12 Bottle Bar Holiday Gift Guide
One of the greatest challenges I have during the holidays is waiting for the recipients of my gifts to open the things I’ve bought for them. I try to put a good deal of thought into the gifts I give, and there’s no greater reward for a job well done than seeing the joyful expression on someone’s face. On the flipside, I’ve occasionally encountered a “Do you have the receipt?” (my nephew knows well who I’m talking about, so I won’t name him here), but when it all works out right, nothing quite captures the magic of the season like knowing that you’ve made someone else very happy.
For our gift guide this year, we asked ourselves one simple question: What would we want? With that in mind, we went shopping, and below are the 12 items that made our list. If you’re a 12BB fan, one or more of these may make your list too. If you’re shopping for a cocktail-leaning friend, look no further for the perfect gift. There’s something for every price point and something for the booze enthusiast as well as for the master mixologist.
The Sky’s The Limit
Johnnie Walker Private Scotch Tasting – $5,000
Even though we don’t feature Scotch on 12BB, we’d happily sign up to spent the night working our way through the Johnnie Walker portfolio, guided by a Master of Whisky and accompanied by an authentic Scottish bagpiper. The cost covers everything for up to 20 people, and each guest goes home with a custom-engraved bottle of Johnnie Walker’s top-of-the-line Blue Label. But what really sold us on the event isn’t that it’s completely tax-deductible, it’s that 100% of the proceeds go to amFAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research.
Black Tot “Last Consignment” British Royal Naval Rum – $800 – $1,000
On July 31, 1970, the British Royal Navy ended the 300 year-old tradition of providing its sailors with a daily ration – or “tot” – of rum. Since then, July 31st has been celebrated/lamented among navy men and rum aficionados as Black Tot Day. Today, the closest thing we can get to the original is Pusser’s Rum, which is made according to the naval recipe and in the original wooden Admiralty stills. That is, it was the closest thing – because now you can have some of the actual last Royal Navy rum supply, which has been hanging out in stone flagons for the past 40 years. Pricey, sure, but it’s history in a bottle – and apparently, quite delicious to boot.
For That Special Someone
Mackinlay’s Shackleton Rare Old Highland Malt – $175
Continuing our theme of historic bottles – but at a more obtainable price point – is what is affectionately known as Shackleton’s Whisky. During his failed Nimrod (1907-1909) expedition to reach the South Pole, explorer Ernest Shackleton left behind a cache of Mackinlay’s Scotch. Those bottles were recently found, and Mackinlay’s set out to reverse engineer the blend – recreating the original bottling and making it available to the public as a limited release. Yes, it’s a clever bit of marketing, but we’re suckers for a drink with a great story behind it.
You Can’t Go Wrong
The Life Imagined Flasks – $30 – $45
You’re always on the go, and wouldn’t it be great if you could take your booze with you – in style? The flask certainly isn’t a new invention, but The Life Imagined’s flasks take the concept to new heights. With a design for every taste, the flasks are stainless steel, and the water-resistant graphics are hand-placed and have received a gloss coating to ensure that the flasks will look good and function for years to come. We’re partial to the Cowboy and the Tall Ship designs, but you probably could have guessed that.
Villeroy & Boch Stemware – $15 – $20 per piece
Not too long ago, the kind folks at Villeroy & Boch classed up our drinkware by sending us a lovely care package full of shapes and sizes. Both the crystal and glassware are handmade, and drinks just look and taste better in beautiful glasses. Here are some of our favorites:
Perfect for wine and cocktails alike.
The pineapple-like shape makes it ideal for tiki drinks, but it rocks for anything with, well, rocks.
Simple, yet elegant, this one fits the bill for martinis and other “up” drinks.
Bitters – $5 – $35
If you want to gauge the enormity of the cocktail renaissance in which we are currently enmeshed, take a look at the selection of bitters on the market today. Where once there were one or two easily obtainable varieties, now there are hundreds. We recommend trying exotic profiles like Dandelion & Burdock from our good friend Adam Elmegirab, Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters from Fee Brothers, Celery Bitters from The Bitter Truth , or even Chocolate-Chili Bitters from Miracle Mile.
