What? Not done with your holiday shopping? Yeah, neither are we. But we've been making lists -- and checking them twice -- and we've got some suggestions for the nice people on your list. Today, Chow Bella's Gift Guide for the Aspiring Bartender.
You've noticed lately that your friend gets quite the glimmer in their eye when you suggest going out for cocktails. They intently watch the bartender, studying their every move. It only makes sense that you're going to get your friend set up to be the mixology star of every cocktail party. Here's what to get a budding bartender for a very happy holiday.
Bar Shaker and Accessories, $10 and up If you go into a mall-based kitchen store, you'll see lots of elegant (read: expensive) three-piece shakers. All of them suck. The strainer holes clog with ice. Then, when you're done shaking, the whole assemblage freezes together like a flock of dumb ducks on an icy lake.
Go to a restaurant supply store and get a Boston shaker set. It's two parts: A 28-ounce tin, and a 16-ounce mixing glass. The spoon is long with a twisted stem and a red plastic bit on the tip. All three together should be under $10. If you go online to a supplier like barproducts.com, you can get upgraded Boston shakers (all kinds of colors!) and spoons, but they all work the same as the cheap ones. While at the restaurant supply store, you can also get a jigger and Hawthorne strainer (the kind with a spring around the bottom edge) at similar low prices, but Oxo's are worth the upgrade and readily available at big-box stores. Each is about $10.
Chef'n FreshForce Citrus Juicer, $20 When using lemon and lime juice, you only want fresh-squeezed. The best bar juicers for home use are the ones that look like an oversize garlic press. Most Chef'n brand products are mediocre at best, but their FreshForce juicer works like a dream. It's the only plastic citrus press I've used that's actually worth buying.
PUG Muddler: $30 and up If you want Mojitos and Old-Fashioneds, you need a muddler. The darling of the high-end mixology set is Chris Gallagher's PUG muddler. Even modern legend Dale DeGroff carries one. Gallagher hand-turns every muddler himself. Email email@example.com to get one.
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The Joy of Mixology: $30 list, currently $18.98 on Amazon.com While I love a lot of the bartending books on my shelf, the one that will best take someone's bartending to the next level is The Joy of Mixology. Author Gary Regan wrote a different style of cocktail book: One where drinks are categorized by supporting ingredients instead of main flavor. This way, you can see the relationship between a Margarita and a Lemon Drop, or Manhattans and Rob Roys. If they already have this one, any of Dale DeGroff's books make excellent alternatives.
Meehan Utility Bag: $660 ($740 including equipment roll-up) or UPPTÄCKA Briefcase: $15.99 with IKEA Family card With all this cool stuff, you need something to carry all of it. Jim Meehan, proprietor of the terrific speakeasy PDT in New York, has created the ultimate bar equipment bag. Any budding (or veteran) bartender would be delighted beyond belief to carry their equipment in this baby. Those who haven't won the lottery will find IKEA's UPPTÄCKA briefcase very useful and stylish, with multiple pockets and elastic straps to hold everything, and swanky mod style.
When in doubt... Fernet-Branca, $25 Bartenders everywhere love the stuff. Budding bartenders should develop a taste for it.