You’ve decked the halls with tinsel and wreaths; you’ve stocked up on Hanukkah candles and polished your grandpa’s menorah. Your New Year’s bash may get a disco ball this year (because, really, good riddance, 2017)—but you’re not quite done with all the fancy preparations. Because if there’s ever an occasion to drink fancy, it’s the holiday season. December is the time to pour Champagne (or, okay, good sparkling wine) and mix a little something special into your cocoa. And, to get through all those office parties and ugly-sweater contests, you’re going to need some whiskey…and some rum…and some gin.
Before you hit the store, do a little survey of your calendar so you can stock up in advance on liquor for special gatherings of family and friends, gift bottles for your holiday hosts, and once-a-year investments for truly delicious winter sipping.
Bubbles, Bubbles Everywhere
Buy a dozen bottles of sparkling wine now, and you’ll likely score a discount. That’s money you can put toward better-tasting bubbles for every toast through New Year’s—plus, with a dozen on hand, you’ll be ready for last-minute dinner invites and all those endless end-of-year parties. We’re partial to bright, lemony Vitteaut-Alberti Crémant de Bourgogne Cuvée Agnès (around $24) for cocktail-party situations, especially if there’s seafood or lighter snacks on hand. If your meal stars richer pork or poultry, go with rounder, yeasty Domaine Parigot & Richard Crémant de Bourgogne Brut Blanc de Blancs (around $23), or the wonderfully juicy, citrus- and blackberry-tinged Raventós i Blanc Rosé de Nit (around $24). Worst case: You have a bottle or two left over for Valentine’s Day.
The Easiest Cocktail Ever
It’s wise to be a little wary of premade cocktails—there are bad ones out there, gang—but pour a mini can of Hochstadter’s 84-proof Slow & Low Rock and Rye (around $4) into a nice tumbler with a big cube of ice, and you’ll easily fool the snobs in your midst into thinking you’ve stirred a cocktail to order. Made with rye, raw honey, dried oranges, rock candy, and Angostura bitters, it’s an old-timey concoction that’s essentially a canned Old Fashioned. The citrusy spice feels holiday-appropriate, and the pleasure-to-effort ratio is just right. Planning on serving a crowd? A full bottle of the stuff might be more up your alley.
Rum for Sipping (and for Eggnog)
You may not use a whole bottle of rum when you make eggnog, so you might as well buy something that will also taste good on its own. Luckily, there’s a wealth of options. This time of year, we often recommend the rich, complex El Dorado 15 Year Old ($50) or its more affordable 12-year-old sibling; luscious Zaya Gran Reserva 12 ($30); toasty Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 ($45); or sweet, chocolaty Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva ($22 for 375ml).
Spice Your Cocoa
I’ll always have a weakness for cocoa spiked with tequila and mint schnapps (try it!), but this year, my comfort drink of choice is a big mug of hot chocolate with a tablespoon of St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram (around $28) stirred in after heating. The Jamaican-born rum-based liqueur adds a blast of spice that’s reminiscent of pepper, clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg. When you’ve had your fill of spiced cocoa, you can pour a bit into your Old Fashioned, your mulled wine, your hot cider, your coffee, or pretty much any punch.
The Best Gin for Martinis
Fords Gin (around $30) makes a beautifully balanced Martini, its piney, resinous flavors backed up with a chorus of grapefruit, peppercorn, and coriander. Be careful: With a cocktail this silky-smooth, you might find yourself drinking fast. (I trust you’ll already have snacks at the ready.) While Fords won the Serious Eats Martini taste test a few years back, I also truly adore the super-fragrant St. George Terroir Gin (around $33), flavored with sage, Douglas fir, and California bay laurel. Don’t dishonor it with stale vermouth.
(At Least) Two Fresh Bottles of Vermouth
Unless you (or your dinner host) have bought vermouth within the last month and stored it in the fridge, you’ll need fresh vermouth to start the season right. You can’t go wrong with Dolin, especially since a half bottle is just about 10 bucks, but lately I’ve been enjoying Routin Dry Vermouth (around $23), which is especially bright and citrusy thanks to a dose of Sauvignon Blanc. It has a nice floral character, too. If you like a slightly richer Martini, try the alluring, honeyed Martini & Rossi Riserva Speciale “Ambrato” (around $18), which has a round, sweet-and-savory character and a delicately bitter, herbal finish.