Open letter to my children:
I don’t expect a gift every year on the third Sunday in June just because it has been arbitrarily designated Father’s Day, and this is not a solicitation along those lines. However, I understand that you may be under a certain amount of societal pressure to buy for me, and if that is the case, allow me to offer some guidance.
Please, please don’t get me another tie that announces my hobbies or political affiliation. (I take care of that on a need to know basis.) Stay away from “World’s Best Dad” mugs. (As true as that may be it causes disputes at the office.) Forget powered appliances that replace anything—grinding pepper, stirring drinks—that I already do by hand. (I’m lazy enough as it is.)
So what does that leave? Spirits. I could always use another bottle of whisky, rum, brandy, gin, vodka, etc. Look in my liquor cabinet for suggestions. Don’t worry that I already have some. I’ll get to it eventually.
Your loving father
Fathers are easy to buy for. It doesn’t take much observation to know what Dad likes. He’s probably been ordering the same thing for years. It's safest to stick to that. You can stray from a parent's typical call, but beware consequences. A few years ago I sent my mother a bottle of 20-something Bowmore single-malt Scotch on Mother's Day. When next I talked to her, I asked how she liked and she said, "I'm really a blend drinker." A month later I visited, bringing special bottlings of Famous Grouse, her blend of choice. I wondered if I could get the Bowmore. She just released a Mona Lisa grin and allowed that she'd developed a taste for it in the meantime.
But even while cleaving to Dad's brand of choice you probably still want to give him something special—a taste that he’s never tried or only done so when splurging. Happily, this is easily done by extrapolating on what you already know.
If your father is a Dewar’s man—or Chivas guy or Jack Daniel’s dude or whatever—it doesn’t take much research to figure out you could give him the next best iteration—or even better—of the brand he’s already drinking. In the case of Dewar’s White Label this would mean getting him the 12-year-old, the 18-year-old or the hyperpremium Signature. Beyond the Chivas Regal 12-year-old are the 18-year-old Gold Signature and a 25-year-old taste.
As well as the its Old No. 7, Jack Daniels’s offers the Single-Barrel version, which is not only taken from the upper reaches of the warehouses, but boasts a heightened proof, and Gentleman Jack, which enjoys a second pass on its trademark charcoal filtration. Being able to explain the nuances heightens the gift-giving when you reluctantly hand it over.
For a larger investment, most spirits allow you to enhance the effect. Even Maker’s Mark, which famously resisted an up-pour since it became the first superpremium Bourbon in 1957, now has its Maker’s 46. Usually the nose-bleed tariffs are a reflection of extra age. For Bourbon, that means Pappy Van Winkle 23, but sadly to find it is akin to what its like to find a Tickle-Me-Elmo doll on Christmas Eve a few year’s back.
But American whiskey doesn’t have to be all that old. Consider brilliant expressions like the Small Batch collection (including Knob Creek and Booker’s), Wild Turkey’s Rare Breed, Woodford, such single barrels as Blanton’s, Evan Williams and Four Roses, as well as Eagle Rare.
Most single-malt Scotch starts out at between 10- and 12-years-old, but most familiar brands—like Dalmore, Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Highland Park, Laphroaig, Macallan, are also tricked out to such levels as 18, 21, 25 and even 30 years.
Irish (e.g. Jameson’s) and Canadian (like Crown Royal and Canadian Club) whiskeys have similarly extra aged choices. Cognacs and Armagnacs come in VS and VSOP varieties, but become exquisite at the XO levels.
If you’re going berserk about establishing your claim as the favorite child consider such outstanding brandies as Louis XIII, Ricard Hennessy or L'Essence de Courvoisier, but expect to bring several thousand dollars in your open wallet. The oldest of the old in Scotch—40 to 60 years—are more extravagant, and you'll likely have to haunt auctions to find them.
Then again, age isn’t everything, and you could mine the many exquisite whiskies that creating magic simply by their interesting aging techniques. Glenmorangie has been the leader in using novel types of barrels (those that have previously used to age liquids other than the typical Bourbon) to finish its spirits. However, many other makers have taken up the banner.
If you're looking at clear choices—gin and vodka—it isn't always as transparent what counts as quality as they are generally unaged. Nevertheless, most brands will give you the chance to make Dad feel more special with a gloss of extra premiumness: like Bombay's Sapphire gin, Tanqueray's No. 10, Stolichnaya's Elit or even Maestro Dobel, if Tequila is in order. Vodka is practically well represented in the sense of big, beautiful bottles, like those from Grey Goose, Belvedere and Ciroc.
Of course, you can simply find a bottle that comes in a gift package. Ones that are personalized will probably remain on Dad's bar longer and become a constant reminder of your largess. Crown Royal will stitch your message onto the familiar purple cloth bag that its Canadian whisky comes in. You're probably already familiar with Johnnie Walker's pitch for etching the side of its top-of-the-line Blue Label. The idea is that those who can't bring themselves to tell their father in so many words that they love him may feel more comfortable about engraving it in glass. My kids tell me that all the time—but I still wouldn't mind them signifying their love with a fifth of Blue.