A little bit about myself: I like cocktails. I like making them. I like drinking them. I care about them very deeply. I predominantly exercise this affinity from the comfort of my own home, and over the course of the last several years have acquired a home bar I am quite comfortable in and enjoy a lot. Nightly, in fact. Sometimes morningly.
I think I’m pretty good at making them, and I know I’m great at drinking them. I’ve had lots of practice. If you know someone like me — or someone who wishes they were me — and are wondering what to gift them this holiday season, this is the list for you.
The first nine gifts on this list are things I was gifted and actually use on the reg. Almost all of these items fall under the “barware” category. These are gifts that were either new, useful additions to my bartender (home or otherwise) arsenal, valuable upgrades on items I already had, or things I never managed to get around to purchasing for myself.
The remaining suggestions are things I wouldn’t be mad about receiving. I’ve reached the point in my home bar set-up where I don’t exactly need anything, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still plenty of items I’d be pleased as punch to receive (such as items 9-14).
Koriko weighted shakers
Before I received these, I had a couple of three-piece shakers that were purchased almost entirely for aesthetic and not-knowing-any-better reasons. If you have someone in your life passionate about making cocktails, you absolutely can’t go wrong with the Koriko Weighted Shakers. This set of two stainless steel tins will chill your cocktail faster, seal tightly so you don’t have to worry about liquid escaping while you shake, and separate quite easily without getting stuck like a lot of other shakers. Plus, they will last their recipient probably forever.
Generally, in formal bartending settings, double jiggers/Japanese jiggers (the kind shaped like an hourglass) are encouraged for the purposes of guaranteeing the most accurate pour, but I’ve always found them kind of awkward, and prefer a stepped jigger. I’ve never been mad at having an extra jigger around regardless of style, but these are my favourites.
Buswell Collins glasses
In terms of glassware, a solid Collins or Highball glass has always been oddly elusive. They are either too wide and short, or too tall and thin, or some other weird shape unfavourable to the type of ice I want to use. I was fortunate enough to receive a set of these Buswell Collins glasses a few years back, and I’ve been using them ever since.
Sure, for the purposes of stirring a drink from the comfort of one’s home, you could use a spoon, or a chopstick, or a straw, or, you know, your finger, but a good barspoon has far more uses than merely stirring. It’s fantastic for cracking ice, or cradling large cubed ice into a glass without getting your fingers in there and making a mess. I recommend a single piece barspoon like the one here. Yes, I know the ones with the skull capper are V Cool, but they break easily when employed for the task of ice cracking.
Honestly, there’s a good chance that the strainer your cocktail-making friend has is total garbage. The ones readily available tend to have coils that are nowhere near tight enough to do your shaken cocktails justice. A classic strainer like this can also pull double duty for stirred up cocktails, if one does not have a Julep strainer handy.
Ice pick and pitchfork ice pick
Who needs ice molds when you can freeze a pan of water, grab an ice pick, and go full Basic Instinct on it. Even if you’re using ice molds, a pronged (aka pitchfork) ice pick is fantastic for chipping off corners on a cube too large to fit in a glass, not to mention breaking up crushed ice that’s frozen together. I’ve found that most people don’t have ice picks at home, and they’re not always readily and obviously available, so there’s a good chance this will be a gift much appreciated.
I know what you’re thinking: How much difference can there be among citrus peelers? But the truth is, your OXO kitchen peeler is going to grab way more pith than rind, and for an optimal twist, you really don’t want that. I also like that this peeler really can’t be used to peel anything except its intended, so it can live in my citrus bowl, ready for duty, instead of getting lost in a kitchen drawer.
The Bartender’s Choice bartending app
Can’t decide what you want to drink? Forgot what goes in a Boulevardier? Need to know how to make the perfect ginger syrup? The Bartender’s Choice is the evergreen app for enthusiasts and professionals alike. Designed to recreate the experience of a menu-less, bespoke cocktail experience, this app features hundreds of recipes old and new, spanning all kinds of styles of cocktail. I use it all the time when I need to refresh my memory on a cocktail spec or when I’m feeling cocktail indecisive and need a little inspiration.
Full disclosure: The app does feature a few recipes from yours truly, but I owned the app long before I had the honour of being inducted into the roster (the honour being the only compensation I received, so this is an honest endorsement).
Beachbum Berry’s Total Tiki bartending app
Jeff Berry, better known as Beachbum Berry, is the authority on all things Tiki both in and out of the cocktail world. Before the craft cocktail scene decided to cease looking down its nose at Mai Tais, Zombies, and Fog-cutters, when the vestiges of this post-war escapist-style hospitality were still mis-appropriately relegated to synonyms like “kitsch,” and “dated,” Berry was parking himself at the bar of every last legendary Tiki joint, doing the hard work of winning the trust of the few bartenders left who still knew the original (and heavily guarded) recipes to some truly glorious concoctions. His passion (and exhaustive research) is evident not only in the many books he’s published on the topic, but also in this wonderful app.
Extensive, thorough, and informative — it not only provides some 250+ recipes, but lets you know which of them you can make based on the ingredients you have, so you don’t have to scroll forever. My favourite part of the app is that the Beachbum provides every iteration of a given recipe through the decades that he’s found, so you can see how a Singapore Sling was made in the 1930s vs. the 1970s. It’s a true digital archive, which just delights my nerdy-arse heart.
Vintage cocktail books
My partner and I collect books to an impractical and obnoxious degree, so he’ll often bring me some random cocktail book he’s come across at one used bookstore or another, from old bartender manuals to mid-century booklets on entertaining at home. They’re not always useful for recipes, but they’re fascinating to read through, if only to see how cocktails have evolved, and for figuring out how many “Elysian Nymphs” you’d need to put away before you decide to try the “Celery Stuffed with Pineapple Herring” canapés.
The next time you are at a flea market, or perusing Etsy, why not take a look at some of the glassware? You don’t need to purchase entire six-serving sets, but a great Tiki mug, or a couple of beautifully etched Nick & Nora glasses, or an amazing champagne flute, etc., are always lovely to receive, and add decor and function to a bar.
Clear ice cube maker
Listen: I’m going to tell you right now that — unless you have an elaborate directional freezing setup — it’s near impossible to make clear ice at home. Whoever tells you it is doable is lying. I don’t care how pure-filter your water is, or how many times you boiled it before freezing, or if you pulled that H₂O straight from the wells of Heaven. It’s 99.8% not going to freeze entirely clear in some tray in your freezer. Besides, clear ice isn’t necessary to make a good cocktail, it just looks nice. So when I see an item like this, I’m dubious, and wouldn’t buy it myself. That being said…if someone else wanted to buy me one of these, I wouldn’t say no.
Homemade syrups and pickles
Although I never use pre-made, store-bought syrups in my cocktails (more on that some other time) that doesn’t mean I’m not incredibly lazy. I would be absolutely thrilled if someone made a bottle of grenadine for me, or pickled some cocktail onions, or brought me a jar of their grandma’s preserves. If you’re good in the kitchen and would prefer to spend time over money on a gift, this is definitely worth considering.
A workhorse bottle
Honestly, just get me a bottle of Campari. Or Fernet Branca. Or one of those oversized bottles of Angostura bitters. Or whatever. I will never be bummed to receive a workhorse bottle, whichever one it may be. You know what actually sucks? Realising you’re out of Campari and the stores are closed. So thank you for saving the evening and my Negroni.