Great Boozy Holiday Gifts - Updated September 2019

Like a lot of people, I’ve given the gift of alcohol many times. Sometimes it’s the gift of last resort: the bottle of wine I buy on the way to a party, the bottle of whiskey for that one person who really has me stumped this year. Alcohol is an easy present to give anyone who drinks because it’s guaranteed to be used, guaranteed to be enjoyed. But for the right person—the wine connoisseur, the beer geek, the cocktail enthusiast—the gift of booze (or something booze-related) can also be exciting and special.

Here are the boozy gifts we’d be excited to give—and get—all offering a little something more than the basic bottle of wine, or, for that matter, any of the practical gear we spend all year testing. We’ve included the best spirits your loved ones may never have tried, the best books to expand their drinking horizons, and the gear to make every cocktail hour feel like a special occasion.

This list comes backed by the pros. I asked for advice from five experts in the world of drinks and drinking: Talia Baiocchi, Joshua M. Bernstein, Martin Cate, Jeffrey Morgenthaler, and Ann Tuennerman. Baiocchi is the editor-in-chief of the online magazine Punch and the author, with Leslie Pariseau, of the cocktail book SpritzBernstein is a beer and spirits writer, and the author most recently of the book Complete IPACate is the owner of San Francisco’s renowned tiki bar, Smuggler’s Cove, and the author of a book by the same name; Morgenthaler is a cocktail writer, author of The Bar Bookand bar manager at Clyde Common in Portland, Oregon; Tuennerman is the founder of Tales of the Cocktail, a world-renowned series of cocktail festivals. (Tunnerman stepped down from an active role at Tales of the Cocktail in 2018.) Everything here is something one (or more) of them recommended, and sure to please even the most discerning of drinkers.

A Proper Drink by Robert Simonson and Regarding Cocktails by Sasha Petraske

For the serious cocktail nerd, consider pairing two new books: A Proper Drink,by New York Times writer Robert Simonson, and Regarding Cocktails, by Sasha Petraske. The former, recommended by both Talia Baiocchi and Martin Cate, is more nonfiction than recipe book, a history of the craft cocktail revival of the past 20 years. The book starts in the Rainbow Room in New York City and moves on to San Francisco, then London, then to Eastern Europe. Through profiles of bartenders and bars, it covers the birth of the Cosmopolitan, molecular mixology, and the tiki revival, scattering recipes for both classic and “new classic” cocktails throughout. “Even if you’re not into drinks,” Baiocchi said, “it’s a really good story.”

A Proper Drink is also a great jumping off point to dive into what Baiocchi calls an “essential book of recipes”: Regarding Cocktails by Sasha Petraske. Petraske was the bartender best known for the NYC cocktail destination Milk & Honey (now closed), and features heavily in Simonson’s book. He died suddenly in 2015, and so the book, finished posthumously by his widow, Georgette Moser-Petraske, is partly what he intended. It’s a meticulous guide to making cocktails at home, and partly a memorial to the man himself. The recipes, illustrated with beautiful minimalist graphics, are his, but the introductions to each come from other bartenders and friends. The recipes—which are “awesome but really easy,” according to Baiocchiare reason enough to get the book. Petraske believed that every cocktail is a variation of one of five classics: the Old Fashioned, the highball, the sour, the Martini or Manhattan, or the fix. The book devotes a chapter to each, offering recipes that perfect or play upon these basics in refined, uncomplicated ways. But it also includes some great reading material, from a super serious and detailed discussion of how to throw a cocktail party, to an unfinished essay on “Cocktails for Your Cat”the clearest example of the absurd wit that often shines through Petraske’s exacting approach.

Amaro by Brad Thomas Parsons and a bottle of Amaro Lucano

Last update on 2019-09-20 PST - Details

Amaro, a bittersweet, herbal Italian digestif, has come into favor recently among bartenders and sommeliers. The name encompasses a vast array of liqueurs, from more familiar ones like Fernet, to sweet, citrus-y varieties and bracingly bitter alpine formulations. And now, to explore all of it, there’s Amaro, a book by James Beard Award-winning writer Brad Thomas Parsons. It comes recommended by both Talia Baiocchi and Martin Cate, who describes it as “a deep and well-written work on the history and culture of amari.”

