Well it’s that time of year again, the weather’s turned cold, the shops are packed full off people battling to spend their money as fast as possible and every bar has mulled wine or hot spiced cider bubbling away. Yep the run up to Christmas is in full swing, like it or not. So I thought rather than simply trot out a few recipes for hot cocktails or recommend where you should go for your office party, I’d instead work up a list of booze related presents to suit every relative or friend. So below is the official b&t cocktail and spirit Christmas list.
The great thing about giving spirits or cocktail related goodies for Christmas is that you’re likely to be able to share in the enjoyment of the gifts. I know they say that the pleasure is in the giving rather than the receiving, but as far as I’m concerned the pleasure is also in the sipping. So below you’ll find some of my favourite tipples, bits of cocktail equipment and booze related paraphernalia that should help you to have a very merry Christmas indeed!
I’ve based the b&t Christmas shopping list around having something for everyone, and I’ve also given thought to the products that I’ve encountered over the past year that have stood out as being exceptional. All of them are available online too (order by the 21st to ensure pre-chrimbo delivery), so instead of braving the streets you can simply stir yourself a Manhattan and settle down in front of your computer and complete your Christmas shopping in style. There’s no need to thank me, simply add my name to your list and buy me a boozy present instead…
Here are a few must have items for anyone who loves cocktails and is brave enough to turn their hand to making them at home. One of the biggest problems with making drinks at home is stocking up your home drinks cabinet with enough variety to be able to turn out a wide selection of drinks. Well here are a few items that won’t break the bank, but that will help pad out the recipient's drinks selection at home:
The Bitter Truth traveller’s set – this handy set comprises miniature bottles of chocolate, celery, orange, aromatic and Creole bitters, all of which are made to the highest standards. At just £15.75 it's a bargain too, and will delight any cocktail devotee!
Merlet Liqueurs – available in small bottles, these beautifully crafted liqueurs made by the Merlet family in Cognac are a must-have for any cocktail enthusiast. Each and every one of the range, (fraise, framboise, peche, mure) is made to pack a powerful flavour that will bring your cocktails to life. Collecting a wide range of liqueurs for your home bar can get pretty expensive, but these 200ml bottles are the perfect solution. They also do small bottles of their Triple Sec, which was developed in collaboration with one of our favourite bartenders, Tony Conigliaro. Buy the whole set and really make someones day.
Jade Absinthe – Jade make a range of luxury absinthes, which are loving recreations of some of the recipes that were lost to the absinthe ban. The full sized bottles would be a fantastic and generous gift, but for those working to a tighter budget the 200ml bottles are ideal. Many old cocktail recipes call for just a dash or a rinse of absinthe and at b&t we love both the Espirit Edouard and the Nouvelle Orleans for their complexity and balance.
Sipsmith – as well as making a fantastic gin and a lovely vodka, the chaps at Sipsmith also produce small batches of Damson Vodka liqueur and Sloe Gin. Available in 50cl bottles these are a perfect seasonal gift as well as a traditional English tipple.
We all have friends and family who like their drinks on the sweeter side, but why stick with boring old Bailey’s or Tia Maria, when you could explore alternative less obvious options, and delight them with something a bit more unusual? The added benefit of the liqueurs below is that they are delightful on their own, but can also be used to enliven many a cocktail too!
St Germain – this beautifully packaged elderflower liqueur not only looks like a decadent gift, it also packs an amazing punch of flavour. Floral and delicate, it can be enjoyed on the rocks, but is also fantastic in a cocktail. Why not add 20ml to a glass of champagne for a refreshing pre-turkey drink?
Fratello – a hazelnut liqueur from Italy, full of rich nutty sweetness but more balanced and less sweet than Frangelico. This is perfect for after dinner, but can also be stirred into an Old Fashioned to add a more seasonal twist. At b&t we like 10ml of this along with three dashes of Bitter Truth Jerry Thomas bitters, stirred down with 60ml of bourbon and plenty of ice.
The King’s Ginger – liqueurs don’t get much more traditional than this. A ginger liqueur, developed for a King by his physicians, in order to warm him during the cold winter months. From sipping it you’d never guess that it’s a hefty 41% abv. This is a favourite late evening tipple to enjoy by an open fire, and is a must-have for the silly season!
