Cocktail Gift Guide
Cocktail paraphernalia is tailor-made for gifting. They are novel, reasonably affordable, and encourage fun and frivolity. Check, check, and check. The downside is retailers take advantage of this potential and put little to no thought into their cocktail gear beyond what they think will lure desperate shoppers into a sale.
This page will help you sift through the clutter. These are some of my favorite bar tools, books, and ingredients. I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of them over the years. I've also added some more whimsical options that have a more a “gift-y” spirit. There’s something here for every cocktail lover on your list, whether they’re a beginner or seasoned veteran (maybe you'll find something for yourself too!).
Essential Bar Tools
These are my personal picks for the bar tools every home bar should have. There’s a more in-depth discussion about each tool category, as well as expanded options, on their individual pages in the Tools section.
1. Stainless Steel Citrus Juicer - Any juicer in this style will get the job done. Though I have 4 at home, and this is the one I always reach for. Very durable with a nice weight to it.
2. Oxo Angled Jigger - Before I started writing this site I swore by double-sided jiggers which I use while bartending. But now, when I’m at home, this is all I use.
3. Oxo Hawthorne Strainer - This strainer will work with both mixing glasses and shaker tins, making it the only strainer you’ll ever need. Some may also want a fine strainer, though I don't think it's absolutely essential.
4. Pug Muddler - In general, I recommend 10+ inch wooden muddlers. Though if you want to pull out all the stops, email Chris Gallagher and get a handmade Pug Muddler. He offers them in multiple types of wood, and prices start at an absolutely worth it $40.
5. Teardrop Barspoon - All you could ever want in a barspoon. Though if the cocktail enthusiast you’re shopping for already has a workhorse barspoon - and presumably they do - consider one with a skull or pineapple headpiece. Or for more obsessive types like myself, check out the thermometer spoon.
6. Seamless Yarai or Paddle Mixing Glass - There are plenty of pretty mixing glasses out there but you can’t go wrong with these mixing glasses from Cocktail Kingdom (the names refer to different glass designs). They are top of the line. If your cocktail lover is an entertainer, you might want to go for the extra large versions which can hold multiple drinks at once, as well as single servings.
7. Two-Piece Koriko Shaker - I’m a big advocate for a two-piece shaker, explanation here, and his what I use.
1. Stainless Steel Toothpicks - These studded metal toothpicks will garnish drinks classy fashion and add some subtle flair. I use these in a lot my photos, for example.
2. Dasher Bottle and Top - Great for ingredients that you want in dashes but don’t come in dasher bottles, such as absinthe. Also great for making bitters blends. I like to batch all the bitters I use in an Old Fashioned in one of these so I only have to use one bottle (that’s not a bad DIY gift idea come to think of it).
3. Luxardo Cherries - If you’ve ever had these before, you know they are the most delicious cherries ever.
4. Crushed Ice Makers - Crushed ice up your cocktail game big time and allow you to experience drinks like the Mint Julep in their true form. There are a few ways to make it, I use an ice crusher like this one which makes uniform pebbles of ice (along with introducing a fun little retro task into your cocktail routine). Or you could go with a lewis bag, which is a more rustic method that involves banging an ice-filled canvas bag with a mallet - it works!
Accessories and Ice Tools
For those who have the basics covered, here are some items that will help take their cocktail game to the next level.
5. Tovolo 2x2 Big Cubes - This a big upgrade for your Old Fashioneds and any other stirred cocktail you’d serve on the rocks. A must for anyone who cares about their ice.
6. Tovolo Sphere Ice Molds - Not the fanciest option, but it still produces the aesthetic novelty of having a sphere of ice in your glass at fraction of the cost of an ice ball press. I use them. It Here it is in action in the Applejack Old Fashioned.
Clear Ice Ball Molds (not pictured) - These are engineered to make ice balls that freeze clear - aka is the creme de la creme of cocktail presentation. There are a few similar options on the market. I haven’t used one of these myself but they seem pretty nifty!
Cups and Glassware
While the cocktail itself is what’s most important, there’s no doubt that what it’s served in can greatly enhance the experience. Here are a few eye-catching vessels that are specially intended for cocktails.
1. Coupes - The classic, and in my opinion classier, alternative to a martini glass. I use these Gold rimmed coupes from Cocktail Kingdom, but there are some excellent and affordable options to be found, like these Luminarc Coupes I've linked to here:
2. Nick and Nora Glasses - Named after the leading characters in the Thin Man film series - through which Martinis are consumed continuously - this is another elegant option for an Martini/"up" glass. It's narrower than a coupe and striking in a different way. It also doesn’t spill easily.
1. Angostura Bitters - The classic bitters brand. Angostura is to bitters what salt is to a spice cabinet.
2. Bitter Truth Orange Bitters - For me, orange bitters are almost as important as Angostura. Bitter Truth makes my favorite.
3. Peychaud’s Bitters - You only need these if you want to make a proper Sazerac. So, you need these.
3. Tiki Mug - Fun fun fun! The perfect vessel for all your summer libation. Lots of different designs out there, I especially love the Star Wars ones.
4. Julep Cup - Derby Day is the first Saturday of May!
Rocks Glasses (not pictured) - I'm sure everyone has rocks glassses, but I felt compelled to mention that these gorgeous pieces from Waterford are available at an incredible price.
Bitters are absolutely essential to making proper drinks, one of the few cocktail ingredients you can easily buy online. They also make for an excellent stocking stuffer. These are my go-to bitters, I don’t really use anything else.
