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2008 Holiday Host Guide: Elements of Spirits

Jessica Taylor, Oliver Slosser & Bruce Wallin

Whether the occasion is a spontaneous evening at home or a painstakingly planned bash for several thousand, every successful celebration has but two essentials beyond the company itself: good food and great drink. And as the masterful host knows, the best of the latter, properly served, can help to mask the worst of the former. Many a culinary crime has earned the pardon of guests who are well lubricated with the finest distillations of grapes, grain, agave, sugarcane, botanicals, fruits, roots, and vegetables. Here, we present this year’s newest releases, as well as some long-standing favorites, to enhance holiday hospitality in all its forms.

GREAT GRAPES
The god of wine goes by many names—Liber, Bacchus, Dionysus—and so, too, do the grapes that find their way to the pot still to give rise to such fragrant eaux-de-vie as Cognac, Armagnac, and grappa. A few even find their way into vodka.

Louis XIII Black Pearl Cognac
Packaged in a black crystal Baccarat decanter similar to Rémy Martin’s classic Louis XIII flacon, this magnificent Cognac is made from a blend of some 1,200 eaux-de-vie that have been aged from 40 to 115 years. Aromas of vanilla, cream, spiced flowers, and fruit precede a palate that blends flavors of passion fruit, ginger, nutmeg, and sandalwood. ($8,000, 750 ml; $36,000, magnum)

Château Montifaud Heritage Maurice Vallet 50-Year-Old Cognac
Laid down in 1904 to commemorate a previous Vallet generation, this 50-year-old Cognac bears the name of the grandfather of the château’s current owner, Michael Vallet. On the palate, the spirit conducts a sensory symphony of licorice, spice, leather, and cigar-box flavors. Though difficult to obtain, this limited edition is worth the search. ($1,310)

Cognac Frapin Cuvée 1888
This limited-edition Cognac is bottled in a showpiece crystal decanter fashioned at the Cristalleries Royales de Champagne (the royal glassworks about which Voltaire wrote in The Age of Louis XIV). Yet the contents of this heirloom piece are equally impressive: a rare blend of Grande Champagne eaux-de-vie with an average age of 65 years. The Cognac exhibits a complex amalgam of dried fruit, walnuts, hazelnuts, raisins, prunes, and candied orange, with hints of balsamic, cocoa, and coffee. ($6,300)

Courvoisier Succession J.S. Cognac
Created to mark the bicentenary of Napoléon’s coronation as the emperor of France, the 2,500 bottles of this limited-edition release are boxed in precise one-sixteenth-size replicas of Napoléon’s war chest. Each bottle is filled with a delicate blend of single-estate Grande Champagne eaux-de-vie distilled between 1910 and 1945. The Cognac delivers delicate aromas of vanilla, caramel, leather, and smoke, all of which carry through as flavors on the palate, accompanied by accents of chocolate, coconut, cigar, and anise, with a soft pepper finish. This release is currently available only in the United Kingdom. ($4,000)

Darroze Bas Armagnac, 1979 Domaine de Salié
Darroze sources single-vintage, single-estate brandies from Gascony’s Bas Armagnac region; vintages range from 1904 to 1996. The 1979 Domaine de Salié stands out among the estate’s finer offerings, expressing flavors of fig and prune mingled with pepper, spice, and deep layers of leather, cocoa, and tobacco. This Armagnac pairs well with duck. ($175)

Grappa Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi e Jacopo Poli
Produced from the fruit of Luce della Vite (a joint venture between Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi and Robert Mondavi Winery) by the grappa-making family of Jacopo Poli, this elegant grappa delivers sweet flavors of fig, apricot, and cinnamon, followed by a black-licorice finish. ($50)

Hennessy Ellipse
Bottled in an elliptical Baccarat decanter and comprising seven historic eaux-de-vie (1830, 1848, 1875, 1932, 1947, 1972, and 1995), the Hennessy Ellipse offers a graceful medley of vanilla, spice, dried fruit, and oak. ($4,500)

Le Voyage de Delamain Cognac
Le Voyage offers a sublime treat for the contemplative imbiber. The result of a meticulous blend of Cognacs, this unctuous spirit delivers a harmonious combination of leather, musk, and cherry-strawberry perfume alongside ripe fruit, toasted wood, vanilla, and spice. Only 500 bottles were produced. ($7,000)