Cherry Marnier – Full of wintery flavours, Cognac and cherry combine to form a sweet liqueur that goes down a treat. For non-cocktail drinkers (are there such a thing?) it’s great on the rocks, but for the home bartender it's perfect for all those old recipes that call for ‘cherry brandy’. At b&t we love this product for adding depth of flavour to our Remember the Maine cocktails; a Sweet Manhattan with a barspoon of cherry brandy, served in an absinthe rinsed glass.
Jagermeister - this is top of the list for every bartender, but don't expect it to last long. This herbal liqueur is a real love-it-or-hate-it product, but almost every bartender I know loves it! For a delighted response on christmas day, wrap it, put it in the freezer, and tell your bartender friend/relative where to find their present, they'll appreciate finding it chilled and ready to quaff.
We all like to indulge during the Christmas hols, and that shouldn’t be limited to eating too many mince pies. When it comes to drinks over the festive season, I’ve found that giving a bottle of a really good spirit usually results in it promptly being opened and shared. The pleasure really is in the giving, as long as you get to enjoy a dram or two as well.
I’ve focussed on the dark spirits as they somehow feel more seasonal, but you’ll find a few lighter spirits mixed in for the gin, vodka and tequila lovers out there too. Don’t forget to spoil yourself this season and pick up a bottle of your favourite spirit while you’re buying pressies for everyone else!
Whisky is a pretty broad category and there are a mind blowing number to choose from, so below is a small selection from a number of different countries, so that you can give an unexpected gift to the whisky drinker in your family
Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch 2010 – I know I’m biased but this really is one of the most exceptional bourbons I have ever tried (and I’ve tried a few!). A well-balanced sweetness plays off of dry spicy notes from the high rye content of this beautifully crafted spirit. Flavours of maple, cherry, tobacco and chocolate coat the tongue, and the rich mouth-feel of this non-chillfiltered bourbon make for a long lingering finish. There aren’t many bottles left in the UK so this really is a most generous gift.
Jameson Gold Reserve – this is a beautifully crafted spirit that will win any whisky fan round to drinking Irish. It’s sad that all too often whiskey from the Emerald Isle plays second fiddle to Scotch, so why not surprise someone this year and introduce them to a spirit they won’t forget?
Suntory Hibiki 17yo – Japanese Whisky is a fast growing category and this is a fantastic example of the great products coming out of the East. The Hibiki 17 is a perfect gift for anyone who enjoys Scotch but has yet to explore whisky from Japan. The 12yo is also a great product if you’re shopping to a tighter budget.
The Glenlivet 16yo Nadurra – this no-nonsense cask strength, non-chillfiltered, non-wine finished whiskey is an unusual delight. If the Scotch drinker in your family hasn’t yet discovered this gem, then we guarantee this will be the best gift they get this year. Even if they’ve already tried it, then they’ll grin from ear to ear because they know what a treat they’re in for.
Cognac is a drink that I always enjoy over the festive season, perfect for after the third helping of dinner. Bring out the cigars, pour a generous measure and sit back and relax while the rest of the family doze in front of the TV. There’s no need to break the bank when it comes to this fine French spirit, so I’ve offered three expressions at different price points depending on how generous you want to be!
Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac – a great introduction to the world of cognac and designed to be perfect either for cocktails or as a digestif. Based on the three star cognacs much favoured by pioneering cocktail bartenders of the late 1800’s, this is designed to be punchy and lively enough to stand up to mixing and yet is still refined enough to be enjoyed neat. At just £35.75 this is a bargain too.
Martell Cordon Bleu – The bottle may lack the bling of some of the XO and higher cognacs, but as any afficionado will tell you this is truly wonderful stuff. For years this has been my go-to cognac when I feel the need to spoil myself a little. So this year why not splash out on someone you love by giving them a bottle of cognac they can savour!
Hennessy Paradis Imperial Cognac – if money is no object, then this is a great choice. Inspired by a blend made for Tsar Alexander and using some of Hennessey's finest cognacs from the 19th and 20th century, Paradis Imperial is a cognac you won’t soon forget.
Rum is a spirit that works year round, but some of the older more mature rums call out to be sipped during the colder months. So below are three very different rums for you in the hope that there will be something for everybody!
El Dorado 15yo – this is one of my favourite rums of all time and is a desirable choice for any rum drinker. A blend of rums from Guyana all of which are 15 years or older, this fine rum is full of sweet and spicy Christmas flavours. Dark and intensely flavoured with a beautiful lingering finish, this is the rum lovers idea of a perfect gift! Unbelievable value for a product of such exceptional quality.
