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EDGE Holiday Gift Guide: Spirits and Comestibles

by Mark Thompson
EDGE Style & Travel Editor
Wednesday Nov 30, 2011

You heard the news; you saw the footage: Black Friday was a riot of shoppers run amok. Let's face it; the holiday shopping season can take a toll on one's equilibrium. We heard about one Thanksgiving dinner where the son stomped on his mother's basket of rolls. Things can get out of hand.

Sometimes what you need is a little something to take the edge off, a little something that you can offer to a harried hostess. "Here, have a sip of this. Better yet, take a good long shot."

We've rounded up a number of our favorite elixirs and festive comestibles that are guaranteed to make you smile again and see the holidays through a gauzy blur. Take a bottle or two to your family, along with a box of cupcakes - and you'll soon be in a sugar coma, singing, "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year."


Van Gogh Vodka: Rich Dark Chocolate and Cool Peach

Two things our father loved - maybe even more than us - when we were growing up: chocolate-covered cherries and a fresh peach in summer.

We hadn’t thought about that until we tasted the two new flavors from Van Gogh Vodka: Rich Dark Chocolate and Cool Peach. While their simultaneous debut might seem a little unusual (given that peaches and chocolate aren’t the most likely combination), each one deserves a spotlight.

For those for whom chocolate means something infinitely darker than milk, Van Gogh Vodka’s Rich Dark Chocolate connotes the pre-Columbian elixir enjoyed by the Aztecs, back in the days when chocolate was a drink - rather than a candy. Compared to Van Gogh’s Dutch Chocolate, this new Rich Dark Chocolate contains twice the amount of cocoa.

Every winter, Murray Rubin of City Bakery in New York outdoes himself with a new hot chocolate flavor each day of February. Van Gogh Vodka’s Rich Dark Chocolate possesses some of Rubin’s culinary dexterity, with a heady combination of coffee, chili pepper, caramel, and nutmeg. Sipped on the rocks, the vodka is its own Black Russian - and the addition of any kind of milk or cream (including almond and coconut) makes this vodka nearly ambrosial. Watch yourself; the vodka goes down very smooth and still packs a wallop at 70 proof.

As for the Cool Peach, one inhalation and you’re amidst an orchard of peach trees heavy with ripe fruit. The essence of deep summer in a bottle, Van Gogh’s Cool Peach is the best of the stone fruit without the pit. Fortified with a touch of mint and a hint of almond, Van Gogh’s Cool Peach keeps summer a sip away.

Crafted in small batches at a 132-year-old distillery in Schiedam, Holland, Van Gogh Vodka was granted a "Royal Appointment" in 2005 by Netherland’s Queen Beatrix. The 21-flavor Van Gogh Vodka portfolio includes more 4- and 5-star rated vodkas than any other super-premium brand.

No question, we’re sending these to our father.

PRICE: $27.00 / 750 ml
LINK: Van Gogh Vodka Rich Dark Chocolate and Cool Peach


Nudo: Adopt-An-Olive-Tree w/Olive Oils

If you want to give a gift that does something for the environment - and gives you something in return, then you might think about adopting an olive tree.

Nudo is a co-operative of nine local olive-farming artisans in a small hilltop village in the Marche region of Italy - and its Adopt-An-Olive-Tree program enables you to adopt a tree of your choice, in the region of your choice, in the grove of your choice (seriously: you get to pick the exact tree you want to adopt).

Then, for an entire year, you receive all the produce from that tree. With each adoption, you’ll receive an adoption certificate - and in the spring, a package containing all the extra virgin olive oil from your tree. Later, in the autumn, you’ll receive a set of three flavored extra virgin olive oils. And also - an open invitation to come water (or hug) your olive tree whenever you want.

Best of all, by adopting a tree, you’ll enable small farmers the certainty of knowing that their olive oil (and their efforts) will receive a fair price and reliable payment.

Okay, so you need a celebrity endorsement too? How about Gwyneth Paltrow, who wrote glowingly on Nudo’s website about this family-run cooperative and how the adopt-a-tree program helps to save artisanal farmers’ businesses. Furthermore, Nudo was also anointed one of "Oprah’s Favorite Things."

Of course, with all olive oil, the real truth is in the taste - and after tasting Nudo, you’ll believe that it’s possible to live on olive oil alone. Choose from a variety of limited edition oils, including extra virgin olive oil stone ground with lemons or mandarins - or garlic, chiles, basil, or thyme - or an exemplary extra virgin olive oil, which you can drizzle on everything.

