MIXOLOGY TALK PODCAST #187

This holiday season is obviously a bit of a weird one, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to spoil the important people in our lives! In fact, it’s even more of a reason to go above and beyond to show our friends and family a little extra love. So today, we’re talking about gift-giving, particularly for the bar enthusiast. 

We reached out to our Craft Cocktail and Craft Bartender Facebook groups and asked them to let us know what they want for the holidays and what their ultimate favorite tools, booze, and books are. With their help, we have compiled a list of some awesome gifts for professional and at-home bartenders alike. Whether it be for the cocktail-lover in your life or perhaps even for yourself (hey, you deserve it!), we have some epic gift ideas to talk about, from simple to super geeky. Also… welcome back to the podcast, Julia!

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INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

  • 2:00– Barware: From new to vintage
  • 7:42– Must-have cocktail and bartending books
  • 13:32– Unique booze with “wow” factor
  • 20:04– Get creative with bar tools (And get really nerdy with Chris at min. 25:35)
  • 30:05– A Bar Above’s online certification courses

THE GIFT OF BARWARE 

Let’s start with the obvious: You should have excellent barware if you’re going to make cocktails, whether it be for just yourself at home or for multiple customers. From a simple Boston shaker to a full bar set, we have you covered (literally– just go to our shop!). Pair new pieces with classic, vintage glassware, and you have yourself a complete gift set that is sure to impress.

Bar sets 

Of course our 14-piece bar set in stainless steel or copper is the best way to go since it has everything you need for the bartender in your life. We may be a little biased, but we think it’s worth investing in a high-quality bar set so you (or the people you gift to) are not replacing it every year. We’re seeing a lot of requests for copper this season, but you seriously can’t go wrong with either stainless or copper. While copper is absolutely gorgeous, the stainless steel is dishwasher-safe and basically indestructible. Whichever you decide on, we have holiday sales happening now, so don’t wait! 

If the 14-piece set is a bit more than you need this year, here are some other pieces you can’t go wrong with:

And if you want to get creative, go vintage

Glassware

Glassware is a perfect gift for people growing their bar. We highly recommend adding to the “wow” factor by choosing unique, antique pieces. Plus, they’re usually much cheaper than new glassware. As Julia says, 

“If you’re on a really tight budget, glassware is an amazing gift to give because it doesn’t cost much. Here’s the trick: Thrift shops.”

Scour your local thrift shops for cocktail glasses– and don’t feel like you have to find a set! Having mismatched styles of glasses is great for your Instagram-worthy cocktail photos so they don’t all look the same. And if you don’t want to hit up thrift stores during a pandemic, you have lots of options on eBay, Etsy, and local listing sites. 

If you’re into new glassware, I found these (new) vintage-style coupe glasses. We also saw the classic Glencairn whiskey glass come up a lot in both our Facebook groups. For those not familiar, it’s a special whiskey glass— just don’t ask Chris to pronounce (or spell) it.

MUST-HAVE BARTENDING AND COCKTAIL BOOKS

Like barware, you can’t ever really have too many bartending books, can you? We think not! There were so many book recommendations in our Facebook groups; we honestly could do a whole podcast just on bartending books. But for the sake of time (and your wallet), here are some of the ones we saw come up most often in our Facebook communities:

  • Cocktail Codex by Alex Day, Nick Fachald, and David Kaplan (Death & Co): Probably the most-recommended book on our list, Cocktail Codex gives you a lot of important, basic information about cocktails and teaches you how to manipulate flavors.
  • Liquid Intelligence by David Arnold: Not for the entry-level bartender, this book will be a hit for anyone who wants to elevate their cocktails to the next level. But be warned: Get ready to spend a lot of money on gadgets after reading this one!
  • Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails by Ted Haigh: This is a fun one to have if you or your loved one enjoy throw-back cocktails. I know it’s on my personal wish list!
  • The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg: OK, so this one isn’t actually a cocktail book but rather an essential guide for understanding flavor. It will help you develop an understanding of how flavors work together, which is why so many people in our communities recommended it. This is also a great gift for people who love to cook!

