Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Gift Ideas for the Holidays **Updated 12/10**

**Thanks to some feedback and additional links that have been circulating the web, I have added a few new items and links to other gift guides. Enjoy!**

The number of shopping days for the holiday season continue to dwindle, but if you are anything like me, you still have a number of people for whom you still need gifts (or perhaps there's a birthday or other event coming up?).  There's plenty of gift guides out there from various sources, but it's an opinionated enough topic that I felt that I might as well throw in my 2 cents and see if I can help with some gift ideas for the cocktail/spirits/wine/beer lover.  This list is one part my own personal wish list; one part items I have tested and enjoyed; one part cool items I just happened to run across; and one part suggestions from friends.  I tried to put in links where I could, but as an fyi, I get no kickback from any of these sites (if only...), and I didn't necessarily spend hours researching the best buys, so by all means shop around if you are looking for the best deal.  Also, if you have any suggestions to add to the list, comment away!  Finally, I'd like to offer special thanks to my friend Nick for his suggestions in the area of gifts for beer lovers. Thanks Nick!

Holiday Gift Ideas
Gifts for Everyone
Gifts for the Cocktail Enthusiast
Gifts for the Spirits Enthusiast
Gifts for the Wine Enthusiast
Gifts for the Beer Enthusiast
Gifts for the Teetotaler
Other Sources for Gift Ideas
*12/10 Updates Only*

Gifts for Everyone
Subscription to Imbibe
Imbibe magazine is the self described "ultimate guide to liquid culture."  It comes out every other month and features information about cocktails, beers, wines, coffees, teas, and all things related. I have a gift subscription that I have greatly enjoyed.

Glassware
There is likely a saturation point where any additional glassware (or other drinking instruments) becomes too much, but I think most people have not reached it (I know I haven't).  With beers, for example, there's a variety of specialty glasses for particular types of beers that provide sufficient options such that for most people you, can still find a new addition.  For someone that has pretty much nothing and would do well with an inexpensive set/sets, I've found that Ikea actually has a pretty wide variety of inexpensive glassware (they aren't as good for cocktail glasses, but they have a number of good wine, highball, rocks, and cordial glasses - unfortunately, it is my experience that not everything available is on their website; also, beware, quality does sometimes map to price).  Amazon has some good bargains as well.  Beyond that, there are so many different sources that it's hard to point in a particular direction.  The sky is the limit!
    Decor & more
    The Cocktail Cottage has a wealth of unique gifts in general, but among other things they have a number of cute Christmas ornaments in their "Parlor" section that have a  beer, wine, and cocktail theme.  They also have some great vintage glassware and accessories (I am partial to this punch bowl, myself).

    HomeWetBar.com is another source of unique gifts, including a selection of interesting glassware (some is a bit cheesy, but the selection is pretty extensive and there's some good items).  Gizmodo a few days ago published their "Intoxicating Gifts for the Elegant Imbiber" (hat tip to mney for pointing that out) that featured a very cool Brandy Smuggler's Walking Cane, however my top pick by far is the 16th Century Italian Replica Globe Bar (which also comes in a smaller version and a tabletop version).  Awesome.

    Gifts for the Cocktail Enthusiast
    Tools:
    Bar tools and kits
    Kegworks has a number pre-made kits of various prices and compositions.  The Boston Shaker does as well, though unfortunately they appear to be sold out on their website last time I checked (give them a chance and I imagine they will be restocked).  That said, I never bought a pre-made bar kit myself, so another viable option is to simply put one together yourself.  Whether you wish to go that route, or just want some guidance in picking a kit, here are some tools that I find most essential when mixing drinks: 
    • Boston Shaker
    • Hawthorne Strainer (I have heard good things about the OXO)
    • Julep Strainer
    • .5 / 1 oz. jigger
    • .75 / 1.5 oz. jigger
    Also very very useful are more precise measuring instruments - I am very fond of both the small liquid measure from OXO (it comes in a plastic and metal version; the metal is better for cleaning, but the plastic lets you see additional measure lines) and the Mini Measure .

    At the next level of necessity, I would list the following:
    • Muddler
    • Bar spoon
    • Hand juicer - my favorite by far of those I've used is the FreshForce
    • Channel knife (or zester/channel knife combo)
    • Ice pick
    Some more "advanced" tools include a Lewis ice-crushing bag, some hand-crafted versions of which can be found at the Boston Shaker and on etsy.  Uber Bar Tools also has some fun gear, including some nice Hawthorne strainers and 4 in 1 jiggers.

    Finally, if you are looking for a more advanced gift and up for spending closer to the $100 range, 2 great ideas are a soda gun or soda machine like those from Soda Stream, or a whip cream whipper.  Whip cream whipper you say?  Yes indeed.  Beyond the obvious, there's two excellent uses for this device for the modern mixologist.  One is for fast infusion of alcohol with various flavoring agents.  Another great use is making alcohol flavored foams for use as a cocktail component.

