Gifting Alcohol 101

Gifting Alcohol 101

What's Appropriate And When?
November 14, 2016
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It can be hard to track down a definitive guide to gifting alcohol with aplomb. When it comes to figuring out when it is or isn’t appropriate to gift alcohol, what to look for when giving alcohol as a gift, and how to present it when you do give it to someone, there just isn’t much help out there. If it’s any consolation, humans have been gifting booze for hundreds of years, and we still haven’t perfected it.

There’s good reason for the lack of helpful tidbits on the topic: gifting alcohol is, at best, a tricky endeavor, without any iron-clad answers, but a whole lot of potentially bad choices. Why all the gift-giving drama when it comes to booze? After all, isn’t this stuff supposed to be fun? The trickiness comes from a combination of history, culture, and subjective personal preference.

In the U.S., the legal climate surrounding alcohol has puritanical holdovers from our past. Thanks to the failed moral-turned-legal experiment of Prohibition, alcohol is one of the most regulated products in the country’s history (in some cases, even surpassing the laws governing firearms) and, depending on where you live, its sale may be prohibited in certain areas, on certain days, and during certain times. Can you say taboo?

There are also a dizzying amount of options when it comes to alcohol as a gift – from sparkling to still wine, fortified wines to spirits, beer, liquors, and ciders, all with various subvarieties that may or may not match the tastes of the recipient. Does your head hurt yet? If so, that probably signifies that you’re sane.

While the prime directive when it comes to gift-giving alcohol is undoubtedly the personal taste preferences of the person being gifted, here are some general tips for navigating one of the trickiest gift-giving scenarios you’re likely to ever encounter. Consider each of the scenarios below to be ones in which gifting booze is not only appropriate, but often especially welcome.

Gifting Alcohol at a Dinner Party - Gifting Alcohol 101

Dinner or Housewarming Party

The key things to remember about gifting alcohol at a party are 1) you’re usually gifting for the hosts, not the other guests, and 2) it’s quite possible that the gift will be consumed the same day you give it. Wine and beer are usually perfect for these scenarios, and you can almost always be budget-minded here when it comes to price.

Nonvintage sparkling wines like cava and prosecco, sweeter wines like moscato, as well as mid-range beers, are all great choices. Good options for still wine (white, rosé, and red) can be had from budget-minded regions such as South America. Since the gift might be popped open in short order, a gift bag or other simple packaging – bows look fun on six-packs – is a good idea. If you decide to go the beer route, choose a local craft brew; they’ve never been more accessible. If you want to include glasses, go for simple, tulip-shaped stemmed or stemless glasses for wine, or a pint glass or two with beer.

Gifting Alcohol to Your Boss - Gifting Alcohol 101

The Boss

Gifting your boss is often about celebrating his or her occasion and helping your own impression management. The rule of thumb here? Stay classy, and give something that isn’t cheap – this is a reflection on you, remember? It’s a bonus if the booze can last beyond one day after opening, so that your boss has many occasions to enjoy it while pondering what a wonderful employee you are. Fortified wines like Madeira and port are good options, as are spirits such as cognac, Armagnac, scotch, and bourbon. These will all be in the premium range, but that’s the price you pay for a good impression.

You could make an even bigger splash if you pair the alcohol with mid- to high-end simply styled glass tumblers for spirits, or small tulip-shaped tasting glasses for wine. Try to give the gift one-on-one, in private, so the gift-giving doesn’t appear overly showy or create an awkward scenario for either of you.

Gifting Alcohol on a Birthday - Gifting Alcohol 101


When it’s your birthday, what gifts mean the most to you? Probably the ones in which it’s obvious that the giver put thought into them. Well, consider that the golden rule in gifting alcohol to your birthday boy or girl; show some thought in the selection. If they like a particular spirit, wine, or beer style, look for interesting, new, or limited-edition versions of their favorites (that usually means mid- to premium-range price points).

Extras will often go a long way toward making the gift more meaningful when it comes to birthdays. If gifting beer, remember that these can sometimes be purchased in sets that combine bottles of craft brews with custom beer glasses. For wine, look for a glass style made specifically for the grape variety or wine type being gifted. Yeah, it’s extra work, but the thoughtfulness will be appreciated.

Gifting Alcohol on a Milestone - Gifting Alcohol 101

Milestones: Weddings, Significant Birthdays, Anniversaries, Births

The reason we celebrate significant milestones in people’s lives is because they’re rare; they are genuinely worth celebrating. The gift you give here should reflect that specialness; therefore, you’re going premium price point or bust. On the bright side, by definition you won’t have to shell out for these events too often.

Vintage sparkling wine is the gold standard. Vintage wine or fortified wine will also work. If you really want to wow the recipient, try to find a vintage that matches a year significant to the celebration (like a birth year or wedding date). These are the occasions to go all out, so you can probably be as flamboyant with the packaging as your heart desires. Add-ons like champagne flutes or small wine glasses are perfectly acceptable, but don’t upstage the main gift; make the alcohol the unquestioned star of the show, and a reflection on the people and milestone being celebrated.

Gifting Alcohol on Holidays - Gifting Alcohol 101


There are so many potential options for holiday gift-giving that it could make your head pop like a champagne cork, but one of the most tried-and-true ways to handle this scenario is to go seasonal. For example, there are beers that are brewed specifically for every season, and they’re great gift options for holiday parties. Thinking in terms of food pairings helps, too; lighter fare in the warmer months works with lighter wines like rosés and white wines), and holidays in the cooler months generally see heartier fare (often best paired with spirits, fortified wines, and bold red wines).

You don’t have to break the bank on these; bargain to mid-range-priced alcohol is usually fine, but try to avoid run-of-the-mill, common items if possible – they can suggest a lack of thoughtfulness. Gift bags, wrapped boxes, or baskets are all good options for presenting alcohol as gifts during the holidays. Finally, rather than combining holiday booze with drinking glasses, consider a more inspired option to help your gift really stand out, such as including a seasonal food match instead.

When gifting alcohol, the main thing to keep in mind is the message you want to send with your gift. But don’t stress over it too much – after all, it’s a gift that will be enjoyed by the recipient!

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Gifting Alcohol 101
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