Leopold Gourmel Quintessence Cognac
Packaged in an engraved decanter, this bewitching Cognac marries tender floral notes and red fruit with notes of citronella and spice that culminate in a satisfying finish. ($1,825)

Martell Création Grand Extra
A reinterpretation of the Martell Extra first conceived at the beginning of the 19th century, the Création Grand Extra offers an extraordinarily soft texture and a palate that reveals in gradual stages its notes of dried fruit, Gingerbread, marmalade, walnuts, and cedarwood. ($299)

Nonino Ùe Moscato Cru Besenello Vallagarina
Distilled from whole grape clusters rather than from the grape-skin residuum left over from winemaking, this grappa has beautiful depth and displays nuances of rose petal and fruit. ($156)

Ornellaia Grappa
Made from the pomace of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes grown on the Ornellaia Estate in Bolgheri, Italy, and aged 18 months in wood, this honey-colored grappa exhibits flavors of raisins, figs, candied ginger, buttered toast, and nuts before segueing into a spicy finish. ($50)

Pierre Ferrand Mémoires 1914
When the men of Cognac went off to fight in World War I, the job of distilling the estate’s recently harvested wine fell to the region’s women. The style of the period reflects this feminine touch in the form of a lighter and somewhat more elegant spirit. Aged in a dark, damp cellar for 75 years in Limousin oak barrels before being transferred to a demijohn for storage, this newly released dark-amber Cognac exudes aromas of oak, cedar, vanilla, leather, and spice, while its complex flavor profile integrates damp tobacco, dried pineapple, vanilla, buttery pound cake, and clean spearmint. ($1,200)

Rémy Martin 1989 Cognac
Only rarely is Cognac associated with a vintage, as the double-distilled brandy is often released as a carefully honed blend of numerous eaux-de-vie produced in various years. On occasion, however, a single-vintage Cognac exhibits refinement that enables it to stand on its own. Such is the case with this velvety 18-year-old made from 100-percent Grande Champagne, single-estate grapes. The nose reveals fig, floral, and clove aromas, while the palate is fruity. Pairs well with creamy desserts like panna cotta. ($300, 750 ml)

Cîroc Vodka
Made from Ugni Blanc (an important varietal for Cognac production) and a small percentage of Mauzac Blanc grapes, Cîroc is distilled five times, the final distillation taking place in a traditional Armagnac-style copper pot still. An excellent choice for pre-dinner cocktails. ($34)

FINE GRAINS
Bread may be the staff of life, but humble grains, in the hands of a skilled distiller, also yield fiery waters that give new life to the thirsty imbiber. Indeed, the Scottish Gaelic and Irish words for whisky (uisge beatha and uisce beatha, respectively) are both loan-translations of the Latin phrase aqua vitae, or "water of life." The world’s first vodkas, too, are believed to have come not from potatoes but from grains—and no doubt these early examples of that spirit, like the modern ones, sparked life into many otherwise lifeless beverages.

Knappogue Castle 1951 Irish Whiskey
Aged for 36 years in sherry casks and bottled in 1987, this triple-distilled Irish whiskey is big in the mouth. Full, rich notes of honey, ripe greengages, clean barley, and oats are followed by a long licorice-and-chicory finish. ($1,600)

Black Bowmore 1964 42 Year Old Single Malt
This summer’s fourth and final release of this coveted whisky exhibits complexity and balance. On the palate, exotic fruits mix with a dark, syrupy sweetness. Each of the 827 bottles produced for worldwide distribution is numbered and set in a mahogany chest bearing a copper plaque. ($5,000)

Bushmills 1608 Irish Whiskey
In celebration of the 400th anniversary of the Bushmills region’s grant from King James I to distill whiskey, the company recently unveiled its 1608 expression, a blend of 12-year-old crystal malt and 5-year-old grain whiskey. At 92 proof, the 1608 is characterized by strong front notes of raisin and honey and a chocolate-and-toffee finish. ($75)

Canadian Club 30 Year Old Reserve
Aged in white-oak barrels, this Canadian whisky exudes luscious wood characteristics enhanced by delicate notes of caramel, dried fruit, and Christmas spices. The taste is elegant, with a velvety texture complemented by a warm, lingering finish and natural smoothness. ($199)

Chivas Regal 25 Year Old Scotch Whisky
Smooth and balanced, with aromas of stone fruit, creamy marzipan, nuts, and chocolate-orange, this new release represents the welcome return of a classic. The original, which was released nearly a century ago, ceased to be produced in the wake of Prohibition and two world wars. ($299)

