Craig LaBan's Food Gifts
Let the holidays flow with these special liquid assets, tumblers to lift the spirits, a luminous olive oil.
The Spice Tree by Compass Box. When is a great Scottish whiskey not Scotch? The Spice Tree was almost the subject of such a technical tiff when innovative master blender Compass Box initially unveiled this $62.99 beauty with an unconventional aging method (toasted staves inside the barrels) that earned the disapproval of the Scottish Whisky Association. The technique has since been modified to placate authorities - heavily toasting the barrelheads instead. But this full-bodied Highland blend, primarily from Clynelish, is still an aromatic treat, a smooth sip of mouth-warming vanilla oak wrapped in spice-box scents of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove. (Online in Pennsylvania with free shipping, at www.finewineand goodspirits.com; code: 30571.)
Marques de Valdueza Extra-
Virgin Olive Oil. Few ingredients are as capable of upgrading an entire meal as deftly as a fine olive oil. This sultry beauty from Spain's Extremadura region, pressed within an hour of harvesting the Arbequina, Picual, Hojiblanca, and Morisca olives, does so with vivid and elegant fruitiness, offering a buttery kiss of red apple without too much peppery bite. At a great sale price of $24.99, it's a soft-spoken yet lustrous oil that is a perfect finish for any pasta, salad, or dipping dish. (Available at both DiBruno Bros. locations: 1730 Chestnut St.; 930 S. Ninth St.)
Telegraph Whiskey Tumblers from Hudson Beach Glass. Great booze deserves a great glass, and these handblown "Telegraph" series tumblers from Old City artisan glassblower Sean Gilvey offer the perfect balance of style and function. Inspired by antique railroad insulators, the deep ridges ringing the base aren't merely a stroke of postindustrial chic - they assure a sure and comfy grip on your favorite spirit as you sniff, swirl, and sip. The $40 "single" is perfect for neat spirits, the larger $45 double works for whiskey on the rocks. A new flanged glass, $45, is ideal for absinthe. (Hudson Beach Glass, 26 S. Strawberry St., 267-319-1887; or www.shopkellydrive.com)
Baratza Virtuoso coffee grinder. Coffee geeks know a good burr grinder is nearly as essential to the perfect cup as the brewer, but finding a single high-quality machine that can multitask for both everyday drip brewers and superfine espresso is tricky. This $199 Baratza Virtuoso is one of the few that can reliably manage both. To maximize your brew's potential, a grinder should cost 30 to 50 percent of the value of an espresso maker, so the Virtuoso is suitable for machines up to $600. (Available at 1st-Line.com, 1-888-933-5947, with free shipping and tax-free in Pennsylvania)
Jack Daniel's Single-Barrel Tennessee Whiskey. Thirsty Tennessee squires who want to step up from the simple Jack of their youth might consider this single-barrel version. They'll still find the charcoal-filtered soul of Lucky No. 7 - just far more intense in this version, hand-chosen from barrels that have undergone the most profound aging transformation. You'll taste some of Jack's trademark banana notes on the smooth front, but then it unravels into bolder, warmer flavors that make this complex brew, at $43.99, a good value for serious American whiskey. (Available in Pennsylvania state stores; code: 8720)