    “This is going to transform your cocktails from simple to as complicated and complex as you want to make them.” — Chris

  • Beachbum Berry Remixed by Beachbum Berry
  • Minimalist Tiki by Matt Pietrek and Carrie Smith: We have a lot of tiki fans in our groups, so it’s no surprise that these last two books came up again and again. With its resurgence in popularity, coupled with fewer opportunities for visiting a tiki bar, you may want extra guidance on how to make your own delicious tiki cocktails! Tiki cocktails and culture come with amazing stories, so we also highly recommend listening to our podcasts with both of these authors (click on their names to jump to the interviews).

THE GOOD STUFF: WHAT ALCOHOL TO GIFT 

Obviously we have to include booze. It came up quite a bit in both groups! But we don’t want to give just any ol’ liquor that people will buy for themselves. At A Bar Above, we appreciate uncommon liqueurs; of course, base spirits are always welcome, but a special liqueur will up someone’s cocktail game and also save them quite a bit when they’re trying to build up their collection.

Liqueur lasts a while because you only use a small amount in each drink; and if you don’t have that one bottle, you can’t make that particular drink. Plus, it offers a wow factor that a typical base spirit doesn’t (unless it’s, like, a Rare Cask Macallan or something… If you’re gifting that, please put me on your recipient list). Also, as the gift-giver, you can ask for a taste when your giftee opens it! Genius. Here are our top picks: 

  • Green Chartreuse tops the list in our Facebook groups. But seriously, anything Chartreuse (some people prefer the Yellow) will earn you major points in the gift-giving department.
  • Amaro Abano or Tempus Fugit: You can’t really go wrong with a great bottle of Amaro or Amari, as it adds such a distinct, bitter quality to cocktails. 
  • Julia’s big pick is Nocino, a walnut liqueur that your giftee probably doesn’t have. You can also try Nocello, which adds hazelnut. Both of these are excellent additions to a Manhattan!
  • You can’t make a classic Aviation without Creme de Violette, so this is a perfect example of “If you don’t have that liqueur, you can’t make that drink!” The purple color makes for a show-stopping cocktail, and this is another one that your giftee is unlikely to already have. 
  • Stiggins Fancy Pineapple Rum is so delicious and unique, and it is featured in Natalie Migliarini’s new book Beautiful Booze: Stylish Cocktails to Make at Home. I can tell you from personal experience that it can be difficult to find depending on where you live, but I had luck ordering it from Bitters and Bottles— It arrived super quickly, too!
  • Empress 1908 gin: OK, this is a spirit and not a liqueur, but it’s gorgeous! Using butterfly pea flower, Empress is a natural indigo color, which changes when you introduce it to acid.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: COMFORTING SPIRITS EVERYONE WANTS

Bourbon was a really popular request in our Facebook groups, as was smoky Mezcal (perfect for cold winter evenings). And if you want to give a cocktail accessory without the liquor, consider amazing cocktail cherries! A good cherry will elevate your cocktail tenfold, and they’re something people tend not to buy for themselves. Plus, they last a long time in the fridge… Just hide them in the back so your roommates don’t steal them all! 

Most of us will be forgoing the traditional holiday get-togethers with family and friends this year, so if you’re looking for a safe, socially-distant gifting option, try an alcohol delivery service like Drizly, or have booze shipped directly to your loved ones from a site like Bitters and Bottles.

BARTENDER’S GADGETS: FROM SIMPLE TO COMPLEX, A GUIDE TO WHAT COCKTAIL-LOVERS REALLY WANT

Here’s where we really get into the serious mixology tools. There are so many great gadgets out there that can take your cocktails from good to great, but we’ve narrowed the list to the things we saw requested most frequently… plus a few of Chris’ personal favorites (or long-shot wishes). 

HOLIDAY GIFTS FOR THE AT-HOME BAR

  • Here’s a fun idea that’s sure to please: A lot of people requested a liquor cabinet! Like glassware, a vintage cabinet is unique and personal, but this one is an attractive, slim option if you’re buying new.
  • Alternatively, bar carts are another gift that will impress. On wheels, a cart can be stored out of the way and rolled out when it’s cocktail time; it also doesn’t take up counter or cabinet space (I have mine shoved in an otherwise unused corner.) And here’s a wacky suggestion: Put a little bicycle bell on your cocktail cart! (Please share photos in our group if you do this.)
  • Give the gift of extra drink storage: A mini-fridge for the at-home bar is also a great idea. Or look at a stand-alone freezer so your loved one can make their fancy ice… I mean, how are you supposed to store all your awesome cocktail ice when your freezer is filled with pandemic-panic chicken?