For one-stop on-line shipping, visit our friends at The Meadow
Matt Talbert Prints – $40 unframed
We featured artist Matt Talbert’s cocktail-themed paintings back in October, and we’re excited to find out that Matt has started selling prints of his work. With so much bad booze art on the market, it’s wonderful to see someone with real talent inspired by the world of bottles, flips, and julep strainers – at least, someone other than Lautrec. For the cost of a bottle of liquor, you can have real art – what are you waiting for?
West Bend Penguin Ice Bucket (Vintage) – $15 – $40
Long before the days of Ebay, my brother-in-law and I had a contest to see who could collect the most “penguin pots”, better known as West Bend Penguin Hot/Cold Server Buckets. At the height of our obsession, we each boasted more than a dozen of the shiny deco orbs, but my supply dwindled over the years as I realized that penguin pots made perfect gifts. Available in either chrome or copper (typically more rare and expensive) and with wooden or Bakelite handles, a vintage penguin pot is the perfect gift for any self-styled Don or Betty Draper.
Via eBay or your local antique store.
Eric Bordelet Ciders – $12 – $22
Although you’ll have to hunt these down, they are well worth the effort. We love ciders, and there are few finer than those of Mr. Bordelet, a former sommelier. Bordelet’s Normandy farm boasts 15 hectares of apple and pear trees – many 40 to 50 years old – and all of the fruit is hand-picked to ensure the finest quality. We’re particularly enamored of the Poire Granit, the pears for which come from 300 year-old trees and which makes a wonderful alternative to champagne – for just around $19.
Aftelier Perfumes Chef’s Essences – $12 – $65
By trade, Mandy Aftel is a perfumer and a celebrated one at that. Fortunately, Mandy has a keen interest in the relationship between fragrance and food (she’s even co-written a book on the subject), which led to Aftelier’s line of Chef’s Essences, pure essential oils designed for use in food and, as luck would have it, drinks. The bottles are small, but one drop (trust us) is all that is needed to magically transform any drink. There are so many choices, it may be hard to pick, so we recommend trying one of the sets.
Tom and Jerry Set (Vintage) – $10 – $30
Last year, we whipped up a batch of Tom and Jerry for our Christmas drinks, and we’re excited to see that we got some of you doing the same. If you’re looking for something cool and retro, there are few things finer (and more affordable) than an authentic Tom and Jerry set. For those not familiar, Tom and Jerry is the quintessential Christmas drink – or, at least it was. We believe that no good home should be without a set – well, no home belonging to a 12BB reader.
Hunt eBay or your local antique store.
Ross Bolton Vintage Cocktail Book Reprints – $7 – $15
While the shelves of your local bookstore (assuming it still exists) are no doubt full of the latest cocktail books from both masters and hucksters of the trade, we’ve always had a soft spot for the Ross Bolton vintage reprints. From classics like Jerry Thomas’ Bar-Tender’s Guide and Boothby’s World Drinks and How to Mix Them to more obscure tomes such as The Chicago Bartenders 1945 Bar Guide (a favorite), we’re hooked on these inexpensive, photocopied treasures. And, where the real McCoy is priceless (or just expensive), the Bolton editions give you all the fun without having to worry about spilling grenadine on the pages.
And the Lagniappe —
A Round – $Priceless
What is the best gift of all? Meeting a family member, a colleague, or a friend for a drink. Whether you try a hip new bar, hook up at the Cheesecake Factory, or saunter into your favorite dive, it’s the company, not the drinking, that’s ultimately most important. Above all else, the holidays are a great time to reconnect or to just take a moment to appreciate someone’s company, and there are few more welcome gifts than an invitation to a drink. Just be sure to get your round in and tip generously – it’s the holidays, after all.