Adam Elmegirab

The spirit of giving: cocktail and spirit gifts for this Christmas

 

Well it’s that time of year again, when the bars start getting crowded and the smell of mulled wine fills the air, which of course means that Christmas is fast approaching. I’ve held off on posting a Christmas list blog post for as long as I can, as frankly I hate seeing this season exploited in November, but as we get closer to the big day I thought I should share a few of those ‘must have’ present ideas for the cocktail enthusiast, bartender or hardened drinker in your life. So below you’ll find some of the things I would be happy to find waiting for me under the tree, as well as a few of the things that I’ve been especially pleased with owning this year.

If, like me, you fell that one of the few saving graces of the festive period is the excuse to have a few ‘festive’ drinks to drown out the hectic month of December, I hope you’ll find this list helpful. Maybe it’ll give you a few things to put on your own Christmas list, or inspire you to buy something booze related for a loved one. If all else fails nothing says ‘I love you’ like a bottle of good Whiskey and some tumblers to drink it from, and the best part is getting to share the gift you’ve just given!

Home made cocktail ingredients

 

Over the last few years there has been a growing movement within the cocktail bar scene for using homemade ingredients. Creating your own infusions, bitters and tinctures can offer a chance to be creative and unique in the cocktails you’re making. But there can be a downside to this as well. I always think of the practice of creating your own ingredients as being similar to the way a chef works with new products, but the big difference is that a chef is (usually) trained as a professional to handle ingredients in a safe way. Often when a bartender starts working with exotic herbs, spices, barks and berries they are doing so as an interested amateur.

I was judging a cocktail competition last year and one of the competitors presented a homemade chorizo infused tequila. When the judges quizzed him about how he had infused it, he replied that he has simply added sliced chorizo to tequila and allowed the flavour to infuse over a period of several days. It occured to me that he was thinking about combining flavours that would work well, but hadn’t thought about how to handle these ingredients in a safe way. Leaving a meat product sitting at room temperature, or even more likely on a hot back bar, for several days has the potential to make your customers seriously sick. Even infused in a strong spirit there is a chance that bacteria cultures could grow and lead to food poisoning. Had the bartender researched the idea of infusing meat into a spirit he would have found that there is a safe way of doing this, through fat washing, and would have produced a product that was safe to serve to customers, especially if stored correctly.

The mysterious magic of bitters

It’s a familiar scene; you're sat at the bar watching your drink be made, the ingredients go in one by one, then the bartender reaches for a tiny bottle and dashes of few drops of bitters in before shaking or stirring it to perfection. Before I was in the drinks industry I remember being slightly mystified by these few drops of liquid and to be honest I wondered what so small an amount of anything could possibly add to my drink. Was this just for show or part of the magic of making cocktails?
 
 
Now more than ever bars have huge selections of bitters, often in unmarked bottles or with homemade labels on them. They have become one of the biggest fads in the drinks industry and more varieties are coming onto the market all the time. A few years back it was’nt uncommon to find that a bar had maybe two or three varieties of bitters, almost certainly Angostura, maybe Peychaud’s and maybe even an orange bitters. Now a bar isn’t complete without whiskey barrel aged bitters, celery, lemon, cardamom, liquorice, mole, peach, pineapple, and a selection of freshly brewed homemade flavours. So what is it about these mysterious liquids that make them so indispensible to the modern bartender and why do we use them in cocktails anyway?
 
 
I touched on the subject of bitters in a recent blog update and mentioned their origins as tonics for your health and in fact many early cocktails were designed to help the drinker deal with any number of different maladies. But over the years their health giving properties have become less of a focus however what they add to a drink is still indispensible. Ask any good bartender about bitters and they’re likely to tell you they are ‘seasoning for cocktails’ in just the way that salt and pepper are for food.