Appleton 21yo Rum – an exceptionally smooth Jamaican rum that would take pride of place in any drinks cabinet, this is one for the rum connoisseur in your life! Appleton 21yo is a rich rum with deep molases sweetness balanced with hints of warm spice and vanilla, surpassingly smooth, it offers a taste sensation that will linger in your memory long after the final sip is gone!
Wray & Nephew – buying a boozy gift for the bartender in your life? really there are only two choices (see Jagermeister above!). Wray packs a real punch, but be warned, this is not for the feint of heart as it comes in at a hefty . Much like Jager it’s rare that a bartender opens a bottle and doesn’t finish it in the same sitting! Trust me when I say this is the perfect drink for the drink slinger in your life!
Of course not everyone loves whisky, rum or cognac, there are the vodka drinkers, the gin sippers and of course tequila lovers too, so don’t miss them out, get them a quality bottle of their favourite tipple.
Geranium Gin – it’s an old favourite of ours at b&t and one of the best new gins on the market. Don’t let the name fool you into thinking of granny’s perfume; this is a beautifully balanced gin that improves any drink it’s mixed into. Juniper led, with a balance of citrus, floral and spice notes, it is perfectly balanced and is great for classic gin cocktails.
Belvedere Vodka – If someone you know and love is a vodka drinker and, despite your best efforts refuses to drink anything else, at least make sure they are drinking a good one! Belvedere is an exceptionally smooth and flaverful rye based vodka, and is sure to go down a treat when you introduce them to a Kangaroo cocktail (a vodka martini).
Ocho Anejo tequila – usually I’m a fan of blanco and reposado tequilas, but every now and then I find an exception. Ocho Anejo is aged to the bare minimum allowed to fall into the category of ‘anejo’ and this allows the beautiful agave flavours to still shine, while being aged just long enough to make it smooth and easy to drink. Once again a spirit that can be mixed but that any tequila lover can appreciate neat. Just do me a favour and leave out the salt and lime, this isn’t a cheap ‘shot’ tequila!
Finally the other bits and pieces that any cocktail enthusiast will be delighted to find under the tree. Once again these are slightly selfish gifts as, once given, you should expect to receive cocktails of the highest order, stirred by the lucky recipient.
You could trawl eBay looking for a first edition Savoy Cocktail Book or an antique mixing glass, but the chances are you’ll be out bid by some bartender who spends his free time trawling the net looking for obscure and unusual cocktail memorabilia. Have no fear though there are a few modern books, that will still be a hit and won’t bankrupt you. Likewise you can buy premium bar tools that will delight any drinks geek, and have them stirring and shaking to show their appreciation.
PDT Cocktail Book – I blogged about this book recently, but suffices to say that this is one of the best modern cocktail books you’ll find. The drinks have been taken from the seasonal menus at this famous NY bar, but also lists classics, and drinks developed by other bartenders. This is a book that any cocktail lover will treasure.
Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails – a beautifully presented book, full of cocktails that have almost faded into oblivion. There’s not a dud recipe in it, and you can trust me on that as I’ve tried them all! This is one of my go-to books when I’m looking for inspiration or can’t decide what to shake up next.
Imbibe – Dave Wondrich has started with the first ever bartender guide (Jerry Thomas' Bon Vivant's Companion 1862) and used the drinks in it to explore the history of each category of mixed drink. Comprising of countless cocktail recipes as well as brief histories and thoughts on historical cocktails, Imbibe is beautifully written and is the ultimate drinks book for any serious cocktail geek!
The Mixing Glass – based in Denmark, but with shipping available across Europe, this site offers top quality bar tools for professionals and home bartenders alike. I can’t explain why, but a Manhattan tastes better when stirred in a crystal mixing glass, with a long Japanese style barspoon. Anyone interested in making drinks at home will be delighted to unwrap a selection of bartools from the Mixing Glass! - Oh and a heads up that the prices are in Danish Kroner so you'll need to divide by 9 (aprox).
I hope you’ll find the answer to your Christmas shopping needs listed somewhere above, but if not then drop us a line and we’ll try to help you find what you’re looking for. Also if you need a few serving suggestions to go with the spirits you're giving we're always happy to point you in the right direction!
More importantly though, if you see a few items you'd like for yourself then why not forward this blog to your friends and family as a less than subtle hint? Happy shopping and here's hoping you have a very spiritous Christmas indeed!