Episode 078 - Cocktail Holiday Gift Guide 2018

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What’s shakin, cocktail fans?

Welcome back to another episode of The Modern Bar Cart Podcast!

This episode, we thought it would be fun to give you a practical gift guide that will help you select the perfect cocktail present for the enthusiast or professional mixologist on your gift list.

Featured Cocktail: Coquito

This episode’s featured cocktail is a Puerto Rican take on eggnog called Coquito. And this particular recipe is a real treat because it comes to us courtesy of Cesar from Maryland, who is a friend of the pod, and who was generous enough to share his grandfather’s coquito recipe.

Everyone knows that family is one of the best parts about the holiday season, and those secret family recipes that make a special appearance year after year seem to get woven into the DNA of a perfect holiday get-together. So without further ado, here’s Florentino Ramos’ famous coquito recipe.

Cesar says:

My grandfather worked in distilleries in both Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands back in the 1940s and this is the recipe my family has been following since then. This recipe includes a tiny piece of ginger, giving the coquito a bit of a bite, but not so much that people who don't like ginger will be turned off.

To make it, you’ll need:

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  • 2 cinnamon sticks

  • ½” piece of fresh ginger, grated

  • 1 5-ounce can evaporated milk

  • 1 12-ounce can evaporated milk

  • 1 12-ounce can cream of coconut (not milk)

  • 5 egg yolks

  • 1 tsp. Vanilla extract

  • 1 ½ cup rum (preferably Don Q Crystal)

Boil the ginger and cinnamon with the 5-oz. can of evaporated milk in a small saucepan. Then, in a bowl, beat the egg yolks and add the warmed, spiced milk, passing it through a strainer first to remove the cinnamon and ginger. Next, in a medium saucepan, blend mixture with the 12 oz cans of evaporated milk and coconut cream. Heat this over medium heat until it thickens, stirring constantly. Allow to cool before adding rum to taste.

Cesar recommends using Don Q Cristal, which is a great, affordable option, but you can certainly tweak your rum choice to fit your own personal flavor preferences. One last thing to note is that Coquito is easy to batch ahead of time, and it can be stored in a bottle in the refrigerator for several weeks.

Budget Holiday Gifts

On the budget end of things, there’s actually a surprising number of really great stocking stuffers for pretty much anybody on your list.

Cocktail Beginners

For beginners, I always like to give some sort of educational tool. Right? These are the folks who are just dipping their toes into the world of cocktails, so I like to help stoke that fire whenever I can. So here’s a few options under $20:

  • Amy Stewart’s book, The Drunken Botanist is on sale right now for way under $20 on Amazon. This is a book that’s frequently recommend on the podcast, and I can’t recommend it highly enough as a way to learn about how various flavors arise in our drinks.

  • David Wondrich’s category defining book, Imbibe! is also on sale for about $18 on Amazon, and this is a great gift if you’ve got someone who’s a bit of a history buff. Wondrich does a ton of really awesome archival research that really sheds light on the American history of spirits and cocktails.

  • Finally, we here at Modern Bar Cart also have a great, affordable tool specifically designed for beginners. It’s a product we just launched called The Essential Tasting Journal for Spirits & Cocktails - We just finished out a successful pre-order round for this product on Kickstarter, and it’s now available for purchase over at ModernBarCart.com. It’s only $18, and it contains around 30 pages of in-depth instruction on how flavor works, how to conduct a proper tasting, and how to write good tasting notes - and it also contains log-book-style note taking sections for all your favorite spirits and cocktails. If you want to learn about all the other features, head over to kickstarter or the product page on our site, and check out the full video review there.

Cocktail Enthusiasts

But let’s say you’re shopping for somebody who already knows a decent amount about cocktails. This is the kind of person who keeps posting shots on Instagram. The person who’s always looking for a guinea pig to taste their newest creations. What do you get this kind of person for a stocking stuffer?

Well, I like to think about helping them make their cocktails more beautiful. And there’s a lot of cheap options for doing that.

  • One great stocking stuffer is a set of unique metal cocktail picks. We’ll link to a couple different options in the show notes, but I’m particularly drawn to a set by Zenlogy that has some sleek, stainless steel picks and also comes with a swizzle stick, which is something that not all home bartenders have. Or, you could go for a more eclectic approach with a set by Prodyne that has a different cocktail-related charm on the top of each pick - including a jigger, a cobbler shaker, a citrus wedge, and others.

  • Thinking about making those instagram shots more beautiful, see if you can take a peek at their kitchen tools. What if you could grab some low-budget gadgets like a microplane for grating nutmeg, or a channel knife for making citrus ribbons, or even an atomizer for spraying a fine mist of potent bitters or absinthe. These are all really affordable, and if you’re crafty, you can even pick out a recipe for them to try out using these tools and attach it on a little card.

Expert Mixologists

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Stocking stuffers for the professional bartender, or for the home mixologist who’s already got everything can be really tricky. They tend to already be pretty well stocked, so what I like to do is try and find something that comes out of left field. Something a little silly or unexpected.

