kentucky Bourbon Trail glencairn-shaped glasses have wider mouth and squatter stature just for bourbon: https://amzn.to/3lkTRME
Whiskey geeks love comparing bourbons in a flight – a tasting of three or more different bourbons at the same time. The ability to compare and contrast whiskies as we nose and taste our way through a flight thrills us. No bourbon gift guide would be complete without mentioning flight boards or sets.
Here are a couple of flight boards:
- Three glencairns and a flight board of reclaimed barrel wood: https://amzn.to/37j8cnL
- Five glencairns on a barrel stave flight board: https://amzn.to/2JcvSCl
- Three glencairns on a barrel stave flight board: https://amzn.to/2JpsYKi
You can also search Esty for hundreds of options of whiskey flight board to fill a hundred bourbon gift guides.
Clear Ice and Ice Molds
For whiskey lovers who enjoy sipping their bourbon over a little ice, large format ice cubes are an excellent gift. Large cubes melt slower so there is less dilution of the whiskey. And clear ice cubes just look beautiful with the whiskey surrounding them. It can be mesmerizing.
Here are some ice mold options:
- Combo Big Cubes and 2.5” sphere molds: https://amzn.to/3lmIqnI
- Two 8 Large Format Cube trays: https://amzn.to/2Vh9nye
- Clear Ice Cube maker: https://amzn.to/36mKNm3
If there’s one place that caters to the bourbon lover, and pairing it with chocolate, it’s Arteatables, run by Kelly Ramsey, an Executive Bourbon Steward who pairs specific whiskies with specific chocolates to create bourbon truffles. They are hands-down the best chocolate gift you can give a whiskey lover.
- 12 Days of Bourbon 2021 – a 12 bourbon truffle selection made with rare or impossible to source bourbons like Elijah Craig 18 Single Barrel, Vintage Ancient Ancient Age, King of Kentucky, Pappy van Winkle and more. Only a limited amount are made each year, so order soon.
- Small Batch Bourbon Truffles featuring bourbons from across the state.
- Truffle Collections featuring selections from the Bourbon Trail or Bourbon Country
Bourbon lovers will put bourbon into any food. From sauces to baked goods, from desserts to entrees, there’s nothing we think can’t be improved with a splash of bourbon. Bourbon barrel-aged syrups, coffees, and sauces all make fabulous gifts.
My favorite bourbon-related foods all come from Bourbon Barrel Foods. From bourbon barrel aged coffee, to bourbon smoked spices, specialty bitters, bourbon aged soy sauces and marinades, this place is a bourbon foodie’s heaven.
Bourbon drinkers love learning and reading about bourbon almost as much as they love drinking it. If you’d rather give a book than a bottle, here’s a short list of bourbon books I recommend. There are hundreds out there, so check out reviews on Goodreads and Amazon to make your selection.
- Which Fork Do I Use With My Bourbon? By Peggy Noe Stevens and Susan Reigler, it covers all the basics of entertaining with bourbon, including bourbon suggestions, holding a whiskey tasting, recipes, planning and execution.
- The Bourbon Tasting Notebook By Susan Reigler and Michael Veach is a comprehensive list of bourbons with tasting notes and basic facts about each whiskey. It’s a great reference book for the whiskey drinker.
- Bourbon: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of an American Whiskey By Fred Minnick relates the storied history of bourbon, from its early days in American history, to its decline and eventual booking return we’re enjoying right now.
- The Old Fashioned: The Story of the World’s First Cocktail By Robert Simonson tells the history of the old fashioned cocktail and includes recipes on classics and modern interpretation of the world’s first cocktail.
Bourbon and Whiskey Sensory Kits
Every bourbon and whiskey geek LOVES to get better at appreciating bourbon. The fact that you get to nose and sip on bourbon as part of your “training” just makes it that much more fun. One of the main ways whiskey geeks up their tasting skills is by sensory training.
Kits with small samples of the common aromas in bourbon and whiskey can be used for sensory training – enabling individuals to differentiate between different scents. Kits may have scent samples of oak, tobacco, caramel, vanilla, orange peel, cherry, cedar, clove, cinnamon and more.
Here are two of my favorite kits:
- Nose Your Bourbon – A great kit and an affordable one that lets you easily train up on all the common aromas in whiskey and bourbon. I’m a huge fan Chris Walters and his Nose Your Bourbon kits because they are a great price point and perfect for sensory training.
- Aroma Academy Whiskey Aroma Kit: 24 samples of aromas commonly found in whiskey and bourbon.
Bourbon Gift Guide Advice
Use this bourbon gift guide to steer you in the right direction when buying gifts for the bourbon lover in your life. If you want to make their whole holiday season, just take them to a restaurant or bar with a great whiskey selection and offer to pay the tab for whiskies they’ve never tried before.
Cheers and Happy Holidays!