This year’s gift items include a three-piece Olive Oil & Vinegar Dipping Set, which comes with Nudo’s first cold press extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar from Modena, and a dipping bowl, all in a recyclable presentation box, complete with handle.

Or try the Three Tenors Gift Set, a trio of 250 ml. tins, including extra virgin olive oil stone ground with lemons, extra virgin oil with Sicilian chiles, and extra virgin olive oil. All of Nudo’s artisanal oils come in tastefully-designed, black-and-green 250 ml. tins (because tin protects oil from light, which compromises the oil’s flavor), which are 57% recycled.

Still need convincing? Think about this historical fact: naked Spartans rubbed themselves with olive oil while exercising at the gym, thereby eroticizing the male form.

Enough said. Order already.

PRICE: $7.99 / 250 ml. tin Extra Virgin First Cold Press Olive Oil
$38 / Three Tenors Gift Box
$45.00 / Italian Olive Oil & Vinegar Dipping Set
$105 (+ shipping) / Nudo Adopt-A-Tree Program
LINK: Nudo-Italia


Knob Creek: Single Barrel Reserve

What with the popularity of "Boardwalk Empire," Prohibition is fashionable all over again. Gangsters and molls - and bootleg liquor: it’s American history.

With a bottle evocative of a bootlegger’s flask (complete with newsprint on the label, a reference to the distillery’s habit of wrapping bottles in newspaper), Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve is a single barrel bourbon that’s as smooth and nuanced as "Nucky" Thompson. Naturally aged for a full nine years in charred white oak barrels and bottled at 120 proof, this is exceptional bourbon, handcrafted in limited quantities by a master distiller and great-grandson of James Beam.

Whether you’re sipping it neat post-prandial or on the rocks in your lover’s boudoir, you’ll be mesmerized by the smoky caramel aroma and the sweet, nutty vanilla taste. The finish is long - just the way you like it.

Named for a little creek that ran by Abe Lincoln’s childhood home, Knob Creek is an homage to American heroes and villains, united by a taste for the best. Give a bottle to the renegade in your life.

PRICE: $39.99 / 750 ml
LINK: Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve


Grana Padano D.O.P.

One recent early autumn evening, we served small chunks of Grana Padano D.O.P. alongside a bottle of Chilean Carmenere - and, to our surprise, the cheese disappeared faster than the wine. We kept bringing out more little plates with chunks of the the world’s best-selling P.D.O. (Protected Designation of Origin) cheese - much to our guests’ delight. With its intoxicating aroma and lightly nutty taste, Grana Padano D.O.P. is as perfect with a glass of wine as it is shaved over salads or grated into soups or risotto.

Produced in the Po Valley of Northern Italy since its discovery by Cistercian monks nearly a thousand years ago, Grana Padano D.O.P. was the world’s first hard cheese. Named for its grainy texture, Grana Padano comes from cows who are fed a strict diet of grasses and grains and milked twice a day. The resultant cheese with its sweet-nutty flavor is a perfect accompaniment for everything from antipasti to dessert.

Lactose- and gluten-free, Grana Padano is a rich source of calcium, protein, and vitamins - and its enzymes mimic the body’s own digestive process, making it ideal for temperamental tummies.

Serve this with a bottle of Veuve Clicquot during the holidays - and don’t be surprised when your guests ask for more.

PRICE: $13.99 / 1 lb.
LINK: Grana Padano D.O.P.


(Gift guide continues on next pages...)

Effen: Cucumber Vodka

Got a design queen on your gift list? Someone whose wet bar looks like a collection of Murano glass? We’ve got just the thing.

Made in the Netherlands, Effen Vodka derives its name from a Dutch word meaning "smooth and balanced." Think of Effen as the urbane gentleman of vodkas, which makes Effen a perfect host/ess gift - and especially when presented in its color-coordinated rubber sleeve. Not only is the sleeve sleek and chic, but it serves as a grip, as well as an insulator to keep Effen icy cold.

Based on a century-old Dutch recipe and made from top-quality premium wheat, Effen Vodka is charcoal-filtered in continuous distillation in giant stainless steel columns, resulting in what the industry refers to as "super-premium" vodka.

