Gift buying for grown-ups can be incredibly daunting. Fortunately, for all the spirit-consuming friends and family in your life, buying drinking accessories can be a reasonable, affordable solution met with actual gratitude.
After a career in wine and service coupled with a long-lived passion for cocktails, I have discovered that home bars need only to have a few high quality, durable, easy-to-wash products. Many companies choose the holiday season to market “themed” items, like painted wine glasses, or glass charms, goofy-looking martini glasses, gadgets, and socks that say things like “If you can read this, bring me some wine.” Avoid these items, and look to some serious bar standards that people can use for their home drinking and entertaining for years to come.
These should be versatile to avoid the need for several different sizes. A home truly only needs one style of wine glass, and I recommend these Spieglau Cabernet Sauvignon Glasses. Despite what is seen at restaurants, and what expensive glass makers claim, you do not need a specific glass for every type of wine. In fact, even Champagne is quite a lot better out of a full-sized glass than in a flute. The Spieglau glass is a well-made, affordable, durable choice that looks wonderful, is lightweight, and is the only thing I use for any wine at home.
A home bar should also have at least one decanter for red wine. These are not just useful for older wines, but also for very-full bodied wines that need to breathe, and any wine that has sediment (or a broken cork!).
This Riedel decanter is the standard. It can’t go in the dishwasher, but is fairly easy to clean, and looks rather elegant on any surface. Wine gadgets like aerators and preservers are not really used professionally, and I find them rather unnecessary and ineffective.
Should your wine have surprise sediment, feel free to use cheesecloth to strain it into the decanter. Every sommelier working has a pocketful of cheesecloth.
Also known as “rocks” glasses, these are appropriate for almost any whiskey, whiskey-based drink, or anything you would serve over ice (including margaritas!). One size is all that is needed, so make it a big size.
I prefer these Schott Zwiesel Double Old-Fashioned glasses; they are the very best in their price category. This style of glass should be heavy, stylish, and dishwasher-safe. They are large enough for any kind of ice, including large whiskey spheres, which can be made in trays like this one.
Coupes or Martini Glasses
I have used coupes in favor of martini glasses for years, simply because of style. I use them to serve Manhattans, martinis, and sparkling wine cocktails like Bellinis and mimosas. The best shape and size for this glass is Williams Sonoma’s 7.5oz version.
It’s important not to buy them too small, or they won’t be all that versatile. Some people, namely James Bond aficionados, still prefer the classic style of the martini glass, which I completely support. Although they lack the versatility of the coupe, the sexiest choice is this Riedel VINUM glass.
These are perhaps the most versatile glass for any bar. Purchased in the right size, they can be used for Collins drinks, mojitos, gin and tonics, spritzes, soft drinks, beer, and countless other choices. I recommend a large, simple size with a heavy bottom, like these JoyJolt 14.2oz glasses, which are the perfect size and shape.
Mandatory Bar Tools
A good cocktail starts with the ingredients, of course, but putting them together and perfecting the mixed drink requires the right tools. The Cocktail Kingdom, flushed out by a few items from Amazon, is a fabulous resource used by every serious drink maker in the world.
Stirred cocktails require a large stirring glass like this one in combination with a long spoon and a Hawthorne strainer. Shaken drinks go in a tin like this one paired with the smaller version used as the top. They can be strained through the same Hawthorne strainer.
Good cocktails must be measured precisely, and there is no need to have a more complex measurer than a simple bar jigger—although I recommend buying two, because they have a tendency to disappear.
Optional Bar Tools
If you’re buying gifts for admirers of “Mad Men,” a good muddler is vital in making an old-fashioned. It is also required for mint-smashing during mojito season.
Most drinks require garnishes, so a solid paring knife combined with a small cutting board are great to have handy when making drinks. A solid zester is also nice for guaranteeing the perfect swath of orange on a negroni.
Making fresh juice can be labor-intensive, but nothing beats a fresh-lime margarita. A simple hand juicer like this one is perfect for the occasion.
If your gift recipient is new to cocktails, there are a few great books that help tell the story of imbibing, as well as provide thousands of classic and new recipes. The most comprehensive list of recipes can be found in “The Ultimate Bar Book,” which offers pictures, and very easy-to-follow advice for novices and pros.
The gold standard for all cocktail fanatics is “The Savoy Cocktail Book,” which was first published in 1930. This book is also ideal for lovers of history, as it was written during Prohibition by an American expat living in London, defending his love of the cocktail.
“The Drunken Botanist” is a modern look at some of the flavors that are ideal for cocktails, and is a treasure for those looking to make some of their own ingredients at home. “The PDT” is an excellent collection of recipes from one of the most celebrated modern-day speakeasies in NYC, written by the bartenders who were there.
Don’t be fooled by silly or gimmicky bar products. Drink-making is one of the oldest, most fun traditions in the world, and doesn’t require nifty gadgets that will get lost in a drawer for years. Standard, classic tools are the most prized possession at any home bar, and even if your recipient already has some of these tools, it never hurts to have a back-up.
An added bonus of buying drinking accessories as gifts is that the recipient will likely use it to make you a drink as gratitude.