2023 Holiday Buying Guide

John’s recommendations for spirits, cocktails, and more to get you through the holiday season

I love the holidays.  There, I’ve said, and anyone who just uttered a reflexive “bah!” won’t have to read on to know where my head is at as I write this.  I had originally considered a post that would be a prelude to my Whiskey of the Year for 2023, but decided against it simply due to it being too redundant.  I don’t want to tell you what might be a whiskey of the year, then have you come back again to read what actually is a whiskey of the year for me.  As I sat back (with some bourbon) and thought about the idea, I realized I’d rather share what I think would help to make it a little easier to get into the holiday spirit, as it were.  The ideas and recommendations in this post could potentially serve as a jumping-off point for someone trying to find a gift for the hard-to-shop-for whiskey lover in their life, or it could just as easily serve as a list of recommendations to check out if you have yet to try the items below.  In either case, and whatever it is you choose to celebrate this year, I raise a glass to you and yours.  Thanks for being a reader and thanks for spreading the good word of bourbon.  Cheers!


John H.




November 1st, 2023

2023 Buying Guide

I don’t do a lot of direct recommendations.  I try to bring my thoughts and opinions about whiskey to you, the reader, in an objective and conversational format, but I just don’t enjoy saying “you’ve got to try these three things!”.   The video above was something Jay and I put together as an experiment to see how our YouTube audience would respond to it. Spoiler: it was basically the most popular video we’ve released. This was exciting in many ways, but also kind of sad at the same time.

My focus here on The Bourbon Finder, and our shared focus on the Weekly Whiskey YouTube channel, has been to make a small attempt at bucking the trend of posting listicle after listicle. While it was nice to see the analytics bump from this divergence from our usual path, it affirmed that (as a creator) I am sabotaging myself by not pumping out the content that more folks willingly consume.  Sorry if you wanted top ten posts from me month after month.

Personally, I think there are more than enough “top five bottles” and “bottom five bottles” videos and articles out there than the world needs; however, I understand the value in reaching a wide audience. That had me crafting a way to share thoughts on fun and/or unique expressions of whiskey that could hoist your holiday spirits (pun intended) into a fun new realm.

Below I will recommend spirits and products that I have found to be cleverly created, or that scratch a very particular itch. This isn’t intended to be a list of the best whiskeys of the year, or to relay to you the idea that something is an absolute ‘must try this’ product. I’ll share a thought or two about each item that makes my list, mostly to describe why I am recommending it, then I’ll move on to the next. Simple enough, right? Let’s dig in!

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Spirits to Lift Your Holiday Spirit

Below is a curated list of bottles that either strike me as having inherent Christmas vibes (read: winter scenery, short days, cold weather, and holiday flavors). Some categories will have more recommendations than others, but I think all in all this list could definitely help with holiday shopping at the very least, if not by providing something of a list of things to try on your own whiskey journey.


  • When it comes to bourbon it seems to get more difficult each year to answer the question “what’s your go-to bourbon?”. As the list of go-to bottles grows, it also seems to wave goodbye to plenty of favorites that used to be more readily available than they are these days, but that’s okay. We move on and make space on the bar for something else. Something like 13th Colony Distilleries’ bourbon. The odds are high that your beloved whiskey aficionado has yet to hear about this bottle, let alone have tried it. A nice surprise for Christmas morning indeed. While you’re shopping, their rye is also certainly worth a try as well.
  • Still Austin is a Texas distillery that has continued to impress me with nearly every release. Their cask strength bourbon is worth trying all day, but if you can find a bottle of the Still Austin Bottled in Bond Red Corn on the shelf, don’t hesitate. This bottle disappears with surprising speed once opened. You’ve been warned.


  • Barrell Craft Spirits Rye Batch 04 immediately comes to mind for me. This is among my favorite ryes I tried all through 2023. The complex layers of rye spice and bright fruits are integrated so perfectly that I can’t recommend this enough for the whiskey lover on your shopping list this year. Especially if that whiskey lover is me, your shopping just got that much easier!
  • I’d be remiss if I didn’t recommend Wild Turkey Rare Breed Rye here. This was something I reviewed when it came out, scored highly, and it went on to be my Whiskey of the Year for 2020. This hits a lot of high notes: well-aged, non-chill filtered, barrel proof, and a reasonable price in most markets. This will make your rye drinker smile.

