Interesting and Tasty Liqueur Under $25
December 1, 2013 4:36 PM   Subscribe

What would be the most interesting, attractive, and tasty liqueur I could buy or make my father as a Christmas present?

My dad loves receiving unusual liqueurs as presents. He's open to trying virtually anything, enjoys experimenting, and has the bar-tending skills to tackle even complicated drinks. Please help me up my game from the usual scouring-of-the-neighborhood-liquor-store!

My budget is roughly $25 or less, and both he and I are in the DC area.

He tends to like savory over sweet, and likes some bite/roughness to his alcohol. His go-to drink is red label Johnnie Walker scotch on the rocks with water, though lately he's been drinking Scottish whiskey instead. He also drinks vodka and (French) red wine regularly.

The drinks he tends to gravitate away from are anything carbonated (like beer or sparkling wine) and anything especially sweet (like riesling) -- but he'll still drink those things, they just last a little longer in his house than other kinds of alcohol do.

He's a very experienced drinker, so anything "classic" is probably not going to be enough of a novelty to be a fun gift. He does like being on top of fads, though, so something that's very popular/new now would be great, even if it's a little tacky or funky. Unfortunately, a lot of the fads now seem to be for retro stuff -- but if something has been significantly re-imagined, that could work, too.

I think he would enjoy it if I gave him liqueur I'd made, and/or gave him tools to make his own (he has excellent cooking skills), so suggestions in that vein would also be appreciated.

How the liqueur looks is a major consideration -- a pretty bottle and/or interesting color goes a long way with him.

French (but not "classic" French) for Extra Points:
He's French. So on the one hand, he loves receiving French or French-inspired liqueur -- Domaine de Canton and Hpnotiq were both big hits in previous years. But on the other hand, all the classic French stuff, like Calvados or crème de cassis or Grand Marnier, are too ordinary-seeming to work.
posted by rue72 to Food & Drink (32 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Fernet and other amaros are very popular right now, I bet you could find a good, funky bottle for that price range. Fernet Leopold is very good if you can find it.
posted by backseatpilot at 4:40 PM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Someone I know was recently given a gift of this book about bitters, along with supplies for making his own (some of the spices are hard-ish to source) and it went over quite well.
posted by juliapangolin at 4:44 PM on December 1, 2013

Becherovka is savoury, herb-flavoured and delicious.
posted by goo at 4:46 PM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

You could make him a limoncello and put that in any pretty bottle you like.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 4:47 PM on December 1, 2013

Byrrh. Finally available in the US. French. Heavy on the quinine.

Or anything else via Haus Alpenz.
posted by holgate at 4:49 PM on December 1, 2013

Also, St. Germain is fantastic and by the same folks who do Domaine, but it is somewhat pricier.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 4:50 PM on December 1, 2013

You could make Portuguese locor de leite (milk liqueur).
posted by bcwinters at 4:55 PM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Averna Amaro is delicious, interesting, approachable, and not too sweet. It's not really bitter either, I don't know why they call it that. It's great both in recipes and straight as a digestif after dinner.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:02 PM on December 1, 2013

Not quite in the bitter theme, but I have a friend who made falernum and enjoyed it quite a bit.

Recipe 1
Recipe 2
posted by sciencegeek at 5:09 PM on December 1, 2013

Ramazzotti is another amaro to check out: it's northern, and more cola/herbal than Averna, which is Sicilian and is heavier on the chinotto. Not expensive, either.
posted by holgate at 5:10 PM on December 1, 2013

The biggest ongoing fads right now, liqueur and cocktail-wise, surround three big things.

First- bitters. juliapangolin makes a great suggestion for getting him a bitters book. Or, you could get him a bitters sampler pack. Companies like Scrappy's sell sampler packs with 3-4 different kinds of bitters to try. It's a great trend for a reason... bitters are really fun to experiment with. Here's a sample pack of a brand I've heard good things about, available online in your price range.

Second- bitter aperitifs. Campari has made a big comeback, but the big trend now is to add Fernet Branca or Cynar into everything. Personally, I'm not a fan, but it can really add some complexity to cocktails, and it is the biggest trend out there right now. For a different take on a bitter, tart liqueur, you could also go with Luxardo Maraschino (a tart cherry liqueur that plays well with rum, gin, and vodka drinks).