Compass Box Hedonism Maximus Scotch
This 600-bottle issue from Compass Box is a blend of a 42-year-old whisky from Invergordon distillery in the northern Highlands and a 29-year-old whisky distilled at Carsebridge in Clackmannanshire. Full, round, and complex, the aromas and flavors consist of peat-reek, ocean air, and subtle notes of apple. ($300)

Crown Royal XR
Creamy and full-bodied, with hints of vanilla, toffee, and spice, this smooth-drinking whiskey is produced in limited quantities from stocks that were rescued from the company’s Waterloo distillery, which burned down in 1993. ($180)

Duncan Taylor 1966 Highland Park 40 Year Old Cask #11009
Duncan Taylor has made its name bottling some of the world’s finest single-cask and single-malt whiskies. This 40-year-old Highland Park selection, which is bottled at a cask strength of 40.7 percent, offers a nose of honey and sweet bramble. The palate delivers zesty front notes, oak undertones, and a spicy finish. ($630)

The Glenlivet XXV Scotch
Introduced in the United States just in time for the holidays, this 25-year-old, oak-aged spirit was finished off in first-fill oloroso sherry casks for at least two years before being bottled at 43 percent alcohol by volume. The result combines the classic sweetness and fruit flavors of the Glenlivet with essences of nut, ginger, cinnamon, dark chocolate, and spicy orange peel. ($350)

Glenmorangie Quarter Century Scotch
This historic bastion of finely crafted single malts recently unveiled its Glenmorangie Quarter Century, an 86-proof expression redolent of blackberries, plums, and other orchard fruits. Flavors of chocolate, coffee, and cinnamon dominate the midpalate, while the finish is warm and spicy. ($850)

Highland Park 25 Year Old Scotch Malt Whisky
Located in Scotland’s Orkney Islands, Highland Park is one of the few distilleries that still malts its own barley. This 25-year-old whisky carries flavors of toffee, light peat, spice, and vanilla to a creamy velvet finish. ($250)

Johnny Walker Blue Label King George V Edition Scotch Malt Whisky
While the regular Johnny Walker Blue Label combines rich and luxurious fruitcake and cream flavors (a long-held holiday tradition in its own right), this special edition of Blue Label King George V is more restrained and altogether more layered and complex. The spirit’s limited release last year marked the appointment of Johnny Walker and Sons as purveyors of whisky to the royal household in 1934; the blend comprises only whiskies sourced from distilleries that operated during the 1910–1936 reign of England’s George V. ($600)

The Last Drop 1960 Blended Scotch Whisky
The youngest of the 82 whiskies contained in this blend was distilled before 1960, and all were barreled by various distillers. In 1972 an unknown master blender created the blend before pouring it into three sherry wood casks to age an additional 36 years at the Auchentoshan distillery in the Scottish Lowlands. This limited-release whisky (only 1,347 bottles exist) shows a deep, warm bronze color in the glass. Rich sherry, toffee, and toast aromas are followed by flavors of fig, vanilla, dark chocolate, hay, and herbs on the palate. ($2,000)

The Macallan 55 Year Old Scotch Whisky
Bottled in a Lalique-designed crystal decanter, this newly released single malt carries deep aromas. Notes of exotic dried fruits enhance a wonderfully soft, spicy finish with lingering touches of citrus. Only 420 decanters are available worldwide. ($14,000)

Old Forester Repeal Bourbon
This December, the Kentucky-based distiller will mark the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition with a one-time, limited-release expression in a replica of a bottle from the era. The robust bourbon is presented at 100 proof—a requirement during Prohibition, when the distillery received a special government permit to continue producing spirits for medicinal purposes. ($25)

Rittenhouse 23 Year Old Single Barrel Rye Whiskey
Sweet, smoky, and spicy, this American masterpiece shows oak, dried fruit, and floral notes alongside rye, caramel, and vanilla. Only 25 barrels of this whiskey were produced. ($170)

Tomintoul Speyside Glenlivet 31 Year Old Scotch
The Tomintoul distillery was originally charged with making whiskies strictly for blending. However, recent stand-alone single malts produced by the distillery have garnered respect, especially this 31-year-old expression that offers flavors of pineapple, dried mango, banana-nut bread, and vanilla—as well as wood, nut, and toffee—that overlap the spirit’s lengthy spearmint finish. ($400)

