She’s that friend who can’t taste a new spice without insisting it would put a new spin on an Old Fashioned. He’s the guy who leaves bags of sugar and citrus peels on your kitchen counters, swearing that they’re going to be used for something delicious later. You’ve got that friend who aspires to be a mixologist, and this holiday season, you want to give them something besides the usual a bottle of booze.
First of all, inquire after the basics. Chances are your friend already has a cobbler shaker and a hawthorne strainer (for those who prefer their drinks stirred, not shaken). Other must-haves to keep an eye out for include a good bar spoon and jigger. Assess the gaps in their toolkit and buy accordingly.
If you’re looking for a big gift for the true beginner, pick up a set of basic barware tools, or start a tradition, and get them one or two pieces at a time over the next several gift-giving occasions.
Chances are, however, if they’ve expressed interest in cocktail-mixing, you’re looking for something that goes a little deeper. Here are 10 picks that will get their creative juices flowing.
If your friend has an experimental streak, grab them an infuser instead of a kit. The gorgeous Porthole Infuser lets you watch as flavors seep into your favorite liquor (or olive oil if there are non-drinkers in the family). Use the infuser to create your own flavor of vodka or pre-mix cocktails for your guests. $99 PortholeInfuser.com
Many whisky enthusiasts want a cold beverage without any extra dilution whatsoever. That’s where whisky rocks come into play. After a stay in your freezer these cubes can cool down that special single-malt without disrupting the flavor. Slainte! From $8.95 on Amazon
For the cerebral mixologist, opt for a couple of books that go deep into the science of the perfect drink Liquid Intelligence by Dave Arnold, gets real nerdy about what makes a cocktail recipe pitch perfect. (Check out an example here.) Then there’s Amy Stewart’s The Drunken Botanist, which digs deep into the plants that give spirits their spirit. From $23.38 and $11.99 Hardcover on Amazon
The most important ingredient in a cocktail? Ice, ice, baby. Ice is great for keeping a drink cold, but can also dilute your creation, altering the taste over time. Instead of traditional cubes, pop out a few ice spheres—the large size means it will cool your drink faster, while the spherical shape means less surface area, and less melting, leaving you with a less diluted drink. For a geeky spin, try adding a Death star Tovolo Sphere Molds from $10.87 on Amazon, Death Star molds from $12.99 on Amazon
I’ll Take Mine Dirty
The most flavorful aspects of a many cocktails don’t come from a bottle, but rather the grocery store. If your personal bartender has a green thumb, get them a nice assortment of live herbs (mint, rosemary, and basil are all popular options). Better yet, get them an indoor garden like the AeroGarden to set up near the bar. AeroGarden from $44.95 on Amazon.
Juice it Up
What would a mojito be without limes? Or a Blood and Sand without orange juice? Sure, you can get the stuff in the bottle or carton, but when it comes to citrus juice, fresher is better. Use a good citrus reamer as a stocking stuffer. From $9.50 on Amazon
The Bar Book
For the more engineering minded, who want to focus on technique instead of theory, Jeffry Morganthaler’s The Bar Book can help you up your game with DIY tips and recipes, as well as guides for the best tools to use and illustrated step-by-step instructions. From $20.53 Hardcover on Amazon
Shaken, Not Stirred
If you’re going to shake up your cocktails, do it right. The BDX Cocktail Cube offers mixologists a way to shake up a perfectly-aerated drink, even if they don’t have giant ice cubes on hand to add into the shaker. Larger ice cubes (or this nifty cube used with some standards from your freezer) offer a way to keep the drink cold as it shakes, and are also able to produce a more frothy finish for your cocktail. From $19.99 on Amazon