Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, With Cocktails, Recipes and Formulas by Brad Thomas Parsons.
One of my favorite aspects of the cocktail renaissance has been the proliferation of bitters which have become available. But what they are, where to get them and what to do with them once you have them is still a mystery to many. This book explains it all, full of entertaining historical details, lists of various available brands and flavors, retail sources, recipes (for food too!), and even how to make your own and how to store them. This is all bound together with luscious photographs and a friendly, entertaining voice that explains all these concepts with great command of the subject matter. Perfect for seasoned cocktail enthusiasts and novices alike.
$17 at bookstores.
In an era replete with food-based beverages, there is very little success at authenticating flavors. Art in the Age Spirits has managed to pull this off gloriously with Snap, a spirit (it doesn't have enough sugar content to technically be labeled liqueur) reminiscent of ginger snap cookies, but without being too confectious.
Its unexpected dryness allows the natural-tasting flavors of ginger, cloves, nutmeg, vanilla, molasses and butterscotch, among others, to assert themselves on the palate. It also lets the spirit play nice with other ingredients, without over sweetening. It's the perfect way to spice up wintry cocktails and would be amazing in eggnog. Another bonus, it's organic.
$34.99 at Astor Wines. www.astorwines.com
Averell Damson Gin
If you're envisioning sugar plums, this gin liqueur is the next best thing to actually tasting them. Made from Damson plums grown in Upstate New York, the ripe fruit is pressed with the skins and blended with a small batch gin. The result is a sweetly tart, delicately aromatic spirit with a rich purple hue. Fantastic neat or with a splash of soda, it also adds bright flavors to seasonal cocktails.
$34.99 at www.drinkupny.com
The PDT Cocktail Book: The Complete Bartender's Guide From the Celebrated Speakeasy
Yep, it's the underground bar you access via haute hot dog joint phone booth, traveling into another dimension like a hipster bon vivant version of Dr. Who.
Inside this speakeasy, head bartender Jim Meehan serves up wondrous concoctions beloved by those lucky enough to snag the seats to drink them.
He has now generously shared this knowledge, with ingredients, recipes, shopping lists, essential tools and their implementations, and astute, captivating observations.
Sure, cocktail books aren't anything new, but this one is sure to become an essential classic.
$15 at book stores.
Blue Blazer Mugs
The Blue Blazer is a Scotch toddy type drink that's set aflame and tossed back and forth between (hopefully fire resistant) mugs with a handle until the flame subsides. Seems simple enough, right?
Luckily, if you're wary of the fire juggling, these elegant, retro, silver plated, stainless steel mugs are perfect for other warm seasonal drinks too. Each mug holds 575 ml and weighs nearly a pound. It's a classy and solid gift!
$74.95 for a set of two at Cocktail Kingdom. www.cocktailkingdom.com
Brugal 1888 Rum
If you're looking for a reasonably priced gift for a whisky lover, this rum fits the bill. Wait. Huh? Yes, you read that correctly, rum for a whisky drinker.
This Dominican rum, named for the year Brugal was founded, was aged in toasted American oak casks (like Bourbon), then finished in used sherry casks (like Scotch). The finished spirit is a master blend of the different cask finishes, with rums that were aged 5 to 14 years. The aromas and flavors are reminiscent of sherried whiskys, finishing with a hint of smoke from the charred oak. The classic rum characteristics of vanilla, pie spices and salty caramel also emerge and duet with the whisky flavors.
It's a versatile rum that's great sipped neat, but would work beautifully in many classic brown spirit cocktails like Old Fashioneds, Vieux Carres, sours, and even a rummy riff on a Manhattan (maybe call it the South Street Stir?).
$49.99 Vines Wine and Spirits. www.vineswineshop.com.
George Dickel Barrel Select Tennessee Whisky
There is nothing quite as exquisite as getting a mid-afternoon call from your dad exclaiming, "Your mother and I just LOVE the Dickel!"
Luckily, we know he was referring to this whisky, the top offering from George Dickel distillery.
This is a blend of small batch whiskys which were run through maple charcoal filters and aged 10-12 years in charred oak barrels. What can taste like a mouthful of ash in other whiskys produced in similar methods takes on more refined salty, nutty characteristics. It's very smooth and mellow, with popcorn, vanilla and citrus flavors, finishing sweet, but not cloying. What's more, this pretty bottle looks and tastes more expensive than it is.
$42.99 Wally's Wine and Spirits
The Bar Builder Set
Here's an essential starter kit for budding cocktailers. Includes a Boston Shaker, Julep and Hawthorne strainers, barspoon, muddler, jiggers, channel citrus knife, plus a copy of Richard Hess' The Essential Bartenders Pocket Guide to give it context and inspiration. Everything you need to build almost every cocktail is right here. Well, minus the booze, fruit, ice and hand-eye coordination.
$50, The Boston Shaker. www.thebostonshaker.com
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