It’s that time of year again…time to celebrate and spend time with loved ones and…oh yeah…wrack your brains for perfect present ideas. To make things just a little easier, we’re bringing you some suggestions on what to give the cocktail lovers in your life with seven days of Gift Guides.
Because I often get questions from people who don’t know about cocktails wanting to buy presents for their loved ones who are just starting to get into cocktails, I thought I’d kick things off with some practical gift ideas for cocktail newbies.
Well this one’s kind of a no-brainer, right? Every budding bartender needs his shaker. While the professionals generally prefer 2-piece shakers for speed and convenience, beginning home bartenders are usually better off with a 3-piece shaker. It’s easier to use and serves as shaker, mixing glass and strainer.
Avoid plastic, gimmicky or weird shaped shakers and go for a classic metal design (the better to chill and aerate your drink.) You want something that feels sturdy and all pieces should fit smoothly together but also separate easily for cleaning and straining.
Where to find them? Shakers aren’t too difficult to find. But, in Paris, Oogy Wawa has a nice range of options in price and quality. Otherwise, Cocktail Kingdom is a great online source for solid quality cocktail goods that can be delivered worldwide (although delivery costs to France are kind of spendy, so I usually shop their site while in the US)
Cost: You can spend anywhere from 20 Euros to a few hundred on a shaker. I got my first one for 20 bucks and it still works just fine.
A Comprehensive Cocktail Book
Often cocktail lovers receive cocktail books as gifts…that is any book that has the word cocktail in the title. And – even though the thought is always appreciated – these cute little collections can spend a lot of time collecting dust on the shelf. So, it’s important to select the right book for a beginner.
As usual, I’m a fan of the classics and recommend books from respected cocktail authorities that focus on theory and technique and provide a comprehensive list of classic recipes to work from. A couple of my most useful books in the early days were Dale DeGroff’s The Craft of the Cocktail and Gary Regan’s The Joy of Mixology. More recently Jeffrey Morgenthaler published The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique. Morgenthaler’s has fewer recipes and more technique perhaps than the other two. Any of these will give wanna-be bartenders a solid start.
However, if your budding bartender is French, you can look towards well-respected French tomes like the classic and regularly updated Larousse Cocktails by Fernando Castellon or the newly release Le Grand Cours de Cocktails from the Liquid Liquid team. Both of these cover a lot of technical ground and offer a few hundred classic recipes. Alternatively, Julien Escot’s Cocktail Now, which also includes many current creations along with classics, is also a smart choice.
Where to find them? All of these books can be found on Amazon or other online sellers. And if you want a bit more food for thought on essential cocktail reading, Michael Dietsch wrote about it over at Serious Eats awhile back and the suggestions still remain relevant today.
Cost: Ranging from 15 to 29 Euros.
Building a home bar can be a little slow-going and new home bartenders are probably focusing on buying their booze first. But, bitters are an essential element for so many cocktails, so bitters can be a nice treat to fill out the new boozehound’s store of supplies.
Go for aromatic bitters. And if they already have that, gift them a bottle of orange bitters. There are lots of brands of both aromatic and orange bitters available and, overtime, home bartenders will develop their own preferences. But, Angostura is a good starting point for both.
Where to find them? In Paris, La Maison du Whiskey Fine Spirits sells a large selection of bitters.
Otherwise, here and elsewhere Angostura bitters are available in many grocery stores or on Amazon.
Cost: 12 – 15 Euros
Handheld Citrus Juicer
To the uninitiated, this might not sound like a very exciting gift. But, a budding bartender will already – or very soon – grasp the importance of this gadget. The handheld clamshell style citrus press gets more juice out of your citrus than the old plastic juicer and makes for less mess and clean up than an electric model. (Also some electric juicers suck in the peels as well, which changes the taste and acidity level of your juice.) Tip: make sure your gift recipient knows to place the citrus cut side down, instead of with the peel side down (a common new-user mistake as it fits in perfectly with the peel side down, but that keeps all the juice from flowing out!)
This is a case where you should definitely pay for quality. I’ve already had an occasion where I have snapped a sturdy metal juicer in two (even one from a reputable manufacturer) so, you don’t want to mess about with low quality products for this task. I like the Amco aluminum juicer.
Where to find them? Amazon in both France and the US sell the Amco juicer. However, it’s about 3 to 4 times the price on Amazon.fr. So for readers shopping here, I’d recommend doing a little research to find an alternative. The E-Prance seems to get good reviews and go for a much more reasonable price. (Note: I have not personally used the E-Prance and am only basing this review on other reviews)
Cost: 15 – 45 Euros
When it comes to gifts for someone starting a home bar, I always recommend classic, well-made necessities. While they may not seem as exciting as plastic rocket shakers and cheapo Titanic ice cube trays, I promise your newbie barkeep will appreciate the help towards building a workable base.
But, just to bring a bit of fun to the table, think about picking up some silly, cheerful, playful cocktail napkins and help your new home bartender class up their cocktail service. (plus cocktail napkins are something new home bartenders might not always think about having on hand in their early days of learning)
Where to find them? Cocktail napkins are easy to find. In Paris, for something with a little character, Casa has some cute ones. Or, in France and elsewhere Hema is also great for cheap and cheerful options – and also has online shopping. (napkins pictured here are from Hema). The possibilities are plentiful.
Cost: 1 to 5 Euros a pack
Stay tuned tomorrow’s Gift Guide for the Cocktail Lover who has everything…