Santa is quite generous with the Henry McKenna. | Photo by Sara Havens

Besides getting two days off next week, I really don’t have the time or enthusiasm for Christmas this year. Don’t get me wrong — I like buying gifts for other people and I can mildly tolerate holiday music if it’s sung by Mariah Carey or Elvis. 

But this will be the first Christmas I have to go through without my mom, and if I could fast-forward to New Year’s Eve, I wouldn’t hesitate. Granted, I’ve never much cared for the holiday as an adult, but we had our fair share of traditions and routines that won’t be taking place this year.

Maybe next year we’ll be ready.

I’m actually looking forward to spending Christmas Eve at The Back Door with my brother in a dark corner booth where we can toast to memories and inhale a plate of hot wings. 

But I digress. I’m here to tell you what I’d put on my Christmas list so that if there’s someone you’re buying for who likes bourbon and Michelob Ultra as much as I do, you have some ideas.

Of course I like all the spirits of Christmas — local and mass-produced — so here are some last-minute gift suggestions for that Bar Belle/Bloke on your list …

Cocktail Classes!

I recently attended two cocktail classes at local distilleries and found them to be not only fun but informative and — best of all — interactive. They’re what a college science lab should have been like.

Master Taster Jackie Zykan led our cocktail class at Old Forester. | Photo by Sara Havens

The first class where I brushed up on my mixology skills was at Old Forester Distillery with Master Taster Jackie Zykan. Titled “When Life Gives You Lemons,” the 90-minute event showcased the secrets of making citrus-forward cocktails. 

I made this here Seasonal Smash all by myself. | Photo by Sara Havens

Zykan first explained the ingredients, tools and methodology behind making three cocktails, and then she gave us the bourbon to make each one (I may have been a little heavy-handed with the pour).

From a Seasonal Smash to a Traditional Punch, each drink was rather easy to concoct and would be something you could whip up for a party or for yourself after a tough day at the office/track/casino/mall. 

Participants also got to take home Old Forester’s oleo saccharum, which was a key ingredient in making these drinks delicious AF, as the kids who are over 21 would say.

I also learned one lemon only makes one ounce of juice, and hand-squeezed juice only stays fresh for eight hours.

The next class they twisted my arm to attend was the “Behind the Bar Class” at Angel’s Envy.

We learned the proper stirring method. | Photo by Sara Havens

Typically held on the last Thursday of each month, this fun session included a full tour, advice and instruction from a top-notch bartender and a chance to step behind the bar to make a handful of cocktails. 

Super excited about the drink I made | Photo by Laura Bowser

The distillery flew in Portland, Ore., bartender and Whiskey Guardian Angel Teta for the event, and she was able to take her vast knowledge of drink-makin’ and boil it down for those not familiar with shakers, strainers and bitters. 

Our sizable group made two cocktails each using all the tools spread out in front of us, and we not only shook and stirred but also spritzed a glass with absinthe and flamed an orange peel — with real fire!

Many distilleries in town and throughout Kentucky offer similar classes like these, and I think they’d make the perfect gift for that imbiber on your list who likes to throw parties, or the one who never leaves home until St. Patrick’s Day. 

Tickets!

I don’t know when it became uncool to give gift cards for Christmas, because that’s something I can actually use, unlike Chia Pets, Shake Weights and sweaters that don’t fit.

Fill ‘er up! | Courtesy of Bourbon Classic

But if you’re one of those people who crumble under societal pressures, giving the gift of tickets to a fun event is a solid second choice — and it’s local!

So what events am I talking about? How about any of the following:

Bourbon!

These are a few of my favorite things … | Photo by Sara Havens

Let’s just cut to the chase here. If you want to make people happy, give them bourbon. Or, depending on their tastes, give them wine, give them locally-made/hoppy-as-hell beer, give them spiced rum and — if they like vodka — give them a death stare. 

This time of year, my phone often blows up not from an uptick in Tinder matches but from friends who need bourbon advice. They’re standing in the bourbon aisle at their locally owned liquor store and they’ve gotten dazed and confused by the amount of choices.

“What should I get my dad?” “What can you find here that you can’t in other states?” “What can I bring to a party that is cheap but doesn’t make me look bad?” “Do you have Pappy?”

No, I don’t have any Pappy (or do I?), and you’re not going to find it on a shelf. So let’s move on.

One quick hint of finding something you can’t find in other states is to pick up your store’s single-barrel selections — if they do them. Anytime you can find a specially selected product by a store or restaurant/bar, it’s automatically something that can’t and won’t be produced again.

It’s a single barrel, after all, and no two barrels are exactly the same or produce the same juice. 

Taj is selling its hand-picked single barrel Four Roses. | Courtesy of Taj

So who does these picks? Off the top of my head, I recommend Westport Whiskey & Wine, The Wine Rack, The Keg Liquors, Liquor Barn, Liquor World (Lagrange Road), Liquor World (Old Henry) and Prospect Liquors & Wine.

Sometimes you can also purchase them from bars that have a license to sell packaged liquor, and those include Proof on Main, Taj, The Pearl, Merle’s Whiskey Kitchen and Haymarket.

But if you want a quick list of bottles you can find just about anywhere in Louisville, here are 14 bourbons and two ryes I’d love to unwrap on Christmas morning, with a general price (could be more, could be less depending on where you shop).

  • Woodford Reserve Double Oaked ($50)
  • Basil Hayden’s Dark Rye ($40)
  • Old Forester 100 ($25)
  • Old Forester 1920 ($50)
  • Russell’s Reserve 10 Year ($35)
  • Baker’s ($45)
  • Angel’s Envy Rye ($80)
  • Maker’s 46 ($30)
  • Four Roses Small Batch ($30)
  • Elijah Craig ($25)
  • Micther’s Bourbon ($40)
  • Buffalo Trace ($25)
  • Bulleit 10 Year ($40)
  • Wathen’s Single Barrel ($40)
  • Old Bardstown Estate Bonded ($20)
  • Henry McKenna Single Barrel ($30)

Sara Havens is the Culture Editor at Insider Louisville. She's known around town as the Bar Belle and updates her blog (barbelleblog.com) daily. She's a former editor of LEO Weekly and has written for Playboy and The Alcohol Professor. Havens is the author of two books: "The Bar Belle" and "The Bar Belle Vol. 2."


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