He has a vast collection of ties, and she doesn’t need a stuffed animal – on account of her being an adult. She still hasn’t worn the heart shaped necklace you bought last year, and He has a pocket knife – not to mention enough sweaters to outfit a small (but handsomely dressed) army. If you have a partner that bartends, or enjoys mixing cocktails, you may feel like you don’t know what to get them. You don’t want to get them a bad bottle of liquor, or a cocktail tool that they’ll never use.
Help is here – you can stop panicking. Gone are the days of ironic boxers and weird coupon books (these have always seemed strange and oddly off-putting to me). Here is a list of gifts that I’m sure any cocktail enthusiast would love to have, or at least appreciate more than an edible arrangement.
I don’t know if it’s on purpose, but Liquid Intelligence by Dave Arnold looks like a text book. Its shiny and contrasting cover mimics the science books I had in junior high, and I find it quite fitting. This book is for the nerd in your life that not only knows what ice to use in what cocktail, but why, and how to make or use said ice. They’ll tell you why you shake instead of stir, and you’ll nod lovingly, sipping and enjoying your whiskey sour all the same. This passion for knowledge is why you love them, and this book will fill their gorgeous head with knowledge on every aspect of building cocktails.
Bar Book by Jeffrey Morgenthaler is another book about the technical side of making cocktails. Often, bartenders or cocktail fans receive hoards of recipe books, which is great, but it’s nice to get something different occasionally. This book is meant for just about anyone from beginner to expert when it comes to mixing drinks. It’s full of helpful tips on technique, and explains these techniques in a very simple way. Jeffrey Morgenthaler is known for his bar Clyde Common in Portland, and I think he does an awesome job with this book. It’s beautiful, easy to throw in your bag, and is an all around good read.
A knife in a bar is used for a lot of things; to open jars, to cut off labels, to fix fussy bottle caps, and after all that it becomes dull and can’t really do it’s true job, cutting stuff. Things changed for me after bringing a good paring knife into my bar. A good knife makes cutting garnish a breeze, and if your paramour has been using a dull one, this gift will be highly appreciated. Plus each time they use it they’ll think of you. (In a nice way, hopefully.) My two favorite paring knives are from Stelton and Wusthof.
The moment I had my first classic daquiri is the moment I truly understood the importance of fresh juice. A daquiri with freshly squeezed lime juice compares only to the bright light of God shining his infinite wisdom and love on all of his creation. A daquiri is the Beyonce’ of cocktails, and without fresh juice, it’d be the Bobby Moynihan to this video.
The importance of freshly squeezed juice is covered in the books first on this list, and in order to produce a delicious juice with the right balance of sweet to tart you need a handheld juicer. Don’t skimp on this, the cheap ones break within a week. There really is no comparison to fresh juice, and I promise that once you try it, it’ll be worth the effort.
There are a few things you learn in your first days of making cocktails. One of them is that you can never have too many band aids. It takes practice, and a little blood, to learn how to get the perfect peel for your drink. Even though the tool can be cumbersome at first, what you’re looking for is a “y peeler”. It doesn’t really matter what brand you get, just don’t submit yourself to the frustration of a potato peeler. I prefer the OXO Good Grips Pro Y – Peeler but again, it doesn’t really matter. These provide controlled and even peels, with just the right amount of pith. (Pith is the white spongey part between the outer peel and fruit of citrus. Too much can make a cocktail bitter.)
It seems silly, but ice can completely elevate a cocktail. From the moment it’s in the mixing glass or shaker, it begins to effect the spirits and mixers involved. While you usually can’t help the ice you shake or mix with, you can find ways to make the ice you serve with as “cool” as possible.
Even though summer seems like a distant dream right now, for a second picture you and your honey laying in the sun or lounging on the patio with an ice cold drink. A mint julep or Moscow mule will do the trick nicely, and all you need to create that beautifully crushed ice is a lewis bag & mallet. Providing perfect little gems of ice (and maybe a little therapy), these two will help create tasty summer beverages.
For something more appropriate to the current season, you’ll need a nice block of ice in your glass with your drink. The easiest way to get these is to use a silicone ice mold.