    Books and Magazines:
    One of my first cocktail books, at the recommendation of Adam from the Boston Shaker, was The Essential Bartender's Guide (2008) by Robert Hess.  I think this is a fantastic starter book.  As far as a general recipe book, my hands down must have is Ted ("Dr. Cocktail") Haigh, Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails (2009).  This book is absolutely fantastic - great notes about the history of the drinks and I can't say I've come across a bad recipe in the entire batch.  I've bought it as a gift several times over.

    At the more intermediate level, the following are some suggestions:
    David A. Embury, The Art of Mixing Drinks (1948)
    Gary Regan, The Joy of Mixology (2003)
    David Wondrich, Imbibe! (2007)

    If you have someone that already has a bit of a library on the topic, here are 2 new releases of note from this past year that might be a good fit:
    Ted Munat, Michael Lazar, and Jenn Farrington, Left Coast Libations (2010)
    David Wondrich, Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl (2010)

    Finally, for the more experienced cocktailian or the history buff, the Boston Shaker has a fantastic selection of old cocktail book reprints here, some of the classic choices being Jerry Thomas' How to Mix Drinks; A Bon Vivant's Companion and Harry Craddock's The Savoy Cocktail Book.  

    Other ideas:
    Luxardo Gourmet Maraschino Cherries
    These cherries come at a heftier price tag than the your grocery store bought maraschinos, but taste one and it will leave you with no doubt that they are in a whole other category.

    Bitters
    Cocktail bitters make for a pretty great gift because 1) individually, they aren't overly expensive, and 2) they can be given to people at different skill levels because there are a few standards that are useful for the entry-level enthusiast, and such a wealth of ever-increasing options for the seasoned veteran that there's bound to be some type he or she does not already have.  If buying for someone on the entry-level side, the three standards are generally Angostura bitters (hands down the one to get first), Peychaud's bitters, and some form of orange bitters (I would suggest either Angostura's or Reagan's No. 6, but really there are several kinds, all distinctive, so there's some degree of personal taste that goes into picking some over others).  The Boston Shaker sells an essentials kit with all three.  Beyond that, between the Boston Shaker and any local liquor store that stocks the Bitter Truth brand bitters (if you are in the Boston area, or really Cambridge, Ball Square Fine Wines & Liquors and Liquor World in Porter Sq. fit the bill) you will have an astounding array of choices.  Some of my favorites include the Bitterman's line (if I had to pick one, the Xocolatl Mole Bitters).  Some other picks that I think would make a great addition to one's bar:
    Celery bitters are another intriguing choice made by a few different producers. The Bitter Truth bitters also makes an interesting Cocktail Bitters Travel Set that has 1 oz bottles of 5 of their bitters; a great way to get a taste of their product line. 
     
    Spirits!
    The obvious choice for the enthusiast for spirits, or a particular spirit, is a bottle of some good stuff.  That's generally way too big of a topic to squeeze into this blog post, however - for the most part I encourage you to find a liquor store with experienced staff and get some recommendations.  That said, particularly for the vodka, rum, or gin enthusiast, one general suggestion is to get a bottle of something from a local artisan distillery.  There are quickly growing numbers of these across the country.  For example, in New England, there's Berkshire Mountain Distillers product line.  How do you find these distillers?  Other than asking at a good liquor store, you can also find listings by state at the Association of American Distillers.  Buying for a whiskey, and in particular bourbon enthusiast?  One suggestion is a bottle of Maker's Mark 46, the first new offering from the brand in 50 years which came out earlier this year.  Tequila enthusiast?  My best suggestion there is a bottle of decent mezcal.  For those unacquainted, mezcal is made from the agave plant, like Tequila, but Tequila is made specifically from the blue agave plant in a particular area of Mexico.  Mezcal has a complex, smokey flavor that's reminiscent of tequila, but a different experience.  Important note:  don't get a $12 mezcal!  Terrible mezcal is not hard to find, but on the East coast, decent mezcal IS a challenge to find.  I highly recommend Del Maguey's Mezcal Vida if you can find it as a great entry-level, quality mezcal.  

    Liquor.com provides a number of holiday gift guides for various spirits, including rum, tequila/mezcal, bourbon, (warning: their picks tend to be a bit on the high end side).  If you search the site for "holiday guides" you can also find their picks from prior years.

    "Cool" Tools
    Another idea besides spirits themselves and the already mentioned glassware are some items to keep your giftee's drinks nice and cold.  One solution for this is Whiskey stones.  Another fun option are Tovolo King Cube ice cube trays. These trays produce some GIANT ice cubes that are great for keeping drinks cold for a long time without a lot of melting/dilution.  

    Gifts for the Wine Enthusiast
    Unfortunately, while I'm eager to learn more, this category is not my foremost area of expertise, so my suggestions are a bit thin.  For a good bottle of wine, I think you are best off asking for advice at store with a knowledgeable staff.  That said, my suggestion about artisan distilleries above can also be applied to wines.  There's a number of smaller local wineries out there with some excellent products worth trying.  Another idea is a wine making class.  For those in the Boston area, Beer and Wine Hobby in Woburn offers such classes.  Beyond that, for the heavy duty enthusiast, a subscription to Wine Spectator magazine is not a bad bet.

