Holiday sips: The joy flows

Drink

December 05, 2007|By ROB KASPER

Giving the gift of alcohol can be tricky. You have to be reasonably certain that the recipients enjoy imbibing. You should have a rough idea of their tastes, and know that they are over 21 years old. Then there is the matter of money. How much do you want to spend on these people?

I did a quick computer check of what the experts have to say about the etiquette of giving the gift of booze.

Miss Manners reminded that it was rude to hand something over, brag about how expensive it was and then demand a swig of it.

American Express cautioned that the gift should be appropriate. A nice bottle of wine will be appreciated by a connoisseur, but it would be offensive to a teetotaler, it said.

I found a chart (on the Web site 1-800-flowers.com) that suggested how much to tip everyone from your pool boy to your newspaper delivery person at Christmas. The chart seemed to favor giving cash or gift certificates instead of a bottle of booze. Giving your child's nursery school teacher a bottle of Maker's Mark bourbon, even one topped with the festive green wax, could, I surmised, violate school policy.

With those caveats in mind, I drew up a list of some of my favorite holiday liquids. On the beer front, I have a habit of giving a Lump of Coal to my friends. This is the name of a dark English stout that tastes good and has a wickedly funny label. It is an ideal gift to plant in the hands of the host of a holiday party. The etiquette police frown on so-called gag gifts, but this is a flavorful beer. Moreover its name is potentially less offensive than its companion brew, Seriously Bad Elf.

Allagash Grand Cru is a bottle of beer that looks like a small vessel of champagne. It comes with that classy cage and cork top and has gentle fruit and spice notes. It makes a good impression on the eye and the palate. Because it is a winter brew, it is seasonally correct.

Every December when I put out my trash, I also put out a couple of gift-wrapped six-packs of National Bohemian on top of my trash cans, gifts for the guys who work the sanitation trucks. Natty Boh is a local favorite. One year, however, I made the mistake of putting out the beer too early and my present was "regifted" - snagged by some passing college students.

At the other extreme of beer gifts is Samuel Adams Utopias, a beer that is 27 percent alcohol, tastes like port, and costs a small fortune: Would you believe $150 a decanter? It is a gift better to receive than give, but don't get your hopes up. Supplies are very limited and demand is strong. (The Morton's restaurants in Annapolis and Baltimore are selling 2-ounce servings of Utopias for $27 while supplies last.)

I am a big fan of eggnog. I make my own with bourbon, cream and eggs, and often scoff at store-bought types. But a few years ago a couple brought me a bottle of Pennsylvania Dutch Egg Nog that they had purchased at Jerry D's tavern in Parkville. I have since found it in area liquor stores. It is made with real cream, rum, brandy and blended whiskey. I have to admit it is good, although not as smooth as my nog.

Finally on the wine front, instead of trying to pick a bottle of red or white, I often pick a bottle of dessert wine. It is a treat; a type of wine folks would not normally buy for themselves. If I were a high school teacher, it is a bottle I would like to receive. It is much better than the traditional teacher gift, a bottle of Aqua Velva aftershave.

rob.kasper@baltsun.com

See Rob Kasper each Wednesday on ABC2/WMAR-TV's News at Noon.

Liquid presents

Beer

Lump of Coal -- $6 for a 750-milliliter bottle. A dark English stout with pleasing coffee notes, this has a cheeky label that promises this Lump of Coal is "more than you deserve" for the holidays.

Allagash Grand Cru -- $7.50 for a 750-milliliter bottle. A holiday beer with gentle spice and fruit flavors, this is packaged, like champagne, with a classy cage and cork top.

National Bohemian Beer -- $3.19 a six-pack. It is now brewed in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., but this thin lager is a sentimental favorite with the Maryland masses.

Samuel Adams Utopias -- $150 for a 24-ounce decanter. A remarkable brewing accomplishment, this 27-percent alcohol malty brew is aged in wood and tastes of caramel and vanilla. Like a fine port, it is made to be sipped in small portions. It's hard to find; already it is being auctioned on eBay.

Eggnog

Pennsylvania Dutch Egg Nog -- $7 for 750-milliliter bottle. This is old-style nog made with cream, rum, brandy and blended whiskey. It's not as good as homemade, but dangerously close.

Wine

R.L. Buller & Son Fine Muscat Victoria -- $16 for a 375-milliliter bottle. Here's a dessert wine that is fruity and tastefully sweet. This choice is a good route around the hazard of guessing whether the recipient is a red-wine or a white-wine person.

[Rob Kasper]

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