Due to either enduring months of closed bars or merely a wide availability of drinks expertise to draw from, it seems like more people are getting into making cocktails at home. And if you have a friend who greets you with an expertly made margarita or Negroni when you pop around, you may be interested in feeding their hobby with the perfect holiday gift. You could, of course, take a trip to the liquor store for a bottle of whatever their preferred spirit may be, but there’s a whole host of other items that make excellent gifts for the cocktail and spirits enthusiast.
For those ideas, I turned to Kapri Robinson and Denaya Jones-Reid who, as the hosts of the podcast Soul Palate, spend a lot of time thinking about cocktails. Robinson, a member of 2021’s Eater New Guard, is also the co-founder of cocktail competition Chocolate City’s Best, and Jones-Reid is the content curator at Chocolate City’s Best as well as the founder of Deestilled, which provides cocktail catering and education, and the director of operations for craft spirits retailer Seelbach’s. As they taste spirits and discuss how they navigate the hospitality industry, the podcast hosts aim to “normalize the Black and brown palate.” “We avoid sticking to the Eurocentric wheelhouse, the words that we’ve already been provided across the industry in terms of how to taste things and really just speak from a place of actual experience,” Jones-Reid says.
“We wanted to show that there’s lots of different ways to experience spirits, and that there’s no wrong answer to say what you’re tasting,” adds Robinson. Whether you’re looking for a gift for the cocktail novice or the seasoned hobbyist, here’s what they recommend giving this year.
The Gold Fashioned is essentially a high-end, ready-to-go batched cocktail, “meticulously sourced,” according to Jones-Reid, with eight-year Kentucky straight bourbon, five-year Indiana straight rye, saffron, and demerara bitters. “It’s so good. It’s literally gold in color because of the saffron bitters, which makes it really pretty in the glass,” she says. “I’ve had a lot of pre-batched Old Fashioneds, and so far this is the only one I’ve gone back to. The only thing I’ve needed to add is a little bit of sugar.” It’s the kind of splurge that many would enjoy, but few would buy for themselves, and it even works for the cocktail fan who hasn’t quite made the leap to shaking and stirring things up at home.
Jones-Reid recommends this shortcut to making Old Fashioneds. All they’ll need is some whiskey, ice, and if they’re on hand, bitters. “Just throw it in with your whiskey, stir it with your ice, and call it a day.”
Jones-Reid uses this syrup when making mules. “It’s got a bit of a smokiness to it with the toasted oak, but not too much where it overpowers the flavor. And you can never go wrong with ginger.” Pair it with any spirit for a nearly complete cocktail kit. “It’s not something you can necessarily find in your local liquor store,” she adds. “It’s a cool vibe for 12 bucks.”
The cherries from Traverse City Whiskey Co. are grown and jarred in Northern Michigan. The distillery also makes a cherry-infused whiskey, but Jones-Reid notes, “I don’t even need the whiskey to enjoy these. I just like them in any of my classic cocktails that call for a cherry.” Give them to the person who’s recently gotten into making Manhattans.
If you’re looking for a cocktail-themed stocking stuffer, look no further than the mini bourbon bottles from New Riff. Jones-Reid says this one is particularly ideal for the bourbon enthusiast who usually sticks to just a few brands. “This is a good way to get them to try something new without risking overpaying for a bottle they’re not going to use,” she says. And at $5 each it’s easy enough to buy several as gifts. “It’s a very inexpensive way to give someone something that’s actually quality.”
The true bourbon fan may have a collection of favorite bourbons at their disposal, but it’s unlikely they’ll have all the tools to construct an experience around drinking it. Nose Your Bourbon started during the pandemic to provide just that. “It’s essentially a kit with different grains, different flavor profiles,” Jones-Reid says. “All these things are lined up in this kit so that as you’re tasting and smelling your whiskey, you can actually have these identifiers in hand.” The original kit contains the quintessential notes you’d get from a bourbon or rye (corn, tobacco, etc.), and the expansion kit goes deeper. “It takes it a step further to some of those extra profiles you would get from a more specialized expression,” says Jones-Reid. Get both so they have everything they need to start training their noses to detect the various notes in bourbon and whiskey as they taste and grow their appreciation for the bottles they already have.
This book from Chicago’s Alinea Group is a deep dive into making nonalcoholic drinks, but it’s likely to be useful to anyone who’s turned making cocktails at home into a hobby. “It inspired me to do really cool things with my cocktails,” says Robinson, who appreciates the book’s “really sciencey” approach to making nonalcoholic spirits, as well as syrups and other flavorings. “It’s also something you can keep on your living room table too,” she adds. “The aesthetic of the book is very beautiful.”
Even the person who seemingly has everything is unlikely to have a clear ice maker, which controls the way ice freezes to produce large, clear ice cubes that won’t melt too quickly. Robinson says bar guests are consistently amazed at seeing crystal-clear ice in a cocktail. “Having clear ice at home is always just a plus,” says Robinson. “It’s everything. It makes your pictures better, and even if you’re hosting your friends, having clear ice really steps it up a notch.” She recommends two different ice makers, depending on your giftee’s preference for cubes versus spheres.
In teaching virtual cocktail classes, Robinson has noticed that people usually don’t have dedicated bar measuring cups, or jiggers, at home. And while teaspoons, tablespoons, and the like work just fine for measuring, a jigger makes measuring small amounts of liquids easier. “This is my personal favorite style of jigger. It goes up to about two and a half ounces and it’s wider than most other jiggers.” Robinson says. Barfly, which makes this copper-plated option, also has a host of other useful tools people might not yet have in their bar kit. Robinson notes that a muddler is another one of those things that few people have at home.
Robinson recommends heading to your local thrift store for some beautiful vintage glassware. “It’s nice because there are usually unique pieces that you don’t really see a lot of,” she says. And when it comes to what kind of glassware to seek out, Robinson and Jones-Reid agree: Coupes make a great gift. “I keep an assortment of coupes in my house,” Jones-Reid says. “I’m over flutes.”
Robinson believes the best-looking coupes are the vintage ones found in thrift stores, and they’re versatile. “You can use coupes for Champagne, daiquiris, martinis, Manhattans, wine, even water if you really want to,” Robinson says.
The hosts also recommend seeking out some cute tasting glasses. “The trend is shifting from just throwing back shots to actually appreciating spirits,” Jones-Reid says. The friend who may have once collected shot glasses while on vacation could likely use a set of more elegant tasting glasses. “Stemmed, stemless, it doesn’t matter. I have different tasting glasses for different occasions.”
If you strike out locally, fear not; vintage glassware also abounds on the internet. The Instagram account @cute.sips is dedicated to showcasing and selling vintage glassware. Rosemary Home has an excellent selection that includes some very pretty options for both coupes and aperitif glasses. And there’s always Etsy.