Pouring, Zesting, & Twists
- OXO Good Grips Zester – $7.99
- Cocktail Kingdom Japanese Jigger – $9.95 (plus shipping)
- Uber Bar Tools Projig – $18
One good thing about making cocktails is that usually they’re kind of hard to truly ruin. If you make it too sweet, add more citrus. Too tart, add more liquor or sugar. Cocktails are easy to edit, and rarely are doomed. With that said, these tools are not crucial. They are just the ones that I prefer after a few years of trial and error.
When measuring, I either use a Cocktail Kingdom Japanese Jigger or Uber Bar Tools Projig (or, as my hilarious coworker calls it, Playskool Bartender). For zesting, or making twists, I love OXO’s Good Grip Zester. These things aren’t romantic, and they won’t set the mood by themselves… but there’s something to be said about thoughtful and practical gifts… just wrap it up with a bow and add a cute note.
- Willett 2 year Single Barrel Rye Whiskey – $43.99
- Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon – $35.99
- Amaro Nonino – $47.99
- Leopold Bros. Apertivo – $29.99
Love is something that is beautiful, complex, and warms your body slow and from the inside. The only thing that could possibly warm you more is a good bottle of booze. It depends on your valentine’s palate – but I don’t think you can go wrong with whiskey.
Willett 2 Year Single Barrel Rye Whiskey is everything that you need in a bottle of liquor. It’s my absolute favorite rye and my constant go to. It’s smooth, sexy, and just good… It’s so good. At first sip you get a warm wave of vanilla. That first wave washes you out into an ocean of chocolate, cinnamon and caramel. The sea settles, and you float off into the sunset – smoky and warm. (Pardon my sappy description – but hey, it’s the season of love!)
If rye isn’t your love’s thing, and you still want to bring the heat (wink wink), skip the dozen roses and buy Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon. (See what I did there?) Four Roses is another staple whiskey, it’s much cheaper than the Willett, and it’s still really fucking good. This is a bottle that’s ideal for a quiet night in. It looks really good in a glass next to a book for some solo time, or snuggled up with you and your person.
You can never go wrong with a good amaro or apertiff either. Amaro Nonino is a grappa based Italian spirit. It’s a dryer amaro, tasting of licorice, tamarind and rhubarb. It’s herbal and full of spice. I like using it in cocktails, usually spirit based. It’s also good on it’s own, and it’s something that I’d suggest any cocktail fan to try out. Many know of Fernet Leopold, but recently Leopold released a delicious apertif. It’s orangy and has a dark bitterness to it. It’s lovely in a Negroni-like build, or again, drinking alone.
If they already have all the bottles they need, you may consider a decanter or glass set. It seems like low hanging fruit, but it’s something that most cocktail people like – but never spend the money on.
- Dolin Dry Vermouth – $14.99
- Carpano Antica Formula Sweet Vermouth – $31.99
- Lucid Absinthe – $59.99
A lot of people ask me if I have a full bar at home. In their mind, a bartender has a fully stocked selection of bottles, mixers, bitters, and glassware. In reality, my home has always only had a few things. On a day off, my drink of choice is simple – rye on the rocks or a classic cocktail like an Old Fashioned, Manhattan, or Sazerac. There are 3 things that I consider to be necessary for even the smallest home bar:
Vermouth – This is necessary for many things, from manhattans to martinis. A dry vermouth for martinis (I use Dolin Dry), and a sweet vermouth (Carpano Antica Formula).
Absinthe – A key component in a Sazerac, which is my favorite cocktail. Since it’s only a rinse on the glass that you need, the bottle lasts a very long time. I use Lucid in my bar, but you can use pretty much anything. I’ve heard Pernod and St. George are also good options.
Bitters – These are cruicial in almost any classic cocktail. Chances are that your cutie already has a few bottles at home, but just in case…
After all that, remember why you’re doing this to begin with. Good for you for looking out for your love interest, and way to go on snagging someone who can make you a solid drink.
About the Author: Ashley R. is the Head Bartender and Manager at Saint Lawrence Gridiron in Boise, Idaho. She’s known for challenging traditional expectations regarding what a cocktail should be, and having an intuitive understanding of the way flavors interact. She’s currently on a mission to trick her bourbon drinking boss into drinking gin. We’ll keep you posted on that.