Finished Whiskey

  • Barrell Craft Spirits Cask Finish Series: Tale of Two Islands – a blend of 5, 6, & 9 year bourbons from both Indiana and Maryland, finished in casks from Barrell’s own Tale of Two Islands Rum (which was Jamaican rum finished in Islay Single Malt Whisky casks). To say that the mad scientists in the lab at Barrell Craft Spirits are on another level is an understatement. The blending and finishing and sheer creative genius they exhibit over and over is something to behold, and the Cask Finish Series: Tale of Two Islands bourbon is a unique, fun, and clever idea on paper, but a true masterclass in finished whiskey when it hits your lips.

American Single Malt

  • I’ll begin by saying this is an admittedly underserved category here on my website, but as the category itself has grown and taken on more personality (and market share) I thought I’d highlight a standout American Single Malt. Check out Westland Distillery’s Heritage Collection (the sherry wood in particular) to scratch that itch for something to warm you up on a chilly winter evening. With just enough of that familiar single malt flavor and sherry finish to remind you of a bottle from across the pond, but with a local flair and truly American style.


  • It can’t be all whiskey all the time, right? Sometimes you need variety. Sometimes…you need rum. For a bottle that hits all the right notes and brings the holiday vibes in droves, reach for Rolling Fork Amburana Odyssey. This is a batch of 9 year old Barbados rum aged in bourbon, Amburana oak, and toasted barrel bourbon casks as well as 11 year old Barbados rum aged in bourbon, Amburana oak, and toasted rye whiskey casks. If you’re not a fan of Amburana finishing and the myriad of cinnamon and baking spice that comes with this particular oak, I can understand where you’d shy away from this selection; but hear me out, the layers of flavor that come together in this bottle go so much deeper than just rum and cinnamon. Think of rum raisin ice cream, vanilla icing on fresh cinnamon rolls, buttercream, a kick of rye spice and I get a mix of both cocoa powder and white chocolate notes as well. This is as close to Christmas in a bottle as I can place any rum.


  • I don’t know about you, but brandy always hits me in the holiday feels. I tend to lean toward Cognacs (from the Fins Bois region in particular) but any number of options could open new doors for the whiskey drinker looking to branch out. I’d start with Sacred Bond American Brandy (as noted in my Holiday Schmooze recipe) to find a very budget-friendly option that is serviceable as a neat pour, or in a cocktail. This is a bottle I never stop buying.

Liqueurs & Specialties

  • I had every intention of mentioning the bourbon barreled limoncello released by Chattanooga Whiskey this year, but it was such a small limited release that I feel like it would only serve to frustrate the audience. Instead I’ll just nudge you toward trying (or making) your own limoncello this holiday season. The folks at Hotel Tango have not only a lemon version of this sipper, but you can find orangecello on their website as well. Check these out as a chilled sipper after a holiday meal.
  • For holiday flavors that just plain work, check out Disaronno Amaretto. The number of cocktails and expressions (like their Disaronno Velvet) make this a fun liqueur to experiment with. If you find yourself adventurous, you could even try mixing Disaronno with the aforementioned Westland Sherry Wood finished single malt (this will surprise you in a good way). Dig into those almond notes and sweetness and indulge a bit…it’s the holidays!

Cocktails, Recipes, and More

In this section I’m going to make a few awful dad jokes (sorry, not sorry) and also steer you toward a few ideas that may be a bit on the fringe of what’s normal, sane, or otherwise recommended.  Stick with me.  Some of these will sound weird, or may even require a bit of work, but I promise you’ll enjoy them.

Holiday Season “Don’t Do” & Items to Avoid for 2023

Let’s fire up this section of the 2023 bourbon buying guide with the things we whiskey drinkers don’t want.  Yes, the thought is what counts, but if you’re reading this article to see what to buy for the whiskey lover, I feel as though I should also warn you what not to buy as well.  It’s arguably more important than telling you what you should spend your hard earned money on.

  • Whiskey stones (stones, bullets, metal cubes, etc.) do not make for a good gift.  I know precisely zero whiskey fans who use these regularly, or even enjoy them.  I feel like you’re more likely to destroy a tooth than to enjoy sipping whiskey that’s nominally colder for having stones in it.  Don’t.  Just don’t.
  • That one bottle of local craft “whiskey” that was recommended by someone who works at the liquor store.  We appreciate that you’re trying to buy us what we openly adore (read: whiskey) but the majority of whiskey nerds already have more bottles than they need–let alone bottles that have been collecting dust for their poor quality and high price.  No offense to local craft distilleries, none taken.
  • Niche novelty whiskey glassware.  I get it–it seems fun to have a whiskey glass with a bullet stuffed into the sidewall–but realistically it’s a pain to clean and isn’t really the thing a more serious whiskey lover is going to use with any regularity.  Opt instead for buying a box of Glencairn glasses from Amazon for under $40 or visit our friends at Aged & Ore to snag their bottle flight their neat traveler (I can’t recommend these enough).

