boozy gift guide

The Ultimate Guide to Boozy Gift-Giving

Trust me, your drink-loving friends are getting tired of bottle after bottle of Four Roses. Here's how you can stand out from the crowd

If you’re anything like me, you have a lot of friends who like to drink. Maybe they’re whiskey people, gin people or anything-I-can-get-my-hands-on people, but every year you know you can wipe out half your holiday shopping list by a trip to the liquor store.

And that’s great! For you, and for them: Hard alcohol has an extraordinary shelf-life, and you know they’re going to appreciate it.

But after a while, you can’t help but feel… redundant.

Especially if that bottle of Plantation OFTD, Four Roses Single Barrel or Cold River gin (a few of my personal favorites to both give and receive) is still sitting half-drunk on a shelf in their living room.

So: Here are four (dare I say better?) things you can gift your favorite boozehound this holiday season.

Glassware

Every seasoned alcohol enthusiast knows that glassware is important. Different cocktails are served in different glasses for a very specific reason, but glasses are also just fun.

A friend of mine manages a cocktail bar with a speakeasy vibe. About once a week, he’ll hit up Goodwill or an estate sale and poke through the vintage glassware, looking for something eye-catching and creative to keep on hand for a special cocktail or special guest. Few things make a better lasting impression of a bar than a good drink that looks great, too.

Goodwill is a great option for this sort of sleuthing. I’ve found incredible drink cups for something like $1 a piece. But there is one drawback: You’re probably not going to find a full set.

I personally have an eclectic glassware collection at home because I can’t pass up a green-glass goblet or Czech cut punch cup — even if there’s only one. But also because almost nothing matches, it damn near looks intentional. If you’re scouring the shelves and see some lone but beautiful cups and glasses, build your friend their own six-pack like you would with bottled or canned beer. They’ll appreciate the variety and your attention to detail.

If you know your friend is the type who really needs things to come in sets, you have lots of options there, too.

New York has a great roundup of the seven essential cocktail glasses every bar needs, with links to various sites to purchase sets of your favorite. Is your home-bar enthusiast missing any of these key vessels? If so (and by the way, it’s probably a Nick and Nora), fire away.

Bar Books

This is admittedly for the nerdier of your boozing friends, but there’s certainly nothing wrong with thinking while drinking. There are myriad options out there when it comes to bar literature. New tomes range from how-tos to modern history, cult classics to spirit guides, and everything in between.

For the Home Bartender. Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique. The Portland, Oregon, cocktail guru’s first book teaches the basics of how to stock your home bar with bottles and tools and how to use these things to make those fancy-schmancy drinks you see bartenders stirring and shaking on your nights out.

For the History Buff. Robert Simonson, one of the top cocktail historians and writers in the country, takes you on a deep dive into the modern-day cocktail renaissance in A Proper Drink: The Untold Story of How a Band of Bartenders Saved the Civilized Drinking World.

Want to know why you can get a gimlet or Negroni in damn never every bar in America? Curious about the key players and bars that pioneered the bar industry’s most major overhaul since Prohibition? A Proper Drink is right up your alley.

For the New Convert. Have a friend who likes cocktails but is just starting to get interested in the whys and hows of what makes a really great bar? Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails is behind every single cocktail bar worth visiting for a very good reason: It has dozens of recipes for kick-ass drinks, but it also tells the story of one of the bars that changed the way Americans both drink and relate to the restaurant industry.

For the Already Initiated. People who have been reading about drinks and making cocktails at home for some time will likely already have the Death & Co book — it really is the bar bible of the 21st century. So what will really hit the mark is a copy of the original holy drinks text, The Savoy Cocktail Book.

For All of the Above. Martin Cate’s Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum and the Cult of Tiki. A little bit of everything for your friends who just can’t get enough rum, recipes or historical data (or who maybe just want to be pirates).

Modifiers

I know we’re looking to veer away from simply buying bottles and scratching names of the list, but modifiers — things like bitters, vermouth, cordials and syrups — are often the last things folks with an already-extensive liquor selection at home purchase, which is a real shame: Modifiers are what make cocktails.

But they’re kind of expensive.

And you don’t use very much of them at a time.

And sometimes there’s, like, one drink you actually like that you need it for.

Modifiers are to drinks what marinades and spices are to foods; they change everything.

So if you’re really in a pinch when it comes to shopping, go ahead and hit the liquor store, but instead of yet another bottle of bourbon for your whiskey-loving friend, try for a bottle of nice sweet vermouth, for Manhattans, Campari or Boulevardiers; or, shit, go crazy and snag Aperol and a bottle of Amaro Nonino and insist they invite you over for Paper Plane night.

Tickets to Tastings, Events or Pairing Dinners

Last but not least, who says giving gifts has to be about giving things? There are dozens of interactive ways to indulge a thirst for spirits or cocktail know-how.

Like what?

How about a wine pairing dinner? Or a cocktail-constructing course?

There are also, believe it or not, dozens of cocktail conferences, competitions and festivals across the country each year.

Speed Rack, my personal favorite, is an all-women speed-bartending competition that takes the best and the fastest women in various markets and challenges them to make kick-ass cocktails as fast as they can for a panel of esteemed judges. The competition takes place in eight cities (representing major regional areas) from November to March; Nationals are typically in May. All proceeds from the competition go toward funding breast cancer research. Tickets are about $30 and get you into one of the most exciting Sunday afternoons in town (and booze from about 20 different sponsors).

An official annual Cocktail Week goes down in about two dozen cities nationwide, as well as trade shows, competitions and select spirit expos. While some of these events cater exclusively to beverage-industry professionals, a whole heaping lot of them are open to the public (and we love it when you come out and play).

This calendar contains a roundup of every booze and cocktail event across the country (and a handful of those going on internationally) from 2018. A click on any one of these events will bring you to its homepage, where you can find ticket info and dates for the 2019 season.

So, there. You can totally go with the standby bottle of booze this holiday season, but don’t say you couldn’t think of anything else.