The holidays are well underway. Black Friday is upon us, and I thought it only appropriate to release my first holiday gift guide for bartenders (home or aspiring professional) and general cocktail/spirit enthusiasts. With that, I leave you to pick and choose the perfect gift for you favorite cocktail geek.
"Twas the night after Christmas, and all through the bar, barkeeps were stirring in their new Yarai jars." –Lindsay N.A.D.E.R.
This is the perfect example of the gift that keeps on giving (as least as long as you choose to subscribe). Each month, your bartender will receive their own Julibox, complete with all the spirits and mixers necessary to make two delicious, seasonal cocktails. You’ll even get an email before it ships to let you know what fresh ingredients you may need to purchase (limes, mint, grapefruits, etc.) in order to fully enjoy the arrival of your Julibox. Check out their website to see what was inside previous boxes, along with instructional videos for each drink.
The whiskey advent calendar
All right, this is a bit of a cheat because it must be gifted by Dec. 1 in order to be used this year. But I couldn’t resist! This is great for your favorite whiskey fanatic. Behind each door is a one-ounce sample of whiskey from Drinks by the Dram. What is better than a whiskey a day? Remember, variety is the spice of life. If you’re honey isn’t into whiskey, check out the other tasting sets put together by the Masters of Malt. There is something for every spirit lover.
"The PDT Cocktail Book"
If you didn’t get one before they sold out last Christmas, fear not. A leather-bound limited edition was released to commemorate the mark it has left on the bartending community. Jim Meehan received the Best New Cocktail/Bartending Book Spirited Award this year at Tales of the Cocktail for "The PDT Cocktail Book." Meehan has become a staple in the bartending community, opening the PDT cocktail bar inside Crif Dog’s (yes, in a hot dog joint) in New York City and winning the American Bartender of the Year Award in 2009. I feel blessed to have sipped numerous libations prepared by Meehan at Tales of the Cocktail this year, and the only time I didn’t see him making a drink, he was teaching a seminar. Hats off to you and your illustrious cocktail book, Mr. Meehan. You can find this gem in its standard sleeve here or in the leather-bound limited edition here.
Bar set (for beginners, professionals and home bartenders alike)
I can say after receiving this for Christmas last year, it has trumped most gifts I have received since because it hits home for me in two ways—it is aesthetically pleasing and incredibly useful. These pieces are shiny, beautiful and, most importantly, when you work in a bar (and are as clumsy as I am!), durable. Here are the items I would suggest when putting together a kit for your barkeep.
Yarai mixing glass
Beautiful and sturdy, this mixing glass allows for swift, quick movements along the bottom of the glass, allowing you to properly dilute your favorite stirred cocktail and obtain a silky texture once strained.
Speaking of straining, these premium julep strainers fit snugly over the remaining ice in your mixing glass. Rumor has it they are also handy when you find yourself lacking an ice scoop!
What I have found to be more instrumental in the development of a cocktail is the often-overlooked piece of bar equipment: the proper spoon. Barkeeps work studiously on their shakes, but recently, I’ve found myself leaning on better tools to prepare a proper stirred drink. It’s not at easy as it looks!
Although often frowned upon from years of bartenders encouraging the assumption that you’re a bad bartender if you have to measure your ingredients, the jigger has made a comeback. Thanks to the term “balance,” the jigger is finally forging its own path and is the best friend of a bartender behind a craft cocktail bar. We’re not being cheap in making sure we don’t give you extra booze—we just want your cocktail to taste exactly as it should.
At last we come to the shaker, the most iconic bar tool. Although I prefer weighted tins in a cocktail bar setting, a cocktail shaker is ideal for those beginning to look into the craft. It is lightweight and watertight, two things that are absolutely necessary in a cocktail shaker. Once sealed, you can “shake high and low without fear” until your cocktail is ready. The top cap is removed to reveal a spout from which you can pour and strain your cocktail.
So, where are you going to keep all of these new tools? The ultimate bartender’s bag is again brought to us by our friend Jim Meehan and is the utility bag for the professional bartender. It also carries the price tag of a professional piece of bar equipment. Although there are not many bags of this composition and durability on the market currently, I have heard it rumored that other styles are currently being designed at a more approachable price point for those of us who haven’t hit the big time just yet. More on that later!
So, you have the recipes and now the equipment to build delicious drinks, so what are you going to put it in? I, for one, have a glassware-collecting addiction that is starting to get out of hand. Vintage pieces are surprisingly easy to hunt down at a very reasonable price, but I can’t help but fall in love with these new tumblers from Napa Style. These hammered stainless steel glasses are double-layered and versatile enough to keep your cold drinks cool and your hot drinks warm. As demonstrated in their product video, the shape of the glass even allows for added comfort, something often overlooked when deciding what pieces to serve a drink in.
There you have it, my top gift ideas for the bartender this holiday season. There are more where that came from; I’ll add a stocking stuffer addendum sometime before Christmas. Although they may not be on Black Friday clearance, be sure to look for holiday deals on shipping and coupon codes. Happy giving!
Laura Kelton is a recent graduate of UTC and currently runs the bar program at Easy Bistro & Bar. Feel free to reach out to her by email with any questions, comments or requests. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.