Third- elderflower. This started to get popular a few years ago and it is still popular. It's sweet, but unique, and it particularly plays well in vodka or gin drinks (though you can get it to work with almost anything). St. Germain really is the best, though you will definitely pay $30-40 per bottle. But, it's often available in smaller sizes at bigger stores like Total Wine or Bevmo.

One extra idea for you: get him some craft syrups. These would let your dad experiment in some fun ways with cocktails with liquors and liqueurs that he already has in his collection. Plus, they're cheap enough that you could get him a couple of different kinds to fit your budget.

Craft, artisan syrups are a big trend right now, too. On preview, sciencegeek's idea to make falernum is tremendous... it is a tasty, clove/lime syrup. If you want some great syrups, BG Reynolds makes his with excellent ingredients, he ships quickly, and he offers outstanding customer service. Some of his flavors are geared toward classic tiki drinks (what I make in my home bar), but several of them are great for any style of cocktail. I highly recommend his orgeat (an almond and rose water syrup), his falernum, his cinnamon syrup, and his hibiscus grenadine. If you order from Reynolds, I would suggest getting at least 3-4 of his different 5 oz. sample size bottles. These are enough to make several drinks with, each, as you'd normally only use 1/2 oz or 1 oz of syrup per cocktail, at most. If your dad loves them, you can order him larger bottles of the ones he likes most later.

Best of luck in finding something fun!
posted by Old Man McKay at 5:16 PM on December 1, 2013 [6 favorites]

If he's at all interested in gin, you could try Green Hat gin, which is made in DC. It's tasty, local, and you can visit the distillery!
posted by harrumph at 5:26 PM on December 1, 2013

Riga Balzams is a black, herbaceous, bitter drink, that was made originally as a herbal tonic, but is drunk recreationally (if you can get beyond how very bitter and weird it is). I gather it is very unusual in the US, but I did find an old Chowhound thread with this info for the US importer (altho this is from a few years ago, so may not be valid):

Baltic Trade Corporation
Wholesale Liquor Products
6600 Smith Rd
Denver, CO 80207
Tel: (303) 286-3587

It comes in a blackcurrant flavour that is supposed to be easier to drink, but the classic one is terrific in things like coke, to give a sort of super delicious chinotto like drink. It is very alcoholic.
posted by Kaleidoscope at 5:27 PM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you can find it, a gentian liqueur like Salers or Suze would be very authentic French, classic but not 'ordinary'. Somewhat bitter, usually a before-dinner aperitif. Not easy to find in the U.S., but my guess is that your chances would be fairly good in the D.C. area. Should be roughly in the price range you're thinking of, might trend slightly higher simply for being unusual.
posted by gimonca at 5:47 PM on December 1, 2013

Riga Balzams is a black, herbaceous, bitter drink, that was made originally as a herbal tonic, but is drunk recreationally

Oh, that reminds me of Unicum, and they're selling the real stuff in the US again, though NYC is the nearest place stocking it.
posted by holgate at 5:58 PM on December 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Byrrh is something I tried recently and loved. It's based on French red wine, and it's almost Pimm's-like. It's had a resurgence, but was never popular in the US to start, so it's pretty faddy.
posted by Stewriffic at 6:14 PM on December 1, 2013

Leopold Brothers make fantastic liqueurs. The tart cherry is a highlight since they're originally from Michigan (where they brewed beer). However, if you're also open to liquor:

Aquavit - Linie is by far my favorite
Pastis - Henri Bardouin is easy to find and not sickly sweet and boring like the Pernod types
Amari - I'm not a huge fan of Cynar (made from artichokes!) or Averna, as they're too sweet. The most interesting one, and it's fairly difficult to stomach for some, is Amaro Dell'Erborista. Don't get the Leopold Brothers one, it's their only strikeout.
posted by kcm at 7:02 PM on December 1, 2013

Skåne aquavit, from Sweden's southernmost county, is made with caraway, anise and fennel. It's delicious.
posted by blob at 8:39 PM on December 1, 2013

Riga Black Balsam is an herbal, bitter, dark liqueur that is something like coffee crossed with rosemary. In spite of that terrible description, it's delicious, and worth hunting down. You can also order it online from Wine Anthology.
posted by brina at 8:48 PM on December 1, 2013

Hundred proof Arak from Syria
posted by hortense at 8:51 PM on December 1, 2013

Orgeat. He can substitute cucumber for pineapple in a Mai Tai if he digs Polynesian fare.
posted by oceanjesse at 10:09 PM on December 1, 2013

I like Becherovka as well. It's got a nice balance of flavors, but enough bite that it gives me a little shiver. It's really good for having a shot 10-15 minutes before eating a nice meal; it sort of wakes up my digestive system.

