Normally at this time of year, glasses are being lifted in a joyous celebration of the winter holidays--or at least we usually pretend that's the case. This year, however, with the economy in a tailspin and with the future looking grim, it's less a case of "God bless us every one" and more a case of "God, I could use a drink."
Be sure to spread some of the season's spirit this year, but since times are tough, don't break the bank--instead, do some strategic shopping for the home mixologist on your list.
'Tiny Bubbles' by Kate Simon
Magnums of fine French bubbly may be a scarce sighting during hard times, but it's easy to get festive with a moderately priced bottle of sparkling wine when it's accompanied by some of the great ideas found in Tiny Bubbles (Chronicle Books, 2008). Written by Kate Simon, this slim volume is packed with recipes for creative champagne cocktails ranging from classics such as the Seelbach to newfangled drinks from today's top mixologists, such as Audrey Saunders' Old Cuban. Tiny Bubbles, $14.95 ($10.17 on Amazon)
Bottles of good whiskey and brandy are timeless gift ideas, but they're also ones that are increasingly pricey. Fortunately there are other excellent spirits that are easier on the wallet while also being perfectly appropriate as gifts, and a well-made gin should find a welcome audience in any martini-drinking household. Great gins include Martin Miller's Gin, which comes in the standard 80-proof version as well as a slightly more potent and flavorful Westbourne Strength; DH Krahn, an excellent California-made gin that steers clear of the gimmickry found in many new-generation gins; Junipero, a classically styled gin also made in San Francisco; and Hayman's Old Tom Gin, an essential ingredient in many vintage cocktails. Martin Miller's Gin, $29.99; Martin Miller's Westbourne Strength Gin, $39.99; DH Krahn Gin, $32.99; Junipero, $36.99; Hayman's Old Tom Gin, $29.99
It's easy to expand your mixological repertoire without investing in hundreds of dollars worth of liqueurs and mixers; simply introduce some bitters into a cocktail for a new take on an old favorite. There are plenty of styles available today, and new products on the market for 2008 include the richly flavored Angostura Orange Bitters, along with Cherry and Rhubarb Bitters from Fee Brothers in Rochester. Angostura Orange Bitters, $11.50 from Amazon.com; Fee Brothers Bitters 8-bottle set, $46.95 from Amazon.com
Vintage and Not-So-Vintage Bar Books
Want to know how great-grandpa was drinking 'em back in the day? Well too bad, vintage bar manuals cost an arm and a leg on auction sites nowadays. Fortunately, Mud Puddle Books began republishing bar guides dating back to the 1860s, while also rolling out reprints of essential 20th century guides such as David Embury's The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks and new books such as The Complete Bartender's Guide, by bar scholar Robert Hess. Mud Puddle Books; prices vary
To mix a good drink you need good equipment - though that doesn't necessarily mean expensive equipment. While some mainstream kitchen stores will charge in the $50 range for a simple cocktail shaker, a thriftier (and frankly, better) way to mix drinks is to pick up a few very reasonably priced shaker tins and get to work like the bartenders at some of the country's best bars. Round out your purchase with a cocktail strainer, and you've got the basics covered. Shaker tins, $1.25 to $4.75 from barsupplies.com; Oxo cocktail strainer, $5.99 from Amazon.com