A bottle of good liquor is one of the easiest ways to lift spirits this holiday season. Choose something local for extra points, which you’ll score with both neighbors (who’ll appreciate the community support) and with out-of-towners (who’ll be bowled over by what great booze the Philly area has to offer).
Here’s a guide to the 10 best high-proof gifts for the 2017 giving season. Bookmark it for easy access and you’ll never have to show up to that pollyanna empty-handed again.
At his small Frankford Avenue distillery, Rowhouse Spirits founder Dean Browne corrals 19 different herbs and spices into this herbal liqueur to create an amaro that’s both soothing and perky. Think Fernet Branca, but with more distinct flavors, and an unforgettable finish that’s like a grownup version of an Atomic Fireball.
$35; available at select Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores and at the distillery (2440 Frankford Ave.)
The LCB powers that be liked Herman Mihalich and John Cooper’s regular rye whiskey so much that last summer, they selected several of their favorite barrels and had them bottled at cask strength. It’s not the special Danya Blend (which sold out at the Bristol, Pa., distillery last month), but it’ll be similar, with a sharp, peppery bite and a strong, lingering finish. For the brown spirits aficionados on your list.
$85; available at select Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores
For the second year running, the young guns behind Red Brick Craft Distillery — which holds the honor of being the city’s tiniest distilling operation — have released a limited edition of this birch spirit. It’s not quite a whiskey, since it’s made from mead and not grain, but it drinks like one thanks to being aged in used whiskey barrels. What else does it taste like? Birch, pure and simple, imparted to the liquor by actual twigs, leaves and tree bark.
$55; available at the distillery (2628 Martha St.) and at various farmers markets
Bluecoat Gin is without a doubt the Philly spirit with the widest distribution footprint. Its signature cobalt blue bottle can be found around the country and in several cities overseas. But last year, the team behind Pennsylvania’s first craft distillery came up with an even better version of the signature product: one that’s rested in oak barrels. The wood mellows the gin and gives it a rich, round flavor that’s good in cocktails or just on its own.
$35; available at select Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores and at the distillery (25 E. Allen St.)
Rob Cassell was the co-creator of Bluecoat, but he now runs New Liberty Distillery in Kensington. One of the best products he’s developed is this bourbon made with a specially-grown heritage corn. The grain gets its sanguine name from the startling red color of the kernels, which are fruity and buttery. Barley and rye contribute to the final whiskey, which has a flavor reminiscent of chocolate without the sweetness.
$50; available soon at select Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores (it was so popular it sold out, but has been reupped and just needs to be stocked, per Cassell); available now at the distillery (1431 N. Cadwallader St.) and the Art in the Age tasting room (116 N. 3rd St.)
Per regional manager Art Etchells, there are a few more bottles available of the limited edition whiskey this Pottstown distillery released at the end of October — the one that’s made extra strong so it creates a solid flavor base for an infusion of local honey. Etchells notes that once this is sold out, two other new small batch products could serve well as replacements: A whiskey similar to rye and a rum aged in whiskey barrels.
$45; available at the South Philly tasting room (1603 E. Passyunk Ave.), the shop inside Suburban Station and the distillery itself (320 Circle of Progress Dr., Pottstown)
This Lansdale distillery has a thing for taking whole fruits and vegetables and turning them into drinkable form as part of its “Periodic” series. The first couple editions — “B” made of beets and “C” made of carrots — were interesting but niche, as there’s only so many cocktails that are improved by a vegetal, earthy flavor. The recently released brandy made with Pennsylvania apples, however, is much more versatile: good on its own, poured over the rocks or mixed into punch.
$30; available at Reading Terminal Market or at the distillery (575 W. Third St., Lansdale)
The impresarios behind Philly’s biggest local roastery took their coffee beans to the next level by infusing them into a cane sugar rum. The result is so smooth, sweet and syrupy that it’s almost dangerous — it’s easy to sip through a whole drink and not realize you’ve done it. It’s also perfect for turning hot cocoa into hot spiked mocha.
$30; available (on and off, due to stock issues) at select Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores and at the Fishtown cafe (1335 Frankford Ave.)
Before Sean Tracy founded Hewn Spirits in a Bucks County garage, his main gig was renovating historic farmhouses and turning them into bespoke luxury homes. Along the way he came across lots of hickory, chestnut and oak that was up to 300 years old. He saved the one-of-a-kind wood, and now uses it to age a whiskey made with American malted barley. The result has a taste that literally can’t be reproduced anywhere else.
$45; available at the distillery (31 Appletree Ln., Pipersville) and at the Peddler’s Village tasting room (Street Road, between Routes 202 & 263, Lahaska)
This spirit isn’t actually fabricated here — it’s made in Mexico, as required by law — but it’s owned, imported and distributed by the same team that owns longtime local fave Dock Street Brewing Co. Unlike many mezcals, it’s very smooth, with a subdued smokiness that’s almost sweet, and builds slowly over time to create an intense, long-lasting flavor.
$47; available at select Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores and at the West Philly brewery (701 S. 50th St.)