We’ve all spent more time at home this year than Napoleon circa 1816. When it comes to gifts your friends and loved ones can actually use, I may be biased - but cocktails are a great place to start.
Need some ideas? Check out this guide I put together with my favorite cocktail-related gifts for 2020, whether you’re shopping for a beverage obsessive who discusses mezcal as if it’s a close personal friend, or a casual gin drinker who occasionally forgets to stir their Negronis.
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The Special-Occasion Jigger
photo credit: Kate Previte
When I make drinks, I mostly use a lightweight Japanese-style jigger from Cocktail Kingdom. It’s super practical, and you see it at a lot of cocktail bars. But every once in a while, I reach for my gold Leopold jigger (also from Cocktail Kingdom). It’s shiny and luxurious - but I also like the weight of it in my hand, and I appreciate the internal hash marks that let you measure anywhere between .25 and 2 ounces. This is my special-occasion jigger, I guess. That might seem like a weird thing to have - but it’s important to appreciate the little things in life.
The Whiskey Alternative
A few things about myself: I’m from Seattle, I dropped out of college three times, and I like rum a lot. Why do I like rum? That’s a tough question - although I feel like I want to say, “Because it’s delicious.” There’s also just a huge variety of rum, which makes it fun to explore, but if you specifically need a gift, I suggest a bottle of Ten To One Gold Rum. Yes, the bottle looks great, but the contents are also good enough to sip neat. If you know someone who likes whiskey, be a slightly annoying person and get them this instead. It’s similar in spirit (absolutely no pun intended), but with a little more depth and funk.
The Vodka That Looks & Does Good
Full disclosure, I used to work with one of the co-founders of Supergay Spirits. He also used to have a wine store in the East Village where I’d stop in once a week and ask annoying questions about wine. But that was years ago. Now he’s making corn-based vodka in upstate New York (as one does) - and it’s incredibly smooth. Also, the bottle is beautiful, and, right now, a portion of the sales are going to NYC-based restaurant relief organization, ROAR. This is a no-brainer.
The Rapid Infuser
Don’t ever let anyone tell you that there aren’t any shortcuts in life. Shortcuts exist everywhere, and the ISI Whipper is one of them. People usually use these things to make whipped cream - but, due to the immense pressure that builds up inside of the metal container, you can also use it to perform rapid liquor infusions. Just add your spirit of choice and whatever you want to infuse it with (cacao nibs, dried juniper berries, etc.), then charge up the container. You’ll have a magically infused spirit in under five minutes.
The Nerdy Cocktail Experiment
If you buy your loved one some Telephone Brand Agar Agar, I’ll be super impressed. It’s maybe one of the cocktail-nerdiest things you can do. But let’s back up. If you’re unfamiliar, agar agar is a plant-based gelatin substitute, and it’ll help you remove the solids from, say, orange or lemon juice. Why would you want to do that? Because transparent juice looks very cool, and kitchen experiments are fun. For instructions, see my next gift suggestion.
The Cocktail-Making Bible
To understand how cocktails work, read Liquid Intelligence. There’s honestly no better way to get started in the world of making drinks. In this book, Dave Arnold provides in-depth explanations of everything from shaking and stirring to fat washing and juice clarification, and he somehow makes it all somewhat entertaining. Get this for anyone who’s into science, cocktails, or attractive books they can leave on their coffee table in order to look refined. It’s an essential addition to any home.
The Tote for Cocktail Shopping
Once a week, I walk to a tiny store across from my apartment and buy about four pounds of lemons. I’m curious if they ever wonder why I need so many lemons, but I’ll probably never know the answer to this. However, I do know that a tote comes in handy, and my tote of choice is from Hunky Dory, a Crown Heights restaurant run by one of my favorite bartenders, Claire Sprouse. It’s perfect for when you’re shopping for cocktail ingredients, and it tells the world that you care about community-oriented businesses that happen to serve great drinks.