White Bowmore 1964 43 Year Old Single Malt
Released this fall, White Bowmore was distilled the same day in 1964 as the famed Black Bowmore; however, while the latter aged in oloroso sherry casks, this 43-year-old single malt matured in bourbon barrels, which gave it an alluring pale-blond color. The flavors are luscious and youthful, redolent of tropical fruit, honey, and vanilla. Well worth the asking price—but dangerously drinkable. ($6,000)

Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select
With roots in the Bluegrass Region of central Kentucky, this small-batch, dark-honey-colored bourbon shows powerful vanilla, fruit, sweet cocoa, and just a dash of black pepper on the nose. The palate is rich, round, and smooth, with complex hints of mint, tobacco, leather, and fruit. ($30)

Jean-Marc XO Vodka
Made from wheat and distilled nine times during a five-week process in Cognac, France, this pristinely clear, perfumelike spirit is a favorite among vodka aficionados, who appreciate its opulent texture and sublime nuances of herb, citrus, toasted almond, and vanilla ice. ($50)

Ketel One
Named for the 140-year-old Distilleerketel #1 copper pot still in which it is processed, this wheat-based vodka delivers smoky accents that blend well with its lighter floral notes. ($25)

Oval Vodka
The purity of this vodka is evident from the first sip, which tastes fresh and clean as water. A very drinkable vodka, whether mixed or simply consumed straight. ($37)

Prairie Organic Vodka
This corn-based spirit is produced in partnership with a co-op of more than 900 organic farmers. The notes of pear on the front palate are subtle, while the finish is creamy. ($25)

ENLIGHTENED AGAVE
According to Mexican mythology, the agave plant comes from Mayahuel, the Aztec goddess whose 400 breasts secrete pulque, or fermented agave juice. For this reason, she is regarded as a particularly benevolent deity by the people of Jalisco, on whom she bestowed the secrets of making tequila—a divine art that they continue to practice for the enjoyment of all mortals.

Cabo Uno
The herbaceous pine and fruit aromas of this honey-colored tequila prepare the way for chocolate and honey notes in the mouth. Balanced and earthy after aging 38 months in American oak, this spirit should be sipped slowly and savored. ($250)

Casa Noble Blanco Tequila
Sure to please the purist on your list, this colorless, triple-distilled tequila offers everything one would expect from a smooth, fine-drinking blanco. Earthy with citrus, sweet herbal candy, and pepper essences, it shows best sipped as an aperitif before lunch or dinner, or on a hot afternoon, mixed with fruit juice on the rocks. ($35)

Clase Azul Tequila Ultra
Made from agave grown in the Los Altos highlands of Jalisco, this extra-aged tequila was cellared for a minimum of three years in sherry oak barrels, resulting in a bright, reddish-amber color. It exhibits honeylike flavors laced with toasted oak, vanilla, spice, caramel, and agave. The Talavera ceramic bottle is decorated with pure silver, platinum, and 24-karat gold. ($1,800)

Don Julio Real Tequila
Toffee, vanilla, and wood aromas give way to roasted agave in this pale, extra-aged, medium-bodied tequila. On the palate, its mild oak flavor is accented by chocolate, tropical fruit, and caramel during a long, spicy finish. Best served neat in an oversize snifter and paired with a cigar. ($320)

El Tesoro 70th Anniversary Tequila
No newcomer to the tequila game, El Tesoro can be found in the bar of any serious tequila aficionado. Released in 2007, the 20,000-bottle, limited-edition 70th Anniversary extra añejo is aged seven years in American oak. The spirit reveals a delicious blend of vanilla, cocoa, almonds, and spices, as well as a lingering agave finish. ($140)

Gran Patrón Burdeos Tequila
Aged in French and American oak and then finished off in barrels sourced from Chateaux Margaux, this ultrapremium, dark-copper-colored tequila shows strong wood flavors with notes of vanilla and dried fruit. Its Bordeaux-like characteristics are reminiscent of a finely aged Cognac. Enjoy this one after dinner in an oversize snifter. ($550)

PRAISING CANE
"A reed which gives honey without bees," wrote one of Alexander the Great’s admirals in 325 B.C. of the abundant sugarcane he discovered in India. Thus began this staple’s extended export to the greater world—first to the Middle East, then, a millennium later, to Europe, where it became a prized status symbol among the royal courts. Christopher Columbus first introduced the sweet stalk to the New World; not long afterward, other Europeans introduced the West Indies to the pot still. And the rest is history worth drinking to.