We didn’t plan it this way, but we’ve actually got a brand new novelty gift that’s perfect for just such an occasion in our Shower Negroni and Shower Mule cocktail scented body bars. These are only $8 a piece, or two for $15 right now over at ModernBarCart.com, and they check all the boxes that you want in a premium soap. They’re olive oil based, vegan, palm free, and they make your skin feel really nice. So, if you’re shopping for the mixologist who has everything...I’m willing to bet they don’t have cocktail-scented soaps.

Mid-Range Gifts

Next up, let’s talk about larger-ticket items that fall somewhere in the $50 range.

Cocktail Beginners

  • On the educational front, a book like Liquid Intelligence by Dave Arnold is a great reference guide that they can take with them throughout their life. It’s really exhaustive, and it’s chock full of amazing info and recipes. That’s a hardcover book that usually weighs in around $40.

  • And in a similar vein, there are some great spirit infusion kits or homemade gin-making kits out there that aren’t going to break the bank. This way, your budding home bartender can start working with real flavors and ingredients and enjoy more of a hands-on process.

Cocktail Enthusiasts

For the Intermediate home bartender, this price point is where we start looking at bottles. And the question you should really be asking yourself is: what does this person enjoy drinking, and how can I hit that note, while also adding a touch of surprise or innovation? Let’s do a little case study so I can explain what I mean.

Let’s say you’ve got somebody who’s into negronis. Every time you visit her, she offers you one. She’s obsessed. If I were shopping for this person, a couple ideas would come to mind in terms of finding a way to add something new and fun to the equation. I might see if there are either local or unusual bottles to sub in for the old favorites. So I might try and find a local gin, a local bitter aperitif to replace Campari, and maybe even an American sweet vermouth. For those last two, I really enjoy the Tiber aperitif by Capitoline Vermouth, and I’m also quite partial to Vya sweet vermouth out of California. It’s not like an Italian Style or a French Style Vermouth - it’s uniquely and distinctly American.

Another idea here would be to push the script even a little further. Your friend likes negronis? Cool! What about a Mezcal negroni? Or what if you picked up a bottle of Suze and a bottle of Lillet Blanc so she can try her hand at a white negroni? These ideas obviously require a bit of knowledge on the cocktail front, so if you’re new to cocktails, or if you just run out of ideas, feel free to send us an email at podcast@modernbarcart.com and we’ll be happy to help you out.

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Finally, for the expert bartender, one great option I’ve come across in the $50 range is a specially designed bartender apron. There’s a couple companies out there that seem to do a good job, including Hudson Durable Goods and Under NY Sky.

A couple quality indicators to look for are:

  • Waxed Canvas material (for durability)

  • Reinforced seams

  • Riveted corners

  • Pockets for specialized cocktail tools

  • A towel loop

And the apron I put on my holiday wish list actually doubles as a knife roll. These aprons are great great gifts because they’re hyper specialized. Right, only really serious bartenders will want them, but they’re also not gonna break the bank, so they’re a great intermediate level gift.

Big Budget Gifts

Now that we’ve covered normal stocking stuffers and gifts, let’s jump a bit off the deep end and throw caution (and our wallets) to the wind with cocktail presents that come with a steep price tag, but that are totally worth it.

Cocktail Beginners

One might be to buy them a class that will really help them take their skills to the next level. I know personally that one of the best investments of a couple hundred dollars I ever made was my intermediate wine and spirits course courtesy of the WSET (which stands for the Wine and Spirits Education Trust).

Here in the DC area, I can personally vouch for the Capitol Wine School in Friendship heights. But, if you live near a major metropolitan area, there’s probably some place near you that offers educational classes like this.

For information on these sorts of classes, visit wsetglobal.com.

Cocktail Enthusiasts

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If you’re looking at big-budget gifts for the enthusiast in your life, I’d recommend something like the brand new Aviary Cocktail Book, which is just about the hottest publication out there at the moment. It’s one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever seen, and it takes you through some of the most innovative cocktails and service methods pioneered by The Aviary, which is a famous cocktail bar in Chicago. The signed, reserve edition of this book costs about $135.

A more hands-on gift could be a personalized, charred oak barrel for aging spirits at home. These usually start out around $50, but as soon as you go for anything over 1 liter or want to customize it, you’re looking at $100 and up. You can find these on ETSY and all over the web from cooperages.

Expert Mixologists

Finally, let’s get to a couple pricey buys for the mixologist who has everything.

One tool that I’ve been drooling over is a clear ice sphere press, and the best looking one I’ve come across is from a company called Icebirg.

So with this, you freeze large chunks of ice, and then you put them into this press, which essentially melts them into perfect spheres. This is definitely a professional quality product, and it’s cool that it comes with a lifetime warranty. And as an added little bit of flair, they even have a press that churns out ice shaped like a giant diamond - and when the base model starts at $200...I think we should expect nothing less.

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And finally, on the spirits side of things, a great blockbuster purchase for your professional mixologist friend or family member is a bottle of Chartreuse VEP. This is basically a super-premium version of an already-premium liqueur. The VEP stands for Vieillissement Exceptionnellement Prolongé, which means that it was aged for an extra long time. And each limited edition bottle comes in its own branded box. Only a very limited number of these bottles are imported to the United States every year, so it’s no surprise that they start around $130/bottle.

Eric KozlikHoliday, 2018, Gift Guide