As a longtime bartender and a writer on the subject of spirits, I’ve given a lot of thought to gifts that would be welcome in any home bar (including my own). From apéritifs to tiki time, muddling to single malts, here are ideas to make every drink lover in your life tipsy with joy.
1. In print: A trio of boozy new books
Books on the subject of drink made a strong showing this year. Three standouts are Rebekah Peppler’s effervescent Apéritif: Cocktail Hour the French Way ($18.99), Gabriella Mlynarczyk’s ingenious Clean + Dirty Drinking: 100+ Recipes for Making Delicious Elixirs, With or Without Booze ($19.95),and the freshly revised and updated edition of Gary Regan’s classic, The Joy of Mixology ($30.00). Together, this trio makes for an impressively varied mini-library—but any one of the books would make a thoughtful gift for a cocktail lover.
2. Fine art: Portrait of a Negroni
My talented friend Melanie Dunea is well known for the intimate photographs of celebrated chefs in her book, My Last Supper, and elsewhere. More recently she has trained her expert eye (and disarming sense of humor) on food itself—and drink, too. Her striking, almost-abstract, tongue-in-cheek “portrait” of a spilled Negroni ($350) would look sharp over any home bar.
3. Gin: A Black Forest beauty
I’m unabashedly pro-gin, but I know the spirit has its detractors. Here’s a gin to win over the most recalcitrant, self-proclaimed gin-hater you know. Made in Germany with a robust and balanced blend of 47 botanicals, Monkey 47 makes for an unusually earthy martini, and shines in straightforward highballs like gin-and-tonic. It comes in a dark, diminutive 375 ml. bottle that stands out in any liquor lineup. ($41.99)
4. Glass: Coupes de Grace
The thought of stealing a prop from a photo shoot once crossed my mind. Did I do it? Of course not. It was only a fleeting, shameful moment, but, years later, I still pine for the object of my desire: a Baccarat coupe. Sold in pairs, these Harcourt 1841 glasses—Baccarat classics, among its oldest designs—are not only stunning to behold, they’re also wonderful to hold, beautifully weighted, luxurious in the hand. Science might not support the notion that gorgeous glassware makes drinks taste better, but we instinctively know it does: I’d love a Martini or Manhattan in one of these. Or Champagne. I would probably drink tap water from them, too—if I could. ($490)
5. Bartending: A superior muddler
The Wooden Palate, based in Los Angeles, makes all manner of useful and handsome wooden things, including coasters, cutting boards and salt cellars fashioned from reclaimed planks of the Atlantic City Boardwalk. It also makes a cone muddler ($45) that’s one of the best-looking and sturdiest smashing sticks around. Sugar cubes and sprigs of mint: You’ve been warned.
6. Spoon: Put a skull on it
Sometimes, when I make cocktails at home for friends, my bar spoon upstages me. And I totally understand: the thing makes me smile every time I catch a glimpse of it on my bar. A collaboration between Cocktail Kingdom and tiki king Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, the skull bar spoon comes in a range of lengths and finishes. I think the gold-plated number makes the biggest statement. ($31.99)
7. Whisky: A Scottish Splurge
This I believe: It’s silly, showy, and status-obsessed to spend $750 on a bottle of whisky (or anything, for that matter). I do not encourage it.
But press really hard, and I’ll make one exception. If money really is no object, and you want to buy someone very special a bottle they’ll never forget (and you promise you’ll donate an equal amount to charity), that bottle should be Highland Park 25 Year Old.
It’s warm and woodsy and spicy, suggestive of walnuts and dried dark cherries and dark chocolate and just enough peat smoke. It has a slow, soft, sweet finish. It is so good. (But I’d be remiss not to tell you that its sibling, Highland Park 12 Year Old, is also exceptional—and runs about $55).