This is the Travel Take, where Matador’s writers and editors make the case for their favorite travel hacks, tips, and personal tics.
In 2015, President Barack Obama received 15 bottles of liquor from the president of the Philippines and 12 bottles of Champagne from the president of Benin. Fourteen senators were gifted bottles of Chivas Scotch whisky from the Pakistan ambassador to the United States. The president of Moldova gave a senator six bottles of wine and some vintage Cognac, while former Secretary of State John Kerry received “various bottles of local alcohol” from Kazakhstan’s minister of foreign affairs.
Members of the United States government aren’t allowed to accept gifts from foreign governments exceeding around $300, so all of the alcohol was tragically dumped. Still, it’s the thought that counts, and all of these dignitaries from different parts of the world had one thought right: If you want a reliable gift that’s respectful, exciting, and evokes a sense of place, then grab a bottle of alcohol.
“So much of gifting isn’t just about giving somebody something to drink,” Christian Krogstad, founder and distiller of Westward Whiskey, tells me over the phone. “You’re giving an experience.”
No one wants the figurine you picked up on your travels as a gift. For a moment, you might think it’s a cute idea, but now that person has a souvenir from a place they didn’t go to or have any memories from. A bottle of alcohol, however, is something that people can enjoy with a group and spark conversation or even inspire travel of their own.
“People get stuck in their ways, and they buy what they like,” Krogstad says, “but you get to try something new when you get it as a gift.”
New experiences are the whole point of travel. It’s not always possible to just get up and go, but it is usually possible to go somewhere through the tastes of a place. A bottle of local wine or liquor is a taste that travels well and can be shared multiple times. Also, at the risk of sounding selfish, creating a shared experience through a nice bottle often ends up being a double plus because the giver gets to partake as well. Often, this shared experience and the conversations it sparks is the best gift of all. Last Thanksgiving, my mom and I sat at the table with no other distractions but a bottle of Four Roses Small Batch and talked about road trips, traveling through Kentucky, and all the different distillers that’ve popped up near her home in Spearfish, South Dakota.
Americans are far from alone in giving the gift of drink. China has a strong tradition of gifting liquor, especially high-end bottles of whiskey or baiju (the most popular brand, Kweichow Moutai, built a profitable business as a go-to expensive gift). Bottles of wine and spirits are regularly gifted across Europe (and, as the list of gifts to governmental officials shows, European-made wine and spirits are regularly gifted elsewhere, too).
“European countries have the strongest tradition of gifting alcohol, due to their long tradition of winemaking and distilling,” says Conrad Hunter, the owner of Foxcroft Wine Co and co-owner of Charlotte cocktail bar Dot Dot Dot. “America has lived under a puritanical cloud regarding alcohol, of which it is only now coming out of.”
That said, while a bottle is a widely loved gift, it’s not completely universal. There’s religion to take into account, as well as personal taste. It might also be important to make sure the recipient drinks before giving the gift of alcohol. But for the right person, gifting a bottle of something local from your travels is one of the best ways to share an experience and give them something they’ll actually appreciate.
“The most significant thing for me is that it’s so much about discovery and sharing discovery,” Krogstad says.