Miraculously, I have managed to entirely avoid hearing any holiday music for the past week—largely, I think, because I don’t go out on Black Friday, or Saturday, or Sunday. In reality, I rarely leave the house to do my holiday shopping, both because of convenience and because large crowds of rabid, deal-crazed shoppers give me flashbacks to Dawn of the Dead. Your average Macy’s also doesn’t carry a lot of the items I go looking for—Japanese mixing glasses or wooden mallets for crushing ice aren’t exactly big sellers.
While I have been researching my own gift-buying online, I compiled some suggestions for the cocktail lovers on your list this year. Cocktail-related items also make lovely hostess gifts, so these are also a good place to start looking for a little something to take along to holiday gatherings. If you’re planning to do some actual shopping, I’ve always been of the houseplant-giving sort; plants make a lovely present even if they are a traditional hostess gift. Potted herbs are a great gift for cocktail lovers and hosts alike; mint and lemon balm are lovely and easy to keep, basil and rosemary are useful for drinks and dinner, and exotics like lemongrass are just fun to have around. Vintage glassware also makes a pretty, elegant gift. I buy all my coupes at thrift shops, and have also stumbled upon glass mixing pitchers and shakers as well. If you’re tenacious and patient you can find some absolutely gorgeous glasses in sets of two or four—usually for under $2 each. If you need more ideas, read on for gifts that any cocktail enthusiast would be thrilled to find under the tree.
Though these Yarai mixing glasses have been available in the States for over a year, I only acquired one this summer. I have admired them and heard their praises from friends, and I can say that everything I’ve heard is true. The glass itself is beautiful but very functional—the base is heavy so it doesn’t slide across the table while you stir, the width perfectly accommodates a julep strainer and the spout makes it easy to pour, plus it can easily hold two or even four drinks at a time.
And for those dedicated folks who make their own bitters (or those who like to decant their bitters collections into prettier bottles), there are the matching Yarai bitters bottles. Pretty and elegant, they include a stopper to dole out dashes of bitters and will hold about three ounces.
In the category of ice crushing, there are few cocktail nerds out there who haven’t drooled over the thought of having their own Lewis bag and mallet. Before the advent of ice crushers, bartenders would manufacture crushed ice by placing cubes in a canvas Lewis bag and pounding the ice to smithereens with a wooden mallet. It’s an old-fashioned and very cathartic method of preparing Mint Juleps and Mai Tais—or any drink that calls for crushed ice—and it has the advantage of wicking away moisture from the ice, leaving you with crushed ice that isn’t half-melted before you begin.
In the category of books, there are a couple of new titles out this year from some of the most respected names in cocktail writing—not to mention being two of my favorite authors.
First up is Jeff Berry’s exhaustively researched Beachbum Berry Remixed, a revised, updated collection of the recipes from his first two classic books, Grog Log and Intoxica!. I’ve written about Jeff’s books before and I really can’t say enough about them. If you know someone who likes tiki, is into mid-century Americana or someone who just really likes rum, this is the book to get them. It’s full of interesting background on the bartenders and restauranteurs who created and sustained the Polynesian Pop craze, as well as tons of delicious recipes, including new ones by some of the best names in bartending today.
Next up is Dave Wondrich’s brand-spanking-new Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl. There isn’t a more holiday-appropriate drink than the punch—think wassail, glögg or eggnog—and Dave brings his signature wit and exhaustive research to the table in this exploration of the oldest known expression of the mixed drink. Part history, part collection of recipes and all interesting, this is a great gift for anyone who enjoys loitering by the punch bowl. And having had a glass of punch made by Dave Wondrich, I can guarantee you that these recipes are both accurate and delicious. It’s even available in a Kindle edition for the technophiles on your list.
Speaking of technology, bartender and consultant Kim Haasarud has created a new iPhone and Android app called Holiday Cocktail Bar, featuring cocktails, toddies, champagne drinks and punches tailored to holiday entertaining. The photography by Alexandra Grablewski is absolutely gorgeous, which makes it a pleasure to use, and the recipes range from modified classics to fully modern concoctions. Kim has prepared recipes for single servings, but with the touch of a button each recipe can be converted to proportions to serve twelve—perfect for busy party planners who don’t have the time to calculate a larger batch. Priced at $1.99, it’s a steal and a great little gift for a contemporary hostess.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t suggest bitters as a gift for any cocktail enthusiast on your list—we’re all at least mildly obsessed with bitters, and you really can’t have too many. This year, I’ve been enjoying the Bittermen’s Elemakule Tiki, inspired by falernum and flavored with cinnamon and allspice, and Boston Bittahs, flavored with chamomile, lemon, lime, orange and grapefruit. I’ve also been having a lot of fun with Urban Moonshine’s Maple Bitters—flavored with, you guessed it, maple—as well as their lovely Citrus Bitters. The flavors are great, plus they offer their bitters in handy little spritzer bottles for easy misting over the top of a drink.
In that same vein, syrups are a must-have for cocktails. The further down the cocktail rabbit hole you go, the more syrups you’re going to need, and if you know anyone who enjoys tiki drinks they will need more syrups than your average cocktail nerd. Fortunately, our friend Blair (aka Trader Tiki) has started his own line of delicious syrups, all handmade in Portland, Oregon. For the classic cocktail enthusiast or someone who is new to cocktails, try his Grenadine, Orgeat or Vanilla Syrup, or give his new Ginger or Peppermint Syrups a try. For the tikiphiles on your list, Donn’s Mix, Don’s Spices #2, Falernum, Cinnamon or Passion Fruit Syrups are crucial. And Blair has offered a special discount for blog readers—15% off any order over $20. Use the code ILUVBLOGZ during checkout.
If all of this sounds good but you’re looking for something a little bit more cohesive to gift this year, how about a cocktail gift basket from our friends at Bar Keeper? They offer a variety of choices for baskets containing all of the ingredients and glassware for a single cocktail, from classics like the Manhattan and Last Word to new favorites from some of LA’s best bartenders. They will even make a custom package tailored around a cocktail of your choosing—either way, it’s a great, easy gift for cocktail lovers even if you have no idea where to start shopping for one.
Cheers and Happy Holidays!