Appleton Estate Reserve 30 Year Old Jamaica Rum
As smooth as a Bob Marley melody and as sweet as a plantain tart, this new, limited-edition rum from Jamaica’s Appleton Estate soothes the soul with flavors of charred oak, maple, orange peel, and vanilla. ($250)

Clément X.O. Rum
The aged rhums agricoles from Martinique producer Clément have few peers among premium rums. The company’s Cuvée Homère is a syrupy-smooth blend of the best vintages from the past 15 years, but the Clément X.O. digs deeper into the cellar, incorporating vintages from as far back as 1952. Toffee, toast, caramel apple, and tobacco are just a few of the flavors one encounters on this roller-coaster ride of a rum. ($135)

English Harbour 25 Year Old Rum
This Antiguan rum is unusually light, crisp, and refreshing for a spirit that has spent 25 years aging in former whiskey and bourbon barrels. Hot on the nose, the rum mellows to a palate of sweet plum and caramel followed by a cinnamon finish. ($400)

Gosling’s Family Reserve Old Rum
Connoisseurs of single-malt Scotch will find a friend in this oaky, spicy, leathery rum from Bermuda. Though made from the same blend as Gosling’s Black Seal Rum—the core ingredient in Bermuda’s Dark ’N’ Stormy cocktails—the longer-aged Family Reserve is best enjoyed neat. ($70)

Neisson Rhum Agricole Réserve Spéciale
Distilled from fresh sugarcane juice instead of molasses, the rums of the French-controlled island of Martinique have earned their own Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée: rhum agricole. This medium-amber-colored spirit—a blend of rums aged up to 10 years—shows glorious spice on the nose and long, complex flavors on the finish. ($65)

Plantation rum guyana old reserve 1990
Produced in small quantities and aged 13 years in oak casks by the French Cognac distiller Pierre Ferrand, this ruby-tinged gold rum exudes a burst of hot spice followed by fruit, vanilla, molasses, and leather on an exceedingly long finish of cinnamon, wood, and nut. ($70)

Pusser’s 15 Year Old Rum
The original Pusser’s was a 95.5-proof rum that had been popular with British sailors for 300 years before its production ceased in 1970. Distilled in 200-year-old pot stills and aged in wood, this 1810 recipe offers a more drinkable 80-proof version of the original spirit. ($70)

Pyrat Cask 1623 Rum
Creamy and rich, this rare premium spirit is aged in oak for 40 years and exhibits a beautiful amalgam of intense vanilla and nutmeg flavors more akin to those of a fine Cognac than to those of a rum. Save this one for yourself and your most discerning guests. ($250)

Sagatiba Pura Cachaça
Introduced to the U.S. market in the spring of 2007, this cachaça offers flavors of fresh cane and a clean, fruity essence on its warm finish. ($30)

Zacapa 23 Rum
While most rums hail from hot Caribbean climes, this blend of 6-to-23-year-old spirits—produced only from the first pressings of sugarcane—ages in the cool highlands of Guatemala, at an altitude of 8,000 feet. The finished product, which is now available throughout the United States, can stand up to fine Cognacs with its dark hue and delicate balance of almond and oak, honey and vanilla. ($45)

BOTANICAL CURES
Botanicals like juniper and wormwood have acquired reputations over the centuries for bestowing various medicinal benefits. Long before the British began drinking gin to ward off mosquitoes in their tropical colonies, 14th-century Europeans drank juniper elixirs to fight bubonic plague. Similarly, "the age of absinthe" began in the 19th century, when French soldiers received doses of the green distillate as inoculation against malaria. Although these treatments eventually proved to be mere palliatives, we continue to drink these drafts to our good health.

Cadenhead’s Old Raj 92 Proof
This lower-octane version of the 110-proof classic Old Raj Blue Label possesses the same pale yellow color (the effect of adding a smattering of saffron to the still), but its distinctive flavor is more mellow and accessible than that of the original. A bouquet of botanical and floral notes perfectly complements the juniper, light fruit, and lemon-peel flavors, while a sustained, spicy finish adds great complexity to this well-integrated and eminently drinkable spirit. ($55)

Campari Bitters
A key component in the Negroni cocktail, this Italian aperitif comes from a secret 150-year-old recipe consisting of more than 60 botanicals, herbs, and spices. A beautiful addition to the juice of blood oranges. ($27)