4. Jerry Thomas Decanter Bitters - I sometimes call for what I’ve dubbed “baking spice bitters” in my recipes. I broadly define these as bitters that have a cinnamon-y baking spice note. This is my favorite from that group. I use them in Old Fashioneds, Applejack Old Fashioneds, and the Log Cabin.
5. Bitterman’s - It’s a crowded bitters world out there. If you ‘re looking to venture beyond the basics, I recommend the Bitterman’s. Their whole line is excellent and brings something new to the table, I’m particularly partial to the Mole (key in a Tequila Old Fashioned), 'Elemakule Tiki and Hopped Grapefruit flavors.
There are so many cocktail books! It’s a jungle out there. A lot of them are great, others not so much. Of all the cocktail and spirits books up on my shelf - and there are a lot of them - these are the ones I go back to again and again, separated by focus.
1. Imbibe! - If you read this site even occasionally, you’ve seen me reference this book several times. David Wondrich's “Imbibe!” follows the origin of cocktail culture through the 19th and early 20th centuries and gives you the backstory behind all the classic cocktails invented during that time, which is most them. For cocktail history, there is no better book. Be sure to the get the updated version published in 2015.
2. And a Bottle of Rum, A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails - This is one of the first, and still among the best, books on cocktail history I’ve ever read. Written by Wayne Curtis in brisk, informative and very entertaining fashion, this follows the history of rum against a backdrop of American history - which as you’ll learn were very intertwined. This one takes you all the way through prohibition to the present day so it's perfect for those looking for a big picture view of cocktail history.
3. Potions of the Caribbean - Jeff Berry is the foremost authority I know of on tropical cocktails and their history. I think this is his finest work. It one traces the history of Caribbean cocktails and is a mashup a historical probe and recipe book. I used this almost exclusively this year for summer cocktail research.
1. Proof - This isn’t about cocktails so much as it is about booze. Written by Adam Rogers from a scientific perspective that's still easy to read, it explores how alcohol is made and how it affects us, from fermentation to hangover. It's packed with delicious facts and details. Not super long either!
2. The Drunken Botanist - Amy Stewart's book is a comprehensive catalog of all the plants that go into alcohol and cocktails. Full of great information and fun to read. I reference it all the time.
3. On Food and Cooking - Ok, this one isn’t a cocktail or spirits book, but I would be lost without it. Harold McGee's masterpiece covers the origin and science of just about any food and beverage ingredient you can think of. Seriously, everything is in there.
4. Liquid Intelligence - For those interested in the cutting edge of cocktails, this one is a must. Dave Arnold take deep dive into cocktail science from the formation of ice crystals to the alcohol content of each cocktail he makes. It’s serious next level stuff and is altogether fascinating.
1. Death and Co. Cocktail Book - The motherload! A huge volume packed with great recipes and tons of information on what makes one the best cocktail bars in the land tick.
2. Craft Cocktail Party - A beautiful book written by my partner and mentor Julie Reiner. The drinks are very approachable to make and absolutely delicious. You'll see where I get a lot of my habits.
3. The Bar Book - Jeffery Morganthaler’s very well-regarded book that focusses on cocktail technique. There a lot of great tips in here for those looking to take their cocktail skills up a notch and is a bit more down to earth than some of the other books here.
4. Smuggler's Cove - Named after their lauded San Francisco bar, Martin and Rebecca Cate’s tiki opus is a dream come true for the tropical drink fan.
1. Jerry Thomas Bartenders Guide: How to Mix Drinks, or the Bon Vivant's Companion, 1862- No classic cocktail book list would be complete with the first cocktail recipe book ever written. Jerry Thomas started it all. It’s bit antiquated, but is a fascinating piece of history, and the drinks are good! I dont have a huge preference between the 1862 original and 1887 editions, the first one has most of the important stuff.
2. Cocktails: How to Mix Them, 1922 - A benchmark publication by Frenchman Robert Viermiere. This put Europe firmly in the driver’s seat of cocktail culture while Prohibition was underway in the states. It contains the first Side Car recipe, among the many other notable drinks.
3. Barflies & Cocktails, 1927 - Harry McElhone’s wonderfully and diminutive cocktail book. Full of character and packed with gems.
4. Savoy Cocktail Book by Harry Craddock, 1930 - One of the most influential cocktail book of all time. It’s nothing but recipes on top of recipes. This was a key reference tool for bartenders a the start of the cocktail revival.
5. Bottoms Up!, 1951 - Ted Saucier’s entry came a little later in the game. But that’s what I like about it. It gives you a perspective on a different cocktail age. The recipes are a bit more contemporary and there a lot of them, you’re sure to find something that piques your interest.
Contemporary Cocktail Recipe Books
For general use, these are the books I recommend. These are all written by my peers and I fully endorse what they have to say (or mostly anyway, I can be quite opinionated, as you know).
Once you start getting serious about cocktails you’ll quickly find yourself veering into scientific territory. Which is where things get really interesting. Don’t be intimidated, forge on ahead!
Cocktails are always better if they have a story.
Here’s where you can find the real ones.
Classic Cocktail Recipe Books
Just about any cocktail book written between the 1850s and 1950s, or thereabouts, is going to be interesting and worthwhile in it’s own way. These are a handful of my favorites, both for their influence and because they hold up quite well. Cocktail Kingdom offers most of them, and many others, in gorgeously detailed reproductions of their original editions.