So let’s say you have a friend or family member who is into mixing cocktails. And let’s go a bit further and say they are worthy of a gift. What should you get them? Well, we guess you could get them a bottle of their favorite booze. But since it is their favorite booze they probably have it already. And, truth be told, making drinks doesn’t require much fancy gear.
Nope, what we suggest here at the Farm is a bit of creative thinking and perhaps giving cocktail gifts that will last. Cocktail gifts that inspire. Cocktail gifts with some “legs”. Gifts that might lead to better drinks…and perhaps even a few more of them. Yup, that’s what we’re talking about. And here are a few suggestions:
Really Good Vermouth:
What? Vermouth? The stuff that’s been sitting on the shelf for years for when aunt Edna comes by and wants a Manhattan? Or the bottle you glance at while making a dry Martini? Yes, that stuff. But it can be so much better.
It turns out that there is some delicious vermouth out there. Vermouth you can happily drink on its own, but also makes for delightful cocktails. (And, by the way, you need to keep vermouth in the fridge after you open it- that’s why that old stuff tastes so bad). Try a few classic cocktails with good, fresh vermouth and you will stop asking for super-dry Martinis and you may rediscover the glory of a good Manhattan.
So what to buy? There are a lot of choices, but for sweet vermouth we suggest a bottle of Carpano Antica. This is the “grandaddy” of sweet vermouth and it packs a lot of big flavors. Carpano ain’t cheap, but it is good. It also comes in half bottles that are less expensive and fit better in the fridge. The bottle is quite beautiful and will “wow” anyone who is lucky enough to get Carpano as a gift.
What about dry vermouth? There are a number of good, affordable options, but we suggest a bottle of Dolin Dry vermouth. This stuff simply rocks. Dolin will make for a great Martini, but also adds herbal depth and bittersweet notes to classics like the Scofflaw. And Dolin also happens to come in nifty half bottles. Heck, you could even give a combo pack of Carpano Antica and Dolin Dry to that special someone. Excellent.
Liqueurs or Amaro:
Vermouth is great, but what if your cocktail enthusiast already has good stuff in the fridge? What to do? Relax, there are plenty of options.
If your budding mixologist likes classic cocktails we suggest a bottle of liqueur for mixing. Cointreau is the standard for orange liqueurs, and is called for in dozens of classics from the Sidecar, Corpse Reviver #2 and Margarita all the way to the Cosmo. Cointreau isn’t cheap but a little goes a long way and there are a number of bottle sizes to pick from.
If you want to be more adventuresome, Maraschino liqueur (Luxardo is just fine) is a standard in dozen of cocktails. Apricot liqueur (Rothman and Winter is nice) was a common sweetener in many Pre-prohibition drinks and is a good change of pace. And, of course, Chartreuse (both the yellow and green) are heavy hitters that add complex sweet and herbal notes to any cocktail. Expensive, but worth it. Again, half bottles are often available if you want to maintain your budget.
If your cocktail enthusiast is a bit more modern, or likes to craft their own creations, there are plenty of choices. But our first pick would be a bottle of St. Germain (full or half bottles are available). This sweet elderflower liqueur is an easy substitute for sugar or orange liqueur in cocktails and adds delicate fruit and floral notes. St. Germain works particularly well with lighter spirits like gin, vodka or light rum.
If you want to be even more creative, we suggest the gift of an Amaro. Amari (plural? we always get it wrong) are bittersweet, herbal Italian digestifs that vary from the sweet to very spiced/herbal to a big menthol blast (Fernet Branca). Tasty on their own, Amaro are now used as a creative mixing ingredient, and offer a myriad of opportunities to invent and/or recreate cocktails. Our favorites for mixing are Nonino, Montenegro and Averna. But there are dozens of options. We suggest you find a reliable source, ask questions, try a sip and match the Amaro to your friend’s taste. Great fun.
The original cocktail was simply spirits, sugar, water and bitters. Bitters add bitterness (shocking) to cocktails but also bring the spicy and herbal flavors and aromas that accent the sip from start to finish. There is a reason bitters are back in vogue, they make drinks taste better and deliver the same depth and complexity you find in good wine. Bitters make cocktails better. A lot better.
