Nice things for the bar cart make excellent gifts anytime of year to be honest; I’m always trying to convince people to drink less but better.
Good cocktail books;
I will maintain that a good cocktail book is rather small. Those big ones with a thousand cocktails in them just gather dust on the shelf. A handy volume with well chosen recipes is the way to go. The Savoy Cocktail book is as big as I’d recommend for a beginner. It is one of the pillars of mixology and well done with illustrations and anecdotes. Even though neither The art of vintage cocktails by Stephanie Rosenbaum or Storied sips by Erica Duecy are new they are very good in terms of drinks and both have a wonderful layout and illustrations. They are in short a joy to use. I will also throw in yet another recommendation for The drunken botanist by Amy Stewart because it’s such a gem and the few recipes in it are eminently useable.
Angostura aromatic is your basic bitter used in many cocktails. Then there is need for an orange bitter; Angostura makes a nice one but if you can find Reagan’s no 6 it is preferred. Another classic is Peychaud’s but after that the options are many. Esoteric bitters gives a nice twist to most cocktails. Scrappy’s “black lemon bitter” is nice and at this point I myself couldn’t live without Fee Brothers “Plum bitters”, which being inspired by Plum pudding seems like a nice thing as a gift this time of year.
Nice glasses makes a difference when drinking. Looking at flea markets and charity shops is a good idea for something unique. A nice bar spoon is a must have. Shakers and stirring glasses also. All those lovely ice moulds from Muji makes great presents; I especially love the big sphere to make one huge ice ball. Combine one of those with a bottle of Angostura aromatic and a box of nice sugar cubes and you have given someone the tools to make an excellent Old Fashioned.
We have entered the time of year when citrus is at it’s peak and why not put it to good use? Homemade limoncello or orange liqueur has the advantage of being less sweet and more flavorful then most bought ones. To have it done by Christmas it must be started now.
The trick I’ve learned with limoncello is to use some lime zest as well. I heard this from many sources before I tried it; it does add a nice touch . I have always stuck to plain vodka and see no need for overproof spirits in this case. The best result comes from using a lot of zests. By buying the plainest vodka I also get a bottle to give it in when it’s done. I just peel of the label and add my own. The infusion itself is best done in a jar. The left over lemons can be pressed and the juice frozen as cubes to use for food or cocktails.
Homemade limoncello; yields approx 1 liter
1 750 ml. bottle of plain vodka
the zest of 6-8 organic lemons (washed and dried) ; As little of the white peel as possible
the zest of 1 organic lime(washed and dried); as little of the white as possible.
- Combine the vodka with the zest of the lemons and the lime in a clean jar and let sit for at least 4 weeks.
- After four weeks it’s time to strain it into bottles and sweeten to taste using a sugar syrup made with equal amounts of castersugar and water. The sugar and water should simmer for a few minutes until all the sugar has dissolved and then cooled before combined with the infused vodka.
It should be said that a few more weeks does improve the limoncello so it is fair game to give the jar with further instructions. Something for the recipient to use for spring and summer cocktails maybe? But you could also strain it and make many small bottles for several different people. Homemade limoncello, a bottle of champagne and two flûtes is a nice cocktail set up.
Orange liqueur is also easy to make and a staple in in many classic cocktails. I had this project when I worked my way through an old cocktail book, and ended up making my own version of Cointreau with the addition of vanilla bean. I kept the vanilla been but have changed the procedure to simplify and also make it less sweet. It is a very nice touch with the vanilla, almost floral, and it is the one I use in my Kimono-cocktail amongst others.
Home made orange liqueur; yields approx. 1 liter
1 750 ml bottle of plain vodka
zest of 6-8 organic oranges depending on size (washed and dried); use as little of the white peel as possible
half a vanilla bean
- Combine the vodka,the zest and the vanilla bean in a clean jar and let infuse for at least four weeks.
- Then strain and follow same instructions as the limoncello i.e. sweeten to taste with a sugar syrup.
The left over oranges can be eaten or peeled some more,cut up and used to make orange marmalade(easily done if using jam sugar).
Hopefully something on this list has helped.