It used to be an obscure thing that meant you had visited Prague sometime, but it seems like it's getting more popular, and some people are using it for cocktails instead of straight. So there a little bit of being ahead of a trend.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:22 PM on December 1, 2013

Oh, and if he likes to try extreme tastes, there's Jeppson's Malört, described as "one of those little fossilized pieces of culture left in Chicago. Malört went from this niche ethnic drink to a Chicago phenomenon". The label states:
Most first-time drinkers of Jeppson Malort reject our liquor. Its strong, sharp taste is not for everyone. Our liquor is rugged and unrelenting (even brutal) to the palate. During almost 60 years of American distribution, we found only 1 out of 49 men will drink Jeppson Malort. During the lifetime of our founder, Carl Jeppson was apt to say, 'My Malort is produced for that unique group of drinkers who disdain light flavor or neutral spirits.'

It is not possible to forget our two-fisted liquor. The taste just lingers and lasts - seemingly forever. The first shot is hard to swallow! PERSERVERE [sic]. Make it past two 'shock-glasses' and with the third you could be ours...forever"
I've never tried it, but have become curious about it myself. If your Dad has friends who share his curiosity they might have a fun night trying it.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:28 PM on December 1, 2013

Pavan is very sweet but the bottle is lovely. And it's French!
posted by bahama mama at 10:52 PM on December 1, 2013

It is a bit more than you asked for ($35ish), but Green Hat is doing a seasonal booze right now called ginavit, which is a really fun hybrid of a gin and an aquavit. One other possibility is sherry, which is very trendy right now and where you can get great bottles for not much money at all. If you stick with fino or manzanilla, it is saline and complex, not sweet at all. I know Weygandt Wine in Cleveland Park has a small collection of some delicious single barrel (en rama) sherries, as well as a small but interesting liquor selection.
posted by Schismatic at 4:43 AM on December 2, 2013

The Art in The Age boozes would come in around the $25 dollar mark. Sage is sort of a gin-like booze which is really the only savory one but Rhubarb Tea is my favorite; very unique and would be more of a liqueur to mix in a cocktail.
posted by itsonreserve at 6:00 AM on December 2, 2013

What if you take a basic spirit, and infuse it? I've had good luck with Basil-infused vodka and jalapeno-infused tequila, but you can find a strange or unusual taste he likes, stick it in closed jar with a matching spirit, and leave it until xmas. Before you give it to him, drain out the solid so that all remains is the flavored spirit.
posted by likeatoaster at 7:21 AM on December 2, 2013

Don't entirely discount Grand Marnier. One of the most extraordinary things I've ever tasted was a long-aged Grand Marnier, though they're expensive. You don't really taste it so much as smell it with your whole body. Pastis is also quite refreshing, especially on a hot day.
posted by answergrape at 7:25 AM on December 2, 2013

Grapefruit and tarragon-infused vodka (for making salted tarragon greyhounds) sounds pretty delicious.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 7:34 AM on December 2, 2013

Old Man McKay: " Here's a sample pack of a brand I've heard good things about, available online in your price range."

I can highly recommend The Bitter Truth's Traveller's Sampler. There's one bottle I don't use at all, but the others (Celery, Jerry Thomas, Orange, and Aromatic) are all winners I use frequently.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:39 PM on December 2, 2013

Sour Beers are trendy in America right now. I don't think your dad will like them given his tastes though. But they are wild and under $25. Russian River is a lauded brewer of sours.

Probably harder to get - Dogfish Head makes liquor and sells it out if their brewpub in Delaware. Their Jin (gin) is different and very drinkable.

Oh! speaking of Dogfish Head, they made a couple beers that aim to recreate ancient beer recipes.
posted by jander03 at 6:53 PM on December 2, 2013

Stoli makes a jalapeno vodka. Could go well in savory applications like bloody marys. There are also plenty of tutorials online about how to make your own jalapeno-infused vodka.
posted by LaurenIpsum at 12:31 PM on December 3, 2013

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