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!
Most of these drinks related gifts can be bought online, which hopefully means that like me, you’ll simply make yourself a Hot Toddy, fire up your laptop and avoid the crowded streets while spending far too much money on your loved ones… oh and if you want to know what to get me for Christmas, then a bottle of Bourbon always fits the bill!
Yes, that’s right, you can forget the cheap chocolate version of the advent calendar and instead enjoy a dram of your favourite tipple each day of the silly season. Frankly if you’ve braved the crowds and been out shopping then you’ll probably need a drink when you get home! Master of Malt offer two versions of the 'advent calendar' for your sipping pleasure, one for the Gin lush in your life and one for the Whisky drinker.
Behind each door you’ll find a 3cl sample of a different product waiting to help you take the edge off. The thing I love about this (other than the fact it’s a boozy advent calendar) is that it gives you a chance to try a lot of different brands and maybe discover a new favourite. At £149.95 for the Whisky version and £79.95 for the gin incarnation, they’re a touch more than your average advent calendar, but then again, considering what's behind each door, you're actually getting great value for money too!
Ok so this is a luxury present, in fact it’s probably the ultimate gift for the bartender in your life, but trust me it's worth every penny. If like me you tend to pack a bag full of booze and cocktail equipment to take with you on the road, then this ‘utility bag’ designed by our good friend Jim Meehan (of PDT New York fame) is a must have. I am lucky enough to own one and can vouch for the fact that this is a seriously well-made bit of kit. Plus as soon as you own one it gives you the perfect excuse to trawl eBay looking for vintage bar tools to fill it with.
There’s the option to buy just the bag, or to make it a complete bartending kit by buying the roll up too, which you really should do! It doesn't come with any bar tools, but the point is for you to be able to take your own tools with you everywhere you go. This is a beautifully designed bag, and will make the recipient the envy of every bartender. There's room for you to carry all your bartending essentials in style, and comfort, so now there's no excuse not to have cocktails wherever you go. Go on, spoil someone this year and buy him or her a gift they’ll use for many years to come.
So this one made the list last year too, but it’s so perfect for this time of year that frankly Christmas wouldn’t be complete without it. The King’s Ginger liqueur is a dangerously drinkable spicy and warming tipple, created for a King but perfect for us commoners too. The King’s ginger is a beautifully balanced liqueur, and although it’s 41% abv is surprisingly easy to sip neat or on the rocks. Warming ginger is balanced against a touch of lemon and a hint of spice to create a liquid that you won’t want to put down.
Now that I think about it you might just want to buy a few bottles to see you through the festive period, as one bottle simply won’t last. One for me, one for the parents and one for good luck sounds like a sensible rule of thumb!
Of course not everyone will want a liqueur to warm them this year, so why not consider a nice bottle of Whisk(e)y for the ones you love. I’m a big fan of Bourbon (as you may have noticed) so for the more hardened drinker maybe a bottle of Blanton’s straight from the cask, or the no longer produced Elijah Craig 18yo. If there’s a Scotch drinker in your life then you’d do well to introduce them to Aberlour A’bunadh which is a current favourite of mine and very reasonably priced for the quality.
Of course while you can always buy your loved one a bottle of something tasty, sometimes buying them a special glass to enjoy their favourite tipple is a more lasting gift. I’ve always felt that having your drink in a nicer glass somehow makes the drinking experience more enjoyable. Now you could go searching for antique cocktail glasses if you have the time and the inclination, but if you’re after something more modern and at reasonable prices then definitely have a look at Urban Bar Ltd.
A couple of tumblers or coupes from Urban Bar Ltd. won’t cost you an arm and a leg, but will definitely make each sip more enjoyable. While you’re on the site you might want to have a look through their bar tools at the same time and pick up a Japanese mixing glass or a copper Boston tin while you’re there. After all, just because you’re drinking at home doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have the professional kit to work with, and anyway a barspoon, some glass stir sticks or a gold hawthorn strainer might be just what you need to fill someone's stocking this year.
Cocktail enthusiasts love a good book to inspire them and very few could be as inspirational as these two. I’ll admit that friends of mine wrote both so I’m a bit biased, but I honestly believe that they’re great books that should grace any cocktail geeks bookshelf.
The first is the PDT cocktail book by Jim Meehan, and it’s a great collection of recipes from Jim’s bar in New York, as well as many created by other bartenders and several classics thrown in for good measure. It’s beautifully illustrated, easy to read, and features tips and advice for all aspects of making drinks. Whether you’re a professional or an enthusiast, this is a must have book, and if you’re treating someone special then why not think about buying the limited edition, leather bound version to show them how much you care.
The second book that I think is a must have is Tony Conigliaro’s ‘Drinks’ which has only recently been published. The book is based around 50 classic cocktails all of which have been modernised and adapted by Tony. It’s beautifully presented, with stunning photography and inspirational recipes that will get you thinking about cocktails in an entirely new way.
Of course you’ll probably want a few small gifts to fill out the Christmas experience, after all not everyone can get a Meehan utility bag, stocked with bartools, glassware, booze and books! So here are a couple of thoughts on the little things that will still put a smile on your special booze geeks face on the 25th.
The travel set of bitters from The Bitter Truth, was on last years list as well, but is just so perfect it needs to be mentioned again. A lovely tin containing 5 miniature bottles of perfectly crafted bitter, ready to take with you wherever you may go. Trust me this is a winner!
Staying on bitters, why not wrap up a bottle of the latest offering from Adam Elmegirab, his ‘teapot bitters’. These are damned tasty and offer a way to introduce the unique qualities of tea into drinks without having to add lots of liquid or make sticky syrups. They’re pretty new to market, so the chances are this will be something your loved ones haven’t tried before.
One of my favourite recommendations is the ‘drinks by the dram’ idea from Masters of Malt. Many of their products are available in wax sealed 30ml sample bottles. While the idea was developed as a ‘try before you buy’ idea, it also offers you the chance to have a taste of some liquids you simply might not be able to afford a whole bottle of. Check out the samples section of their site here, and order a few drams of something special for a loved one… they won’t think you’re being cheap, they’ll simply remember that it was because of you they got to enjoy something special on Christmas day.
I hope your Christmas is filled with love, laughter and good drinks, and that you get the gifts you deserve this year!