Cocktail Holiday Gift Guide: Home Bartending Edition
Bitters, spoons, mixing glasses, and more for cocktail aficionados
Standard Spoon's new ebony muddler
Bitters and Syrups
For your favorite home cocktail-maker who likes some heat, pick up a bottle of Boy Drinks World’s Serrano Cocktail Spice. It’s awesome. You can find it at North Park’s Pigment, Rust General Store (Old Town), and Proper Apothecary (also in Old Town and where you can find a Boy Drinks World gift pack).
If Angostura and Peychaud’s top the list of must-own bitters, orange bitters are easily third: They work magic with basic cocktails, like martinis and Old Fashioneds. The best orange bitters I’ve tried recently is by husband-and-wife owned AZ Bitters Lab. You can find the entire AZ Bitters line, including their mole bitters and figgy pudding bitters, at Pacific Provisions, a charming stall in Liberty Public Market that sells a number of craft- and small-batch bitters and syrups, like Cocktail & Sons syrups by New Orleans bartender Max Messier. Tony Morales, Pacific Provisions’ owner, said it’s his goal to put together the most comprehensive collection of small-batch cocktail mixers in San Diego. When I was there last weekend, Morales was getting ready to turn a corner of the shop into, as he put it, “all things cocktail.”
A recent piece in the New York Times on the new cocktail book Shake. Stir. Sip. pretty much nails it on cocktail books: “Many of the recipes in drinks manuals of the last few years resemble academic papers, with asterisks and footnotes and ‘see page’ references. To make a single cocktail, you have to execute two or three recipes: one for the drink, then maybe one for the special syrup needed in the drink, or an infusion.” Shake. Stir. Sip. seeks to simplify the art of cocktail making without dumbing it down. The 50 recipes focus on cocktails made in equal parts and offers tips on stocking the perfect bar and making sure you’ve got the right bar tools on-hand. I spotted a copy at the Library Shop, which also carries another one of my favorite cocktail books of 2016, The New Cocktail Hour. (Also spotted at the Library Shop, this classy camping flask by Kikkerland.)
In the back of Polite Provisions, you’ll find a couple of cabinets displaying bitters and barware for sale. I asked bartender Elliott Mizuki what he’d recommend. “One of my favorites is the Standard Spoon stirring spoon,” he said. Created by San Diegans Shawn Michael and Rachel Eva, the Standard Spoon got the attention of the folks over at Tales of the Cocktail. The spoons, which come in two designs, will up anyone’s stirred-cocktail skills and they look mighty fine, too. If you’re running a little short on cash, Standard Spoon offers the “Runner Up Program,” where you can buy slightly imperfect spoons at a steep discount—which saves you money and reduces waste. They’ve also created a gorgeous made-to-order ebony muddler and are taking pre-orders for their first hammered-glass mixing glass.
Speaking of stirred cocktails, you need the right container for stirring. After an unfortunate kitchen debacle, I’ve been using a beer mug to make stirred cocktails, hoping that someone will get me Cocktail Kingdom’s Yarai mixing glass for Christmas. Or, in the spirits section of Liberty Station’s Grape Smuggler, pick up an elegant Viski crystal mixing glass for $15.
Originally vessels for champagne, coupe glasses are now the preferred way to serve chilled cocktails. And they just look cool. Not too long ago, a friend pointed me to the Rescue Mission thrift store in North Park, where, depending on the day, you can pick up coupe glasses for 50 cents to a dollar each. These are the sturdy, stocky variety you’ll find at craft cocktail spots. They’re utilitarian, yet still pretty. Add a couple to a gift basket that includes ingredients for a coupe-friendly cocktail, like a Manhattan, Hemingway Daiquiri, or Aviation.
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