And while I probably can't help you pick out a new TV for Grandma or a video game for the kids, I can certainly point you in the right direction when it comes to giving the gift of Bourbon.
As with most things in life, the first step is to know your audience. Whiskey is a personal gift and if you don't know at least a little about the recipient, you might be better off buying them something else. Here are a few questions to help you narrow down your search so you can find the perfect Bourbon to give.
To that end, the first thing to determine when buying Bourbon for someone else is if the recipient is a Bourbon Drinker or Bourbon Collector.
A Bourbon Drinker will buy bottles of Bourbon and enjoy them for what they are.
But, if your recipient is the person who loves to brag up how much they paid for a Whiskey or how old or how rare it is, they are probably the latter. I know what you’re thinking right now: a gift for the Bourbon Collector is likely to be the hardest gift to find.
But in reality, this may be the easiest gift to buy. You might not get the one that "everyone is talking about," but it's easy to get one that checks all the same boxes.
Bourbons marketed to the Bourbon Collector are easy to spot. They often have extra packaging in the forms of a box or tube canister. There may be an age statement. If so, it'll probably be in the teens or twenties.
There will certainly be a good story to go along with the Bourbon. It will probably call out a particular method of aging or blending. Look for a year of release. Release dates give you a clue that it is a limited edition release and possibly one the Collector hasn’t had yet.
If the gift you're buying is for the experienced Bourbon drinker, they probably already know what they like. Grandma and Grandpa have likely tried it all and long ago settled into their favorites. Knowing what your recipient likes will go a long way toward knowing what to buy. My advice is to take a look at their liquor shelf and see what's on it.
Most Bourbon brands have an expression or two that is a little more impressive than their flagship. Wild Turkey has Rare Breed and Russell's Reserve. Maker's Mark has Maker's 46 and Maker's Mark Cask Strength. Jim Beam has Baker's, Booker's and Knob Creek. Even Jack Daniel's has the Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Cask Strength and Single Barrel Rye.
If you are buying for the enthusiastic newcomer, then you are on gift-buying easy street. In my experience, people who are newly enthusiastic about something love to talk about that thing, no matter what it is. Bourbon is no different. In this case, all you have to do is ask them a little about Bourbon.
With just the tiniest prodding they will fill the next half hour or so with all the things they've tasted, the things they wish they could try, and the things that are on their list for their next buying spree. If you have the time and play your cards right, you should know everything you need to know—and probably a lot that you didn't need to know—to buy them the perfect gift.
As such, I can’t give you a succinct “here’s how much you should spend” statement. Instead, I’d suggest picking the amount you want to spend and using the information above to narrow down your choices.
You can, of course, pay a lot for Bourbon:
- As you get to more limited edition Bourbons, there are fewer bottles released and so they tend to be priced at a premium.
- Cask-strength Bourbons are not diluted before bottling and so the same number of barrels produces fewer bottles. This also raises the price.
- When you are talking about older Bourbon, years of evaporation means there is physically less Bourbon in each barrel they are bottling. And you guessed it, the price goes up even more.
When all of this comes together you can see prices of $150-$300 per bottle or more.
But, don’t feel like you need to spend that much. In my gift giving I try to find Bourbons in the $25 to $100 range depending on the factors in questions one and two above. Due to my budget constraints, most of my Bourbon gift shopping happens in the $30-$50 range and only goes above that for very close family or friends. In this range, you find good, solid Bourbon that comes in attractive and gift-worthy packaging.
You have choices that play off the recipient’s likes and experience so they end up with a bottle that they’ll be proud to have on the shelf and that they will enjoy drinking.
Is the recipient a localvore? Consider a Bourbon from a local "grain-to-glass" small distiller. Do they value style over everything? Consider one in an attractive bottle. Is the recipient nostalgic or homesick? Maybe try to find one produced where they grew up. Or at least one that is popular there.
Finally, don't stress this. At the end of the day, if it is a person worth buying a gift for, they will love whatever you got them because it came from you.