Of Effen Vodka’s original two flavors, Black Cherry has proven to be insanely popular - and so when the company decided to introduce a new flavor option, they searched for something distinctive. The resultant Cucumber Vodka is crisp and clean with a refreshing head of herbaceous cucumber. Inhale deeply before sipping and you would swear that you’re ankle-deep in a patch of vine-ripe cucumbers early on a summer morning. The dew is almost palpable. Even before sipping, Effen Cucumber Vodka evokes some of summer’s best moments. ??

Sip this one on the rocks, or in a Bloody Mary, or simply as a basil martini. The slightest hint of vanilla keeps this vodka sweet on the palate, not unlike the scent of a summer garden’s bounty. You’ll be toasting to your summer share on New Year’s Eve.

PRICE: $30.00 / 75 proof / 750 ml
LINK: Effen Cucumber Vodka


The PDT Cocktail Book

You’ve got to give it up for a bar whose only entrance entails entering a nondescript hot dog joint in New York’s East Village, whereupon a patron steps into a vintage phone booth to dial a number - before the back of the booth opens to allow access into a clandestine classic speakeasy.

Run by celebrated mixologist, Jim Meehan (who earned a stellar reputation at New York’s Pegu Club, Gramercy Tavern, and Five Points), PDT (Please Don’t Tell) opened in 2007 - and the cocktail lounge’s ongoing popularity will most definitely be enhanced by the publication of Meehan’s extraordinary cocktail book.

Packed with more than 300 drink recipes, "The PDT Cocktail Book" harks back to the classic cocktail manuals that used to be de rigueur in every hard-drinking American household from the Fifties. What makes Meehan’s primer invaluable is Meehan encyclopedic knowledge of classic cocktails, including pre-Prohibition drinks, alongside the history of various spirits.

As alluring as the myriad recipes are the colorful illustrations by award-winning illustrator, Chris Gall. Gall’s witty artwork enlivens drinks with names like "Diamondback," "Gold Rush," and "Rye Witch" - and even a cursory flip through "The PDT Cocktail Book" will leave you salivating for a sultry cocktail hour on St. Mark’s Place. Slip into the phone booth - and into Jim Meehan’s intoxicating world.

PRICE: $24.95 / hardcover / 368 pages
LINK: The PDT Cocktail Book


Kahlúa: Cinnamon Spice

Who doesn’t remember their first time? That first sip of a White Russian - and then graduating to a Black Russian. Sweet and intoxicating, you could have guzzled those cocktails like a milkshake - and sometimes, you did.

It was way back in 1936, in the rural mountains of Veracruz, Mexico, that a pair of brothers called Alvarez convinced a spirits entrepreneur to include their freshly-harvested coffee beans in his latest rum recipe. Genius strikes! Hello, big idea! Today, more than seventy years later, Kahlúa sells two million cases of the world’s favorite coffee liqueur to more than 150 countries around the world.

Recently (and just in time for the holidays), Kahlúa introduced its latest ambrosial flavor, an elixir called Kahlúa Cinnamon Spice. Inspired by "cafe de olla," that seductive Mexican blend of coffee, cinnamon, and brown sugar, Kahlúa Cinnamon Spice is made from 100% arabica coffee, sugar cane, and Mexican spices. Whether you’re drinking Kahlúa Cinnamon Spice in hot cider, on the rocks, or with a pinch of nutmeg, you’ll probably find yourself singing "Feliz Navidad."

Kahlúa Cinnamon Spice: it’s the essence of the holidays in a bottle.

PRICE: $20.00 / 740 ml.
LINK: Kahlúa Cinnamon Spice


Dr. Drip Coffee

Coffee is best when it’s fresh - and made just for you. That’s the secret behind the lines of people waiting for $4 coffee. But maybe you’re socking away funds for your dream house (or dreamboat). With Dr. Drip Coffee, all you need is boiling water for that same freshly-brewed flavor - without a hole in your wallet.

The ingenious solution to bad office coffee is a biodegradable, recyclable filter filled with 100% fair-trade, organically-grown, Arabica bean coffee that perches atop your coffee mug. You pour eight ounces of boiling water into the single-serving filter and inhale as the air in your office cubicle becomes as intoxicating as a coffee beanery.

A father-and-son operation, Dr. Drip Coffee has four prescriptions for your morning doldrums, including a dark-roasted Sumatra blend that will have you zipping around the office, offering "Coffee, tea, or me?" to all your co-workers.

A perfect gift for that cutie who bought you a peppermint eggnog scone.