GIFTS FOR COCKTAIL ICE

And speaking of ice, there are so many fun, easy options for making bar-worthy ice at home. Here are some of the most requested ice-related gifts we came across:

  • Sphere ice molds: Classic and classy, pair these with a set of whiskey glasses or a nice bottle of bourbon, and you have a complete presentation. Or look at clear-ice molds in a variety of shapes.
  • Long, skinny rectangle ice molds go perfectly with Collins glasses… The shapes and sizes of the ice you can create are (almost) endless, so you can also mix and match a few ice molds.
  • A countertop nugget ice maker is the ideal present for the pebble ice addict (*clears throat*). I ran this past my husband, and I can sadly say that I will not be getting this for Christmas. 
  • Chris also mentioned this copper presser that molds round ice; it’s not cheap, but it sure is fancy!

GIFTS FOR MAKING SMOKED COCKTAILS

The popularity of smoked cocktails all but guarantees that your favorite bartender is coveting some of these smoking tools.

  • A handheld smoker allows your giftee to smoke cocktails at home. Couple it with a glass jar or consider a complete cocktail smoking kit.
  • Or maybe go the wood chips route or try wood pellets in a variety of flavors. Chris recently did a podcast with pitmaster Malcom Reed that explains many techniques you can use for smoking cocktails.
  • Butane torches: These little tools come in handy for smoking a variety of things— including cocktails! Check out tips for how to make your cocktails extra smoky, and then put this torch on your own list.

ADVANCED GIFTS FOR THE COCKTAIL EXPERT

  • For the true cocktail nerd in your life, you may have to think outside the box. Consider the iSi whip for creating everything from cocktail foams to sodas. This is a great idea for the person who has everything (I’m looking at you, Dad), and iSi’s recipe page gives you plenty of guidance on how to use it.
  • For an affordable stocking stuffer that will help take your cocktails to a new level, Modernist Pantry offers foams for hot or cold beverages, and Fee brothers also has their own version. 
  • This Ultrasonic tool cleaner infuses alcohol in about an hour and a half rather than 2 weeks. So if there is someone on your list who loves to infuse spirits, look no further for the perfect present.
  • And if you have $10k to spare, the Roto vap (rotary evaporator) is for you. It’s basically a micro-distillation vacuum ball for distilling alcohol at home. But if you have that kind of dispensable income, please send one to Chris so he stops begging Julia for one!

THE GIFT OF EDUCATION: A GIFT CERTIFICATE TO A BAR ABOVE’S ONLINE CERTIFICATION COURSES 

Our Advanced Mixology Certification course, created by our very own Chris and Julia, is a training program that helps you understand how to design your own cocktail recipes from scratch. Covering topics like pH balances of citrus, why you should use this type of spirit over that one, and how to structure your cocktails, this course will help deepen your understanding of bartending. 

And if you’re not quite ready for that course, we also offer a Bar Basics course that will take you through how to make great cocktails at home. We now offer physical and digital gift cards, making it easy for you to gift our courses or anything else on our site! And right now, we’re offering our listeners and readers a 20% discount on our Advanced Mixology course with this aspirational discount code: ROTOVAP.  

We can’t wait to hear what you want for the holidays or what you’re gifting to your favorite cocktail-lovers. Come join us in our Craft Cocktail Club where you’ll find great conversation and amazing inspiration. And definitely don’t forget about our ongoing holiday sales… Like Julia said, you can never have enough barware! Until next time, friends, stay safe and happy shopping. Cheers!

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Melanie Tornroth

A former English teacher, Melanie optimistically embraces the struggle that is work-from-home parenthood as the in-house writer for A Bar Above. When not responding to “Mom” and writing articles for ABA, she also runs Goodnickels Photography, loves to cuddle her cats, and is perfecting the art of keeping her pandemic “fermentation babies” alive.

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