The Hot Toddy Mug
One of my favorite drinks is actually a hot cocktail called a Tom & Jerry. It’s fun to make, it’s perfect for the holidays, and - now that I’ve mentioned it - I’ll probably have to tell you how to make one. No matter what your hot drink of choice is, it’s the season for mugs. Harry Trinh designed this one for Welcome To Chinatown - an initiative providing relief and support for businesses in Manhattan’s Chinatown - and 100% of the profits go to the restaurant Jing Fong. If, like me, you very much miss eating dim sum in the massive dining room at Jing Fong, this mug will help console you. Also, it’s perfect for a Tom & Jerry.
The Bartender's Hat
For the past 8 months, I’ve been cutting my own hair. I’ve actually gotten pretty decent at it, but I’d still say it looks “kind of embarrassing” and “not that good.” Which is why I wear a hat whenever I film cocktail stories for Instagram. Actually, I wear a hat most of the time, and it’s often a hat from Park Delicatessen, a tiny shop in Brooklyn that happens to sell flowers, skateboards, and a bunch of clothing items. Grab your loved ones some hats like mine. It’ll make them better bartenders (not guaranteed).
The Conversation-Starting Glassware
I don’t like to think of myself as an especially fussy or precious person, but there are some little things that I’m weirdly passionate about. Glassware, for example. I have strong feelings about glasses, and, one day, I’d like to throw a dinner party and serve all the drinks in Sophie Lou Jacobsen’s Ripple Cups. People will say things like, “Where in the world did you get these glasses?” And I’ll be like, “You know, I can’t remember. I really don’t think about these things.” Unfortunately, Ripple Cups seem to be in short supply these days - but if you can’t find the color you’re looking for, just pick up one of the pitchers. They are, if anything, even more gift-worthy.
The Most Gift-Worthy Glassware
More glasses? Yes, more glasses - because you probably know a lot of people who drink out of glasses. These Gradient Glasses from Lateral Objects are particularly attractive and gift-worthy, and they’ll make anyone in life want to consume more water, milk, or cocktails. Put a New York Sour in one of these things, and it’ll probably be the most majestic thing you’ve ever seen.
The Cocktail Party-Starter (Even for a Party of One)
You can’t have a cocktail party without music - and I’m exactly the sort of person who’ll sit in the corner and mess with your playlist for an hour. Recently, I gifted this Sonos One speaker to a friend, and I have to say, it’s a very nice object. The design is clean, it’s easy to use, and the sound quality is super impressive. This thing gets loud, and it’ll help your friends and family members enjoy some Flo Milli while making Negronis.
The Special Paring Knife
Every bartender needs a paring knife. It doesn’t have to be a fancy one - although, at a certain point, you might feel like investing in something that you’ll keep forever and enjoy fawning over in your free time. Technically, this one’s a petty knife (a type of small Japanese utility knife), but I find the size is perfect for slicing fruit and cutting garnishes, and I sometimes just stand in my kitchen and look at it. If you need more knives, It’s also worth looking around the Chubo site in general. They specialize in Japanese cutlery, which I’ll almost definitely be gifting this winter.
The Non-Boring Bitters
I never remember to buy bitters for myself, so I always appreciate it whenever someone chooses to gift me some - like this set from Hella Cocktail Co. It comes with five varieties, which means that, with one bottle of bourbon, you can make five Old Fashioneds that all taste a little different. The aromatic bitters that come with this set are also significantly brighter and spicier than Angostura aromatic bitters (the most common kind out there), and they’re perfect for any season that involves sweaters, snow, and pumpkin-flavored things.
The Very Best Negronis
There was a period in my life when I spent far too much time at Dante. I’d leave work at my fine-dining job in Midtown, then take the F train down to Greenwich Village and hang out at the bar in a black suit that I was too tired to take off after my shift. And the main allure was always Dante’s Negronis. Dante makes the best Negronis in NYC. I don’t think that’s a controversial statement at all - and if you know anyone who’s obsessed with those bitter orange drinks, Dante’s Negroni Sessions Pack is an ideal gift. It comes with four different Negronis (in 8-ounce bottles) as well as some coasters, in case you forget what it’s like to sit at a bar and use one of those.