    As an aside, two gifts I would vote against unless you really know the person has a need are wine savers and cork screws.  I know, they are all over, which makes them a tempting choice.  The consequence of this, however is in my apartment alone, for example, there's probably a 5:1 ratio of wine savers or cork screws to people living in the apartment.   

    Gifts for the Beer Enthusiast
    Brew!
    Nick's advice on this topic was good enough that I had to quote it - "Find a nice liquor store and ask for the strangest beer they have.  Maybe it'll be bad or even undrinkable but beer lovers love trying new things and sometimes an 'oh my god, taste how bad this is' can be as much fun as 'oh my god, taste how awesome this is.'"  Further tip - avoid buying dusty bottles; there's good odds the beer has spoiled.  Also, no need to break the bank - great beers aren't necessarily the most expensive beers.

    Home Brewing 
    Another fun gift idea for the beer lover is some home brewing gear.  It's not hard to find the errant "Mr. Beer" kit at various stores, but for those that are unaware, there are actually specialty stores that sell high quality kits of various price ranges that are likely a much better option.  In Boston, there's at least 2 such stores I am aware of; the previously mentioned Beer and Whine Hobby in Woburn and Modern Homebrew Emporium in Cambridge.  In addition to kits, both also offer classes. For a beginner book on home brewing, The Complete Joy of Homebrewing by Chalrie Papazian comes recommended.  For recipes, the number one pick is More Homebrew Favorites by Karl F. Lutzen and Mark Stevens.  

    Beer Magazines
    Another idea for the beer enthusiast is a subscription to either Draft Magazine or Beer Advocate for that monthly fix of beer info.  

    Other ideas
    Yet another possibility is a beer carrier  for those drinking away from home times. Along similar lines, you can provide some high tech cooling gear to keep things cool on the go.  

    Things to avoid Bottle openers, for similar reasons to why I suggested to cork screws above; t-shirts!

    I had one final mention because I came across it and thought it was a great idea.  The Boston Shaker is featuring a "Mock"-tail Recipe starter kit which features non-alcoholic alternative drinks for the teetotaler.

    Read through this and still haven't found your winning idea?  Here's a few other resources to try: Sloshed! 2010 gift guide The Boston Shaker Holiday Gift Guide You can also pick up a copy of the most recent issue of Imbibe for their list of holiday gift ideas, with a supplement here. Finally, Gizmodo has posted its "Intoxicating Gifts for the Elegant Imbiber".  Good hunting!

    *Updates*
    Decor & moreThe Cocktail Cottage has a wealth of unique gifts in general, but among other things they have a number of cute Christmas ornaments in their "Parlor" section that have a  beer, wine, and cocktail theme.  They also have some great vintage glassware and accessories (I am partial to this punch bowl, myself).

    HomeWetBar.com is another source of unique gifts, including a selection of interesting glassware (some is a bit cheesy, but the selection is pretty extensive and there's some good items).  Gizmodo a few days ago published their "Intoxicating Gifts for the Elegant Imbiber" (hat tip to mney for pointing that out) that featured a very cool Brandy Smuggler's Walking Cane, however my top pick by far is the 16th Century Italian Replica Globe Bar (which also comes in a smaller version and a tabletop version).  Awesome.

    The Bitter Truth bitters also makes an interesting Cocktail Bitters Travel Set that has 1 oz bottles of 5 of their bitters; a great way to get a taste of their product line. 

    Liquor.com provides a number of holiday gift guides for various spirits, including rum, tequila/mezcal, bourbon, (warning: their picks tend to be a bit on the high end side).  If you search the site for "holiday guides" you can also find their picks from prior years.

    9 comments:

    1. Great suggestions in this article!
      Coincidently, last week I went to Mexico City, I bought a couple of bottles of Mezcal for my brother's Christmas gifts. What called my attention about the bottles I bought is that they have the USDA organic certification. I found them by coincidence in an organic grocery store.
      I can't wait to try them, they seem pretty good!

      ReplyDelete
    2. You beat Gizmodo to the punch: http://gizmodo.com/5703466/gifts-for-the-classy-drunk

      ReplyDelete
    3. Yes, but I give them props on the cane - that is pretty awesome. Also, I actually saw the bar set from Crate and Barrel and drooled like mad over it (the girlfriend can attest to this).

      ReplyDelete
    4. Another fantastic item from homewetbar.com that they did not pick, however, is the drink globe. Simply awesome.

      ReplyDelete
    5. A drink globe is the first thing I'm gonna get when I move to a house! I also saw it as a prop in the film Inglourious Basterds

      ReplyDelete
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    9. One part cool items I just happened to run across; and one part suggestions from friends.Cool Christmas gifts for everyone

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