PRICE: $8.99 / 5 single cup drip packs
LINK: Dr. Drip Coffee


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Kanon Vodka

Perhaps you, too, have noticed how more and more vodkas have personalities. Some vodkas are sexbots and some are stuffy Frenchmen - and others cool Swedes.

Recently, we received a notification of the new trend toward "cheap premium booze." It certainly caught our interest. In this economy, we’re all for two-for-one happy-hour deals in the liquor store - and one thing we particularly love is when "cheap" is "chic."

On that note, we’re happy to report that Kanon Organic Vodka has to be one of the most stylish vodkas we’ve encountered in some time. You might think of Kanon as a classic European gentleman, with a rakish side and a sly sense of humor.

Produced at Gripsholm Distillery, the largest distillery in Sweden, Kanon Organic Vodka is made from 100% organic wheat sourced from local EU and USDA certified farmers. There’s no sugar and no filtration - and only one single-run distillation, which preserves the vodka’s smooth character with no burn. Furthermore, the distillery is wind and water-powered, creating one of the most sustainable distilleries in the world. Oh, yes - and the bottle is made of recycled glass.

Yes, dear, but how does it taste? Made from pure spring water (thereby mitigating the prospect of a harsh hangover), Kanon is a medium-bodied vodka with a slight sweetness and a soft finish that makes it perfect for sipping. A sly seducer, Kanon slips into your awareness - a bit like that Swede who gave you a complicit smile. At this price, take him up on it.

PRICE: $22.00 / 750 mL
LINK: Kanon Vodka



Amidst all the holiday carousing, you might find yourself wishing for an angel on your shoulder - to guide you through the night and into the next morning, without a hangover. Relax, Mercy’s got your back. That would be Mercy, the non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated beverage loaded with nutritional supplements. Slightly carbonated and lightly citrus, Mercy contains a blend of amino acids and antioxidants that boost your body’s defenses.

You might think of her as Nurse Mercy, with a loaded IV that goes straight to your liver with a massive injection of key nutrients that help remove alcohol’s toxins.

Best of all, Nurse Mercy mixes very well - with Champagne, or vodka, gin, or Campari. Drink Mercy chilled or over ice, one can for every five alcoholic drinks - and you’ll be ready to slog your way through another office party come morning.

PRICE: $11.50 / 4-pack
LINK: Mercy


Voli Vodka

Honestly, how much Champagne can a person drink during the holidays? Oh, all right; we’re a bottomless magnum, too - but sometimes, it’s nice to mix it up a little, like Patsy’s StoliBolli, her Champagne/vodka concoction.

Patsy, meet Voli, as in VOdka LIght. Get it? Skinny vodka. Yes, we know: an oxymoron. But seriously, Voli is the first low-calorie vodka, with up to 40% fewer calories than major brands.

Blended in Cognac, France, Voli’s French wheat vodkas are electrolyte-enhanced (don’t ask) and infused with natural fruit flavors such as lemon, orange vanilla, pear vanilla, raspberry cocoa, and espresso vanilla - resulting in a drink that is a perfect fusion of light and delicious.

Furthermore, at only 80 carbs a serving, you almost feel like you’re losing weight while drinking.

Now, seriously, given the obesity epidemic in the States, you don’t want to be contributing to the ongoing health crisis - so why not do your posse a favor and give them Voli this holiday.

"Stay sexy" is Voli’s tagline. What we say is "Have a Sexy Voli Holiday." And you just know Patsy would approve.

PRICE: $24.00 / 750 mL
LINK: Voli Vodka


The Recipe Project: A Delectable Extravaganza of Food and Music

Let’s face it, most of us need as much motivation as possible to get cooking in the kitchen. For some people, it’s sex - and for others, it might be music. If you’re in the former camp, you’re on your own, but if music is your sous-chef, then this CD/book collection of sung recipes is just what you might want to help you through the holidays.

The concept emerged when celebrity chef Chris Cosentino turned his recipe for
"Brains and Eggs" into a hip-hop jam - and from there, it was only a matter of New York minutes before chefs such as David Chang, Tom Colicchio, Mario Batali and a host of other would-be rock-n-rollers were singing their recipes.

Throw on the CD and bang some pots-n-pans while thrashing around the kitchen in a heavy metal holiday frenzy.

PRICE: $24.94 / CD/book combo
LINK: The Recipe Project: A Delectable Extravaganza of Food and Music


(Gift guide continues on next page...)