Curing the Holiday Hangover

Let me begin by saying that this isn’t intended as health or medical advice (I mean, obviously?).  I recommend responsible drinking above all else; buuut, we all know that one extra drink sometimes turns into two extra and/or more.  It happens.  We also need to get up and get going the next day because the holiday season is busy and hectic, so how do we cope?  Here are just a few recommendations.

  • Morning mimosa: I prefer either Chandon or Decoy sparkling with a dash of orange bitters and splash of Grand Marnier in my orange juice–I mean–mimosas.
  • Buffalo Trace Bourbon Cream in the morning coffee.  This can also be improved just a touch by slipping a little bourbon in there as well.  The caramel notes and creamy texture combine well with the caffeine that will (hopefully) set you straight.
  • Bourbon & orange juice.  Yes, you’ve read that right.  I swear it’s a thing, and it’s exponentially better than you may guess.  I see you shaking your head.  Just try it!  I doubt you’ll find a quicker and tastier hair of the dog recipe out there.
  • Bloody Pigs: I have to give credit to Chef Eric from WhistlePig Farm for introducing myself and my friends to this idea.  Imagine your classic bloody Mary (made however you prefer) but sub the vodka for WhistlePig PiggyBack Rye whiskey.  I don’t dance with V8 or vodka personally, but I know how popular the bloody is, and I think you could do far worse things than add some nice rye whiskey to your day.

John’s Gingerbread Eggnog & Holiday Schmooze

We’ve all heard the expression it’s the thought that counts, right? Of course. But what if the ‘thought’ is more of an internal monologue saying “I could really use a drink”? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. Below you’ll find a two-part recipe that has become something of a crowd favorite (or perhaps even cult following) around my friends and family: my gingerbread eggnog & holiday schmooze recipes.

This is a straightforward homemade eggnog that is noticeably less sweet than store-bought eggnog. I like to get that information out there early so you can adjust the sweetness levels to your liking; although, if I’m being honest with you, dear reader, I have yet to have someone say they wish it were sweeter. Do with that what you will.


6 large egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar (granulated or caster)

2 cups of milk

1 cup heavy cream

1 cinnamon stick

1 teaspoon nutmeg (fresh, grated)

1 Pinch of salt (kosher, coarse)

2 vanilla beans (pods cleaned)

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1 Tablespoon dark molasses


Separate eggs, add the yolks into a medium-sized bowl. Add in the sugar. Whisk until the creamy and smooth. Could also be done with a hand/stand mixer.

Heat the milk and heavy cream on the stovetop in a large saucepan with cinnamon stick. Add the spices, vanilla, and molasses. Stir plenty.

Temper the egg mixture with the heated milk and cream, then add the egg mixture into the rest of the milk mixture on the stove. Bring the entire mixture to a simmer while stirring until it hits 160 degrees.

Chill for at least four hours (overnight is best). Mix in Holiday Schmooze (or preferred liquor) and enjoy your uplifted holiday spirit.

Holiday Schmooze

The Holiday Schmooze is simply a blend I created to work well with the holiday vibes built into the gingerbread eggnog.  Feel free to substitute or experiment with your own unique blend.

1/8 cup Grand Marnier (or orange liqueur of your choice)

1/4 cup Old Forester 1910 (or other dark-profile toasted bourbon, Maker’s Mark Private Selects work well, as does Woodford Reserve Double Oak)

1/8 cup brandy (I prefer Sacred Bond American brandy)

1/4 cup rye whiskey (I like to be around 100 proof with the rye and I like to use Wild Turkey 101 Rye or Rittenhouse Rye)

Final thoughts…

Whew!  I hope this post has been informative and fun for you.  It certainly took an extra effort to put together these recommendations in a way that carried my message (but didn’t sound too much like a clickbait top ten).  I’m seriously excited about some of the whiskey (and other) items I shared in this post, and I’m already looking forward to where the whiskey world is heading in the upcoming year.

Thank you for being a reader, and I hope you’ve also taken a chance to watch some of the YouTube content Jay and I have put together on our Weekly Whiskey channel.  If you haven’t yet, please check out Whiskey Raiders Podcast to hear Jay and myself sip whiskey (and more) and share our first impressions, tasting notes, and so much more.  Cheers!

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