Citadelle Gin
Perfect for those who take their martinis dry, this French gin made by Cognac Ferran is ready straight out of the freezer. The flavor is clean, vibrant, and smooth, thanks to a revived 1771 recipe that calls for 19 fresh botanicals, including violet root, coriander, orange peel, cinnamon, almonds, and anise. ($29)

Crispin’s Rose Liqueur
Created in a French Charentais still from a rose-petal-infused apple-and-honey distillate, this amber liqueur has a strong floral nose and a sweet yet slightly tannic taste. ($85)

No. 209 Gin
Distilled on Pier 50 in San Francisco, this clean-drinking gin—with its combination of citrus flavors and hints of cinnamon and juniper—has quickly attained cult status and makes a delicious martini. ($35)

Pernod Aux Plantes D’Absinthe Supérieure
With the absinthe ban now lifted in the United States, the 19th-century classic returns to these shores under the Pernod Fils brand name. This small-batch spirit shows best as an aperitif before dinner (properly known in Paris as l’heure verte, or the green hour) to awaken the senses and whet the appetite. ($70)

Right Gin
Not your father’s big juniper bomb, this clear gin is lighter, with more citrus and creamy notes reminiscent of lemon sorbet. ($40)

Versinthe Aux Plantes D’Absinthe
Combining more than 20 botanicals, this recently rereleased absinthe tastes much as it did 100 years ago. Served best cut with cold water and poured over a sugar cube. ($60)

Whitley Neill London Dry Gin
Produced in small batches in an antique copper pot still, this gin contains two African botanicals: baobab fruit and Cape gooseberry. Other components—including juniper berries, coriander seeds, citrus peels, orris and angelica roots, and cassia bark—contribute to this aromatic and creamy spirit. ($29)

FRUITS, ROOTS AND VEGETABLES
Humble introverts who show up to the party as dazzling extroverts not only take us by surprise, but prompt us to wonder what they’ve been imbibing beforehand. Certain spirits, after all, tend to draw out a person’s inner self. Although none of these exotic spirits is guaranteed to effect so illuminating a metamorphosis, each does reveal its own personality, intensifying the character of the fruit, root, or vegetable from which it is distilled.

Chambord Black Raspberry Liqueur
Presented to King Louis XIV during a hunting trip in the Loire Valley, this black-raspberry liqueur mixes beautifully with Champagne, or makes a fruity complement to margaritas, martinis, or Manhattans. ($35)

Chopin Vodka
Made in Poland from potatoes and named after the country’s most prominent figure, this creamy, quadruple-distilled spirit pairs harmoniously with the saltiness of olives. ($40)

Christmas Plum Liqueur
This high-quality plum liqueur, produced by the Etter family of Switzerland, is derived from organically grown Loehr plums and exhibits lush, fruity flavors, as well as cinnamon, coriander, and clove. Serve chilled. ($28)

Domaine de Canton French Ginger Liqueur
Made from a combination of Vietnamese baby ginger, Tunisian ginseng, cane sugar, Tahitian vanilla, orange-?blossom honey, and Grande Champagne VSOP and XO Cognacs, this sweet and spicy liqueur adds a warming boost to Champagne, sparkling water, or a vodka martini. Wonderfully decadent served over vanilla ice cream. ($32)

Grand Marnier Cuvée du cent-cinquantenaire Liqueur
Combining macerated oranges from the tropics with a special selection of rare XO Cognacs from France’s Grande Champagne region, this postprandial favorite offers the exotic marmalade characteristics of its classic cousin, as well as earthy hints of nuts and wood. ($225)

Grey Goose La Poire
The French region of Cognac is best known for producing some of the world’s great brandies, but it also distills one of the world’s most requested vodkas. Among Grey Goose’s portfolio of wheat-based vodkas, La Poire ("pear"), released last year, stands out as an appropriate holiday choice (the partridge, at any rate, is partial to it) and a lovely vodka for sipping. ($35)

Hendrick’s Gin
Happily, this once hard-to-find gin has become an accessible mainstay of serious gin drinkers. Garnish with cucumber slices instead of olives to bring out its best nuances. ($33)

Lillet French Aperitif Wine
Made from Bordeaux grapes blended with fruit-steeped brandies and aged for one year in French oak, this classic French aperitif offers the non-whiskey drinker in the group a refreshing alternative. Serve chilled on the rocks with orange zest. ($18)

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