Espolón Tequila: Blanco and Reposado

You’ve got to love a culture that celebrates the cock as a symbol of national pride. No, not the States. We’re talking Mexico - and the iconic Ramón the Rooster who helped lead the charge against Spanish tyranny, thereby paving the way for Mexican independence. ??

Two hundred years later, Espolón Tequila celebrates the Mexican revolution with their own revolutionized re-introduction to the United States market. What was once available only across the border (at what is widely recognized as the "Best Factory in Mexico" - which is saying something...) is now, at last, available in the States.??

Award-winning Espolón Tequila’s 100% pure Blue Agave tequila is distilled in the highlands of Jalisco, Mexico by the renowned Master Distiller Cirilo Oropeza. Oropeza brings decades of expertise to his vocation and handcrafts Espolón Tequila into two distinct creations.??

Winner of the 2008 Gold Medal in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, Espolón Tequila Blanco is a diamond-clear elixir with a hint of caramel fudge upon first inhale. A full-bodied tequila, reminiscent of caramelized tropical fruits, grilled to succulent perfection, Espolón Tequila Blanco is what you want to order when ordering a shot. ??

As for the Espolón Tequila Reposado, which has been aged six months in oak barrels, this golden-rich tequila has similar caramel overtones, with notes of roasted vanilla and spiced fruits. Sip this one slowly - and enjoy its añejo-like wood spiciness.??

Beautifully packaged in a sleek and stylish bottle with a redesigned decorative label (by Landor Associates) and a wooden stopper, Espolón Tequila works as well as a presentation gift as it does on the top shelf of your in-home bar. ??

Besides, that label with its skeleton astride a rooster is tequila surreal.?

PRICE: $27.99 / 750 ML
LINK: Espolón Tequila: Blanco and Reposado



In case you have yet to notice, there’s a whole new generation of energy drinks - fueled by all-natural ingredients. 28Black and 28White are the first all-natural beverages powered by the açaí berry. You know, the Brazilian superfood from the açaí palm that grows in the Amazonian rainforest. The berry that can make you young again, dissolve any love handles, grow you a full head of hair, lift your ass, and whiten your teeth - all at the same time. All right, so some of those claims have yet to be proven - but we are here to tell you that 28Black and 28White, when mixed with vodka, rum, gin, or tequila (separately or all at once - your call) is all but certain to make you feel whatever you want to feel.??

Introduced in Germany in 2008, 28Black comes in a slinky, matte black can. Score two points for design. A can as skinny as you’ll feel when drinking 28White, which has zero calories. Listen, if the Germans with their love of Oktoberfest can make a skinny beverage successful, then you know there has to be something to it. ??

The next time you’re invited for holiday cocktails, consider arriving with something other than a bottle of bubbly. How about an even dozen of these lightly-carbonated beverages - six in black, six in white - in a brand-new crystal bucket from Tiffany’s (or Target, you decide...).

As the 28Black tagline has it, "The day has 28 hours" - and you’re going to need those extra four all through the season.

PRICE: $10.00/4-pack
LINK: 28Black


Basil Hayden’s: Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Our grandmother liked a nip of bourbon every great once in a while. Special occasions only - and then only in a thumbprint glass jigger that she held between her thumb and forefinger. Our grandmother would have approved of the new super-premium bourbons now made in small batches. Basil Hayden’s, for example, would have been welcomed into Grandmother’s parlor.

If there was any question about bourbon’s new urbane reputation, Basil Hayden’s makes an unequivocal case for bourbon’s rise to the top shelf. Dating back to 1796, Basil Hayden’s utilizes a family recipe from Master Distiller Basil Hayden, Sr., who doubled the amount of rye to offset the sweetness of corn with the spiciness of rye.

Aged eight years in charred white oak barrels, the resultant bourbon is soft and smooth - and relatively mild at 80 proof. This is bourbon for sipping - and for toasting to the holidays.

Golden amber in color, with a spicy, smoky tea aroma, Basil Hayden’s has a slight peppery taste with a hint of peppermint and a warm honey finish. Each time we sip, we can see Grandmother smiling.

PRICE: $36.99
LINK: Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey


A long-term New Yorker and a member of New York Travel Writers Association, Mark Thompson has also lived in San Francisco, Boston, Provincetown, D.C., Miami Beach and the south of France. The author of the novels WOLFCHILD and MY HAWAIIAN PENTHOUSE, he has a PhD in American Studies and is the recipient of fellowships at MacDowell, Yaddo, and Blue Mountain Center. His work has appeared in numerous publications.


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