Gifts for Whiskey Lovers

Gift giving can be hard, especially if you’re trying to buy something for that special someone in the confusing world of whiskey. Depending on where they are in their whiskey journey, I have broken down gifts into three categories: Essential, Important and Nice-To-Have. If you’re looking for suggestions of whiskey to buy, click here.

Essentials

In order to drink whiskey, you need whiskey (obviously) and a glass. Yes, a red Solo cup will do, but we can do better.

Any glass will do, there’s no reason to overcomplicate this. When you begin your whiskey journey, whatever vessel holds liquid is a vessel you can enjoy whiskey out of. A rocks glass is the perfect all-around glass that allows you to enjoy your whiskey however you like it. Neat, on the rocks, with a splash of water, as a cocktail or a mixed drink. Another name for this would be an Old Fashioned glass. This is one of America’s most iconic cocktails and is enjoyed by just about every whiskey drinker.

If you’re looking to “taste” a whiskey and pick out certain aromas and flavors, there are certain glasses designed to do this. The most popular is a Glencairn glass, a short stumpy footed glass that is wide at the bottom and narrow at the top to concentrate aromas as they float to the rim. It’s common to find four packs of these glasses which is what I’d recommend, but two is good to start with. I find it’s always more enjoyable to taste with others, so having two will allow you to taste with one other person. The same whiskey can and usually smells and tastes different to each person tasting. Comparing notes is a fun exercise. Also, if your first tasting glass hasn’t been washed, you have a backup. This is my default glass to drink whiskey out of neat.


Drinking whiskey neat, for most people, isn’t something that happens overnight. Usually people start drinking whiskey in cocktails, mixed drinks, with water, on the rocks or a combination of some or all of these. Eventually most people get down to drinking whiskey neat to enjoy it as the distiller intended, but there are also whiskeys that I find are just better for drinking over ice. My whiskey journey included whiskey stones, ice spheres/cubes, and an ice wedge. None of these by my definition are essential, but they could be essential to someone to enjoy their whiskey to the fullest which in my eyes makes them essentials whether that’s temporary or permanent. All three of these options mentioned have their place, but if I was just recommending one, it would be ice spheres/cubes. Chilling a drink with ice mutes a lot of the harshness that people first experience when drinking whiskey neat. It also offers a little bit of dilution. Although most of the time I now drink whiskey neat, I enjoy the evolution of whiskey over ice because different flavors become the focal point of the whiskey depending on where the ice is in its life cycle. Ice spheres/cubes are also great to use in whiskey based cocktails, like the iconic Old Fashioned. If/when you get down to drinking whiskey neat, these are always great to have on hand for when you want to enjoy a cocktail.

Important

As mentioned previously, you only need whiskey and a glass to enjoy whiskey, but there are things that can make whiskey more enjoyable. For me, different glassware and the use of specialty ingredients in my cocktails can elevate the experience.

Personally, weighted crystal rocks glasses are what I bring out on special occasions where we’re just enjoying the celebration and whiskey happens to be part of the celebration, not what is bringing us together. In my opinion, glassware has little to no effect on the taste, but can elevate the experience.

For less formal celebratory occasions, I enjoy drinking out of tulip glasses. Some have stems, others are stemless. Again, this just provides a different experience while the actual whiskey aromas and taste remains relatively unchanged. There are many different glass shapes out there so it’s mainly style preference. You can also buy glassware if there is a specific cocktail you enjoy. I personally enjoy serving Manhattans in coupe glasses so having a nice coupe glass may be a better option depending on someone’s drink preferences.

Bar sets are great for any amateur or aspiring mixologist. This can be used beyond whiskey, but having a shaker, muddler, strainer, jigger, citrus press and bar spoon will cover the essentials to make most whiskey cocktails such as the Old Fashioned, Manhattan, Whiskey Sour and Whiskey Smash. Without bar sets, it can be difficult to coax the right flavor out of your ingredients to perfect whatever drink you’re trying to make.


Along with bar sets, different types of bitters are fun to experiment with. Angostura aromatic bitters are a staple and you’ll want to keep these on hand at all times. I really enjoy trying different bitters in my old fashioneds and seeing how the drink changes with just a dash or two of different bitters. Some common examples are orange, cherry, lemon and grapefruit, but mole or chocolate bitters can give you a very unique flavor experience that you likely won’t be able to find in restaurants and bars. Another thing you’ll want to keep stocked is Luxardo cherries. You can garnish just about any drink with these and it’ll work. Trust me, once you have these, no other cocktail cherry will do. Just trust.

Nice-To-Have

Does the person you’re buying for have everything already? Maybe consider some of these options. 

One of, or potentially my favorite whiskey gift I’ve received is a tasting tray or a flight board. There’s a lot you can do with this. Most have four slots to accommodate your tasting, but there are some out there with more or less. Hopefully you have someone who can pour the tasters for you so you can drink the whiskeys blind (blind meaning not knowing which whiskey is in which glass). There’s quite a few ways you can build a tasting. One option is putting the same category/type of whiskey in each glass. E.G.: 4 different bourbons, 4 different scotches, etc. You can see which whiskey is your favorite without any label or price bias. It’s hard to pick a favorite whiskey because each one offers something different, but with a flight like this you can pick your favorite… at least for that day. You can also do a flight of different categories of whiskey to understand the difference between them. E.G: Bourbon vs Scotch vs Japanese vs Irish. I enjoy this type of tasting because it’s fun to see how much the flavors differ for what is ultimately all under the whiskey umbrella. On the other hand, maybe the reason I like it so much is the fact that I can drink four whiskeys at a time and people won’t judge me.

Other things that are non-essential but I find plenty of uses for are reusable toothpicks, a kitchen torch and a smoking cloche. Toothpicks can be a fun way to differentiate peoples drinks if you’re hosting a small gathering. It’s also a nice touch when garnishing a drink versus the normal disposable wooden toothpicks. The smoking cloche is a fun way to impart smoke flavor into whatever it is you’re drinking. There are many devices out there, find the cloche is the most dramatic, over the top reveal and if it’s a Nice-To-Have why not choose the most dramatic option. You can also experiment with different types of wood chips to impart different smoke flavors, similar to bitters. The kitchen torch will be necessary in most cases to use any of the smoking devices. I also use it to add another layer of flavor to garnishes, like flaming orange and lemon peels to get more essential oils out of the skin or lighting a sprig of rosemary on fire and blowing it out to garnish a Rosemary Whiskey Smash.