Amaro includes a discussion of the many different types and styles of amari, not just Italian but also from elsewhere in Europe and from new American producers. It also includes more than 100 recipes, for everything from new and classic cocktails to amaro-laced desserts. There are even recipes for how to make your own amaro.

Pair this book with a bottle of Amaro Lucano, a complex amaro with notes of cinnamon and licorice that Baiocchi calls one of her “go-tos,” and you’ve got a great gift for the budding amaro enthusiast or for that one friend who always orders negronis (Campari, as Parsons explains, falls under the broadest definition of an amaro, hitting all the same bittersweet notes).

The Bar Book by Jeffrey Morgenthaler and Swissmar Cocktail Spoon

For anyone who likes to make cocktails, The Bar Book by Jeffrey Morgenthaler, the cocktail writer and bar manager behind Clyde Common in Portland, Oregon, is a great foundational text, recommended by Martin Cate who calls it “an excellent book for technique.” Morgenthaler breaks the book down by the elements of a cocktail: There are chapters on citrus juices, simple syrups, ice, and mixing methods, among other things. Recipes are included, but this is more about getting down the skills and the knowledge base to make great cocktails on your own.

If you really want to seem in-the-know, give this book with a Swissmar Cocktail Spoon. Morgenthaler told me that this is his out-and-out favorite spoon, and something that he often likes to give to other people. “I use it at all my bars, everyone uses it,” he says, so giving it as a gift is “kind of like a wink and a handshake. This is the spoon that the pros use.” That being said, it’s nothing fancy, just highly functional. It has a nice heavy muddler on the end, Morgenthaler said, and “the coil on the spoon is just the right size”: not too tight and slippery, nor too wide and clunky.

Smuggler’s Cove by Martin Cate and Rebecca Cate and a bottle of The Real McCoy 12 Year Aged Rum

Last update on 2019-09-20 PST - Details

While tiki drinks may not be an everyday beverage for most people, Jeffrey Morgenthaler said Martin and Rebecca Cate’s Smuggler’s Covetitled after their San Francisco bar of the same name, “is the best book to come out in a while.” The book is more than just recipes for novelty cocktails, it covers everything from the history of tiki to the story of rum to how to throw a tiki party. The recipes themselves (more than 100 of them) are also polished and refinedserious rum drinks, not sugary concoctions. “With this book, you can make drinks as good as the pros,” Morgenthaler said.

Jumpstart tiki practice with a bottle of The Real McCoy 12 Year Aged Rum. Martin Cate himself recommends it: “It’s a really well-made, balanced rum that has plenty of body and a nice level of oak,” he said. “There are no additives or sugar added post-distillation, and the age statement is a minimum, not an average.” At a reasonable price, this is one of those rums that’s great for cocktails, said Cate, but still “interesting enough to enjoy on its own.”

Rastal Teku Beer Glass

Last update on 2019-09-20 PST - Details

A good beer is like a good wine: You’ll get more out of it if you drink it from the right glass. The problem, of course, is that “the right glass” doesn’t just mean a pint glass. Different beer styles traditionally call for different shapes of glassware, with so much variation that it’s impractical to try to stock a home kitchen with all of them.

Save your beer connoisseur friend the clutter and gift him or her a set of Rastal’s Teku glasses (also available as a set of six). This German-made glass is “one size fits all for a variety of styles,” said Joshua Bernstein. “It’s really elegant, and it’s nice not to have to clog your cabinets with a bunch of different glasses.” It also comes with impressive credentials: It was designed by Teo Musso, the founder of Italy’s Baladin brewery (one of the first in the country’s new wave of craft breweries), along with Lorenzo Dabove, a beer writer and sensory analyst. The tulip-shaped glass they came up with has a lot of fans in the craft beer world, and it would make a thoughtful gift (maybe with a mixed case?) for the beer obsessed.

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