The Best Spirits to Bring to a Holiday Party

iStockphoto/Getty Images

The holiday season is full of mirth and celebration, but there can be some anxiety involved with this festive time of the year as well. Many of us are faced with an onslaught of holiday parties to attend of various types, from work to family to quality time with good friends to hanging out with complete strangers. Whatever type of party is on your schedule, a good bottle of booze (whether it's wine, Champagne, or another spirit) is always a welcome addition to the proceedings. But there are so many to choose from that it can feel a little overwhelming. So here is a guide of the best drinks to bring along.

iStockphoto/Getty Images

Family Party – Rum

If you’re celebrating the holidays with your family, immediate or extended, a bottle of good dark rum is an excellent option to bring along. Go for something actually aged in wood, not just dark from added caramel coloring, and preferably with no sugar added so it’s not cloyingly sweet. Rum is an extremely versatile spirit; you can sip it neat, with a large ice cube, use it in a variety of cocktails (try a riff on a classic like a rum old fashioned), or you can add a few cups to spike punch or hot mulled cider that might be bubbling away on the stove. And rum will equally impress both your whiskey-drinking uncle and your cousin, who up until now, only drank white rum. Recommended – Apple Estate 12 Year Old, The Real McCoy 12, Ten to One Dark Rum.

iStockphoto/Getty Images

Party at Your Boss’s House – Single Malt Scotch

Attending your boss’s holiday party can be a tricky maneuver. You want to appear simultaneously professional and fun, a delicate balancing act that requires some forethought. So instead of wine, try bringing a nice bottle of single malt scotch, but perhaps spend a bit more to get something aged around 18 years instead of 10 or 12. That’s when many single malts hit their sweet spot in terms of flavor, with a richness and complexity that can be lacking in a younger bottle. Those extra few years might cost more, but your whiskey acumen will surely impress the man or woman in charge. Also, everyone’s likely to stay relatively sober because you are likely to thoughtfully sip this whiskey instead of downing glasses. Recommended – Bowmore 18, Loch Lomond 18, The Dalmore 18.

iStockphoto/Getty Images

Party with Close Friends – Bourbon

Sometimes an intimate gathering with close friends is just what you are looking for to celebrate the holidays. Instead of worrying about an awkward conversation with random acquaintances, you can relax, reminisce about the good old days, and maybe have one or two drinks too many with people who won’t judge you for it. A good bottle of bourbon would be perfect for such an occasion, a spirit with which you are surely familiar, but there are plenty of ways to upgrade from the inexpensive (albeit delicious) 4 or 5-year-old expressions. For a special occasion, bring something special, but no need to go overboard. Something in the 10-12 year range will do just fine, and bourbon aged for much more than that tends to become overly oaky. Recommended – Russell’s Reserve 10 Year Old, Eagle Rare 10 Year Old, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof.

Andre Chung/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Party with Cocktail Snobs – Rye Whiskey

If you are getting together with a group who is well versed in the world of cocktails, the type of crowd who can explain the difference between a Boulevardier and an Old Pal without missing a beat, best to bring a bottle of something that can be used to make a plethora of reputable drinks. Rye whiskey is a good choice as it provides a bit of zest and spice along with some vanilla sweetness – it’s a classic cocktail component for a reason. So many drinks taste better with rye instead of bourbon, from an Old Fashioned to a Manhattan to a Sazerac. While there are plenty of inexpensive ryes well worth buying (Old Overholt or Rittenhouse, for example), spring for something a little bit more upscale and your spirits-savvy compatriots will be impressed. Recommended – High West Double Rye, Pikesville Straight Rye, Michter’s Rye.

Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

Family-Friendly Party – Amaro

The kids are running around—there have been at least three meltdowns—and you know someone is going to start pinching again… Family-inclusive holiday parties are a great way to celebrate, but you want to make sure you are keeping a clear head while also enjoying a drink or two so you will be sharp enough to deal with any scraped knees or spontaneous ballet performances that might arise. Sipping on some low-proof amaro will do the trick here. This bitter liqueur’s flavor is herbal and layered, you can sip it neat, on the rocks, or with a mixer, and the ABV usually ranges from about 10 to 25 percent, ensuring that you will remain responsibly attentive. Recommended – Amaro Lucano, Cynar, Don Ciccio Ambrosia.

Alexander Koerner/Getty Images

Party for Wine Drinkers – Cognac

If you’re partying with wine drinkers this holiday season, maybe leave the bourbon and scotch at home. But there’s another brown spirit that should please those finicky palates, one that even the most dedicated vino aficionado can wrap his or her tasting notes around. We’re talking about cognac, of course, which is essentially distilled wine. A nice bottle of cognac brings forth all of the fruity notes of a fine bottle of wine, along with some extra vanilla, caramel, and wood flavors from years spent maturing in French oak barrels. Go ahead and splurge on a bottle of XO; the age of the youngest eaux-de-vie is ten years, making this a richly flavored spirit. Recommended – Pierre Ferrand, Cognac Frapin, Hennessy.

Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

Party Where You Don’t Know Anyone – Tequila

A holiday party where you don’t know anyone can be both a blessing and a nightmare. Pros – you can sit in a corner, drink and not talk to anyone; you can assume a completely fake name and identity, and you just might make a new friend. Cons – see pros. But if you are going to a party with the goal of engaging in human interaction, consider bringing along some tequila for several reasons. Some people’s only tequila experience has been drinking in college, causing them to swear it off forever, so you can introduce them to real 100-percent agave and change their life. Or try bringing a bottle of anejo tequila and watch as avowed whiskey drinkers will wonder where this spirit has been all their life. And there are those who swear that blanco tequila leaves them with no hangover, so the next morning might be that much easier (maybe). Recommended – Haitus Tequila, Grand Mayan, Patron.

iStockphoto/Getty Images

Work Party – Gin

Hanging with your coworkers outside of the office should be an enjoyable experience, but it can be fraught with social landmines. However, there are ways to minimize potential awkwardness and regrets. In other words, it’s possible to have a good time and still be classy and professional all night long. A good bottle of gin should help guide you to this goal. No one is really going to be drinking this spirit neat, so you should jump at the chance to whip up some classic and classy cocktails. A gin martini, shaken or stirred, with some olives or a twist? This is probably one of the best and simplest drinks to make in the history of cocktails. Prefer a refreshing gin and tonic? Again, super easy to make, particularly when bartending for a group of people. Recommended – Sipsmith Gin, Copper & Kings The History of Lovers, Hendrick’s Midsummer Solstice.