Buying gifts for the wine and spirits lover in your life need not be stressful, at least when it comes to accessories and stocking-stuffers. You don't have to go with useless, decorative fluff -- rather, there are plenty of drinks-related accessories that might actually be useful to imbibers in your life.
Generally speaking, your best bet for most wine-related accessories is kitchen stores -- I live near D.A. Niels, so that's my go-to place, although shops like the Happy Cooker or bigger guys like Home Outfitters will have plenty of options as well. Many private wine stores and Liquor Marts also sell wine and drinks accessories, or you can always also try big-box department stores like the Bay.
So skip the wine charms -- we've all got them, trust me -- and consider some of these more useful gadgets and knick-knacks over the holidays this year...
-- I like one or two ice cubes in my whisky or bourbon, if for no other reason than to give my drink a slight chill. But ice cubes water down drinks, and I rather enjoy the intensity of a Kentucky bourbon or a single-malt scotch in its purest fashion.
Whether they're made of metal or actual stone, whisky rocks are a great replacement for ice cubes -- just pop them in the freezer for a few hours then drop them in your glass before pouring your drink, and they'll keep things chilly without making things watery.
Whisky rocks are available at most kitchen stores -- D. A. Niels, for example, has sets that range in price from $25-40 per half-dozen, but I know there are cheaper options out there as well. And hey, so long as you're not swirling your wines too violently, whisky rocks work pretty good in a wine glass, too.
-- For ice purists, a tray for making oversized ice cubes is a great stocking stuffer. Bigger ice cubes mean more surface contact with your drink, which cools it down quicker. And while you might think bigger cubes mean more watery beverages, consider this: It takes longer for a bigger cube to melt. Plus, they make your drink look pretty darn cool.
This is a great, inexpensive stocking stuff for someone with a basement bar; I spotted a bendable tray at D.A. Niels that retails for $7 for a six-cube tray; Trudeau's King Cube Tray makes four oversized cubes, and has a suggested retail price of $14.99.
-- If you're buying for a particularly forgetful friend/relative, the Ravi is a good option. Didn't remember to chill your white wine before company arrives? Grab the Ravi from the freezer and insert it into the opening of the bottle. The wine swirls through the Ravi as it's poured, chilling it down instantly. I tried the Ravi out on a few occasions and it works fairly well in dropping the temperature of your wine by a good 10 C. It retails for around $40.
-- If your friend/loved one travels to wine country often and brings a bottle or two home, the Wine Skin is a great gift. These plastic coverings are lined with bubble wrap, and will help get that special bottle home without it ruining your clothes and luggage. They're typically only a few bucks.
There's plenty more out there for the wine/drinks lover: glass-drying mats, handheld glassware dryers, cellar tags and so on. And if you're really stuck, you can always go for a decorative wine stopper or even the dreaded wine charms.
OMMEGANG THREE PHILOSOPHERS QUADRUPEL ALE (Cooperstown, N.Y. -- $4.95/355ml bottle, Liquor Marts)
Bright cherry red in colour and with an-off-white head, this quadrupel ale sees a touch of Liefmans Kriek -- a Belgian beer made with sour cherries -- blended into the final product. There's maraschino cherry on the nose, as well as toasted malt, yeast and banana candy notes in here. A hint of sweetness and some higher alcohol -- 9.7 per cent, to be precise -- bring intensity on the palate, with dried cherry, malt and doughy/yeasty flavours showing beautifully and with a hint of acidity that works well with the bright effervescence. This serious beer is out of this world. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö
ANCHOR LIBERTY ALE (San Francisco -- $2.64/355ml bottle, Liquor Marts)
Brownish-gold with an off-white head, the Liberty has lifted floral, orange peel, dried apricot and toasted-malt aromas. It's light-plus bodied and malty, with a creamy head and loads of dried stone fruit (peach, apricot) as well as lemon zest light peppery notes. I tried this in a lineup of eight Anchor beers and this was one of my faves. 'Ö'Ö'Ö1/2
RUFFINO 2012 CHIANTI (Chianti, Italy -- $15.22, Liquor Marts and beyond)
Raspberry, wet earth, vanilla and strawberry are pleasant on the nose of this stalwart Chianti. It's medium-bodied and fairly fruity, with cherry and raspberry flavours bolstered by earthy, white pepper notes and light but dry tannin. Nice value -- textbook entry-level Chianti. 'Ö'Ö1/2
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