If your enthusiast is just getting started, we suggest the trifecta of Angostura (bitterness and spice), Regan’s Orange (orange peel, spice) and Peychaud’s (dark fruit, spice, anise). These bitters are in hundreds of popular drinks. All three are affordable and make for a good stocking stuffer- or you can gift them as a trio. Bitters keep forever. So even if your mixologist already has some, the gift will be welcome.
And if you want to go beyond the standard bitters, there are literally dozens of new options on the market. There are too many new bitters to mention, but they cover almost every type of fruit and spice you can think of. Our favorites are Bittermens Tiki and Mole’ bitters along with Fee’s rhubarb bitters, but pick what flavors you like. Hard to go wrong here.
Every home bartender occasionally needs some inspiration. And while the internet is seemingly a bottomless well of cocktail recipes, there is still something about a good ‘ol cocktail book that brings a smile (it also doesn’t blow up if you spill booze on it).
And these days there are dozens of new cocktail books every season. Many are just recipes, but some also take advantage of the beauty of cocktail photos (something we enjoy thoroughly here at the Farm). So if you see a cocktail / photo book you like- go ahead and get it / gift it. Coffee tables are always improved by a good cocktail book.
But if you want to gift a book of cocktail recipes we have a few suggestions. For classics, all you need is The Savoy Cocktail Book. Harry Craddock’s classic has all the old-school recipes (the good, bad and ugly) plus fun illustrations and a few memorable quips.
For good technique and theory Gary Regan‘s The Joy of Mixology is still the standard. Part bartender training manual, part cocktail chemistry guide and part recipes, this book is what many bars give their bartenders-in-training. But this isn’t a textbook, Regan’s excellent writing and humor make this an easy, informative read. And once you get the basics you can easily make, or riff on, dozens of popular cocktails.
For more modern cocktails, Jim Meehan’s PDT Cocktail Book and Fred Yarm’ Drink and Tell: A Boston Cocktail Book are our favorites. The PDT Book is a hardcover, high production value homage to the Savoy cocktail book. It has beautiful illustrations and excellent recipes.
For a more DIY approach, cocktail blogger Fred Yarm takes many recipes from Boston bars and collects them into an inspiring collection of recipes in Drink and Tell. This self-published paperback is pretty basic, but once you look at the recipes you will be hooked.
Cool, “Antique” Glassware:
While it is true that the home bartender can make do with just a few tools, there are a few things that will certainly make them happy and provide inspiration. And there are few more inspirational items than cool glassware. It can be “antique” because it is truly old, looks cool, or simply because it came from a garage sale. It really doesn’t matter. We experience cocktails with our eyes, along with the other senses. A beautiful mixing glass, cocktail glass or coupé makes for a better drink.
And it isn’t about cost. We have a very nice antique mixing glass for Martinis (lovely, and a real treat- thanks Sonja!) but also serve our Manhattans and tiki drinks out of recycled marmalade jars. Both items are cool, both look great, but one costs quite a bit and the other is out of the recycling bin. Either gift will make the home mixologist happy. And remember, glassware does not have to match or come in sets. Some of the best bars serve drinks in singular, unmatched glassware. Sometimes it’s better to be one of a kind…
And finally, we suggest the most important gift. Time. Take the time to enjoy a drink, or a walk, or just a cup of coffee (if you must) with those you love. We will certainly enjoy the time over a cocktail, but that doesn’t really matter. People matter most. Spend some time with them.
- In praise of vermouth (eatocracy.cnn.com)
- Punt E Mes vs. Carpano Antica Part I: Which Vermouth Makes a Better Negroni? (boozedancing.wordpress.com)
- On Our Bookshelf: Apothecary Cocktails (okramagazine.org)
- Best martini ever? (citizenship.typepad.com)
- The Negroni (vinotekablog.wordpress.com)
- Martini Gran Lusso Vermouth: A New Top Shelf Celebration of An Old Standby (drinks.seriouseats.com)
- Top 10 Vermouths (thedrinksbusiness.com)
- Our version of the Boulevardier is a spicy kick in the head (orlandoweekly.com)
- November Cocktail: Hindenburg cocktail, or Pauline’s cherry lips (cafedeabejas.net)
- Manhattan Cocktail (wollybullyrestobar.wordpress.com)