(Plus three bottles and one book to buy instead.)
Drinks writer Aaron Goldfarb loves whiskey. Full disclosure: I’ve been to his home, and the guy has more shelf space dedicated to the booze than I have dedicated to books. Speaking of which, on September 25, Goldfarb will be releasing his first book on the subject. It's called Hacking Whiskey: Smoking, Blending, Fat Washing, and Other Whiskey Experiments, and if you're a real whisky fan, you should probably check it out. Billed as “not your ordinary whiskey book,” the 264-page tome instead chooses to discuss the fun side of the brown spirit with “tips, recipes, and insider secrets about the weird yet delightful ways in which whiskey is being used today.”
One of those tips/secrets is about whiskey-related gifts – also known as things you buy whiskey connoisseurs that aren’t a bottle they can look down their nose at. As Goldfarb explains, these items almost inevitably disappoint. “As a known whiskey lover, people always think they’ve discovered some ‘cool’ whiskey gift I’ll love,” he says. “And upstart brands are always sending me dumb whiskey tchotchkes to test out. But no whiskey gift beats a bottle of whiskey.”
Don’t believe him? I asked the author to run through some common whiskey gifts and explain why these seemingly thoughtful presents actually stink. (With a few decent ideas added at the end for good measure.)
Though these dice-like rocks that grace every upmarket gift shop might look cool, but they’re actually extremely impractical. “I could fill a fishbowl with all the stupid whiskey stones I’ve been given over the years,” Goldfarb laments. “I simply don’t know a single whiskey lover who actually uses these things. Who wants granite rocks tumbling toward their teeth while drinking? Chilling whiskey is not that hard either. Ice works just fine. I get it, though, ice melts and cold granite rocks don’t. Just drink faster then—which is quite easy to do now that rocks aren’t tumbling toward your teeth!”
Moonshine Aging Kit
DIY kits are a common gift for hobbyists of all types. But as Goldfarb reminds us, most of the time, it’s best left up to the professionals. “The intention behind these-as-gift seems inspired,” he tells me. “’Ol’ Aaron loves whiskey. Thus, he will surely love to ‘make’ his own whiskey.’ The problem is the white dog (unaged whiskey) that comes in these kits is typically eyeglass cleaner-grade. And, putting it in a tiny-ass barrel for a few weeks only turns it into woody-tasting eyeglass cleaner.” Good news if you already have one of these tiny barrels though: Hacking Whiskey explains how to put them to better use.
Furniture Made of Used Barrels
“You know, I’ve never looked at a dusty barrel and thought, That looks really comfortable to sit in!” Goldfarb quips. “Used whiskey barrels should only be repurposed for one thing: as an outfit for a hillbilly who accidentally finds himself naked.”
Decanters certainly seem classy, but Goldfarb says they come with a potentially dangerous secret. “Believe it or not, pretty much all crystal decanters have lead in them,” he says. “Oddly, the more beautiful the decanter, the more likely it is to be made of leaded glass, which will leach into your high-proof booze.” The good news, whiskey already comes in a bottle – so non-existent problem solved.
Things That Taste like Whiskey but Aren’t Whiskey
Nowadays, all sorts of good are getting the boozy treatment: Whiskey-flavored chocolates, Scotch-cured bacon, bourbon barrel-aged coffee. “These kinds of gifts say one of two things,” Goldfarb explains, “your friend is either too cheap to get you a real bottle of whiskey and/or they think you may have a drinking problem.” Both issues are probably best broached in a non-gift-giving setting.
Whiskey Bottle Table Lamps
“The market for these monstrosities is clearly dudes who still use the term ‘man cave’ non-ironically,” jokes Goldfarb. If you really feel the need to gift a whiskey bottle-turned-lamp, maybe this would be a good time for one of those aforementioned DIY projects. At least then, you can take pride in your monstrosity.
What you should get…
Goldfarb admits that some whiskey gifts are at least “acceptable”: a nice flask, for instance, or perhaps some quality glassware (though most serious drinkers are already pretty flush with glassware).
But working with his theory that nothing beats actual whiskey, here are three bottles Goldfarb says make for reliable gifts for almost any whiskey drinker. For bourbon, try Russell's Reserve Single Barrel. If you opt for Irish, he suggests Redbreast 12. And if Scotch is more your speed, Goldfarb says that a classic bottle of Glenmorangie Original is a winner.