The Most Unique and Wonderful Holiday Gift Guide Ever, Presented by The Mix
Lots of Mix Staff Favorites for Your Benevolent Pleasure.
People don’t like to be forced to give gifts, so the upcoming “giving season” turns a lot of people off. Except me. I love giving gifts.
Admittedly, I often find my presents at thrift shops and yard sales and maybe these gifts are more liked by the giver and not the givee—but sometimes I hit the mark and it’s wonderful to see someone you care about truly enjoy a present.
Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love this time of year. For this I do not apologize. And I’m hoping this list that Robert and I put together entreats even the most “I-hate-all-of-this” person to look at these fun items. I bet there is something here for anyone on any list you may have.
This highly curated and personal list happens to be brought to you by the Letter B—yes, we have The Encyclopedia of Cocktails on the brain. (Which, by the way, would make a great gift for absolutely anyone this holiday season!) So, here are our favorites in Barware, Books (and Bookstores to buy them in), Booze, Bars, Bills of Fare, Bottled Cocktails, Badger State Favs, and Bestie gifts.
Anything from Jack and Joie: If you are lucky enough to get to shop in Door County, Wisconsin, in person this season, run to Jack and Joie in Fish Creek for all of your barware needs. They truly have one of the best selections in any state. In the store they carry lovely vintage pieces, as well as fun new items like Wisconsin Old-Fashioned glasses, Door County cherry glasses, Bloody Mary glasses (and the accompanying “snit” glass), drink tag pom-poms, coasters, muddlers, bar towels and more! The new items are all available on-line.
Robert Simonson Old Fashioned Set ($50): Cocktail Kingdom has everything you need to trick out your at-home bar, but your first stop at CK online should be for the one-of-a-kind Old-Fashioned Set by Robert Simonson. These are classically beautiful and sturdy, heavy-bottomed glasses folks. Perfect for the drunken dropsies or those flaming holiday drinks! Each set comes with two glasses, a recipe card and a historically accurate wooden muddle for crushing your sugar cube and bitters, all snugly set in a red jewel box. And I ask you, who does not want their own personal Old-Fashioned Spoon? The answer of course, is no one. Go ahead—drink an Old-Fashioned the way your great-grandfather did. You deserve it.
Martini Glasses and an Olive Candle at Big Night: They had me at machine-vended artwork, but I stayed for the crazy Martini glasses (2 for $100) and Olive candle ($28). The candle is a perfect party gift for almost anyone, except Dirigible captains, people on oxygen and small children.
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Glassware by Better Homes and Gardens: This is something so affordable, it’s hard to believe it exists. But The Mix’s own designer Mark Ward’s found entries for this list in this amazing cocktail glass series from Walmart (yes, Walmart). At a couple bucks a glass, you can afford to break more than a few at your holiday party.
12 Ounce Clear Fluted Tumbler ($2.46 per glass, I kid you not)
Better Homes & Gardens Smoke Glass Old Fashioned Whiskey Glass Tumbler ($2.46 per glass)
There are a lot of books we like to recommend at The Mix. But for this list, we are sticking to the newest ones, volumes that have been released this year. Here they are, in no particular order:
The Encyclopedia of Cocktails ($25). (I think you already know about this one!)
Signature Cocktails ($40): Amanda Schuster’s great new book covering the signature tipples at hundreds of the world’s best bars.
The World in a Wine Glass—The Insider's Guide to Artisanal, Sustainable, Extraordinary Wines to Drink Now ($40): Food & Wine’s vino guru Ray Isle’s very first tome on the subject he has devoted his life to. At 720 pages, you’re going to find something you like here.
Juke Joints, Jazz Clubs and Juice ($28): Cookbook author Toni Tipton-Martin’s first drinks book, about the contributions made by Black American bartenders to cocktail culture.
The Ice Book ($18): Ice man Camper English’s treatise on how to make and use the best frozen water in your cocktails.
The Dish ($24): Food writer Andrew Friedman’s insightful and inventive book about what all goes into creating a single dish at a single restaurant.
All the Queens Houses, An Architectural Portrait of New York’s Largest and Most Diverse Borough ($26): This book is a wonder. Fun to look at for the layman. Architecturally interesting for the historian in your life and perfect for your annoying friend, who acts like they know everything about architecture and manages to work “Corbu” into every conversation. (Actually, I love this book and would like someone to give it to me.)
Booze Writer Colleagues: While you’re Googling, look these folks up. They have a lot of cocktail, spirits and entertaining books between them and I’m sure you’ll find a perfect gift somewhere in there.
If you’re looking for an independent bookstore to support when making your holiday purchases, we wholly endorse these shops. In many cases, they carry signed copies of the above volumes, for that extra special gift-giving touch.
Bold Fork Books, Washington, D.C.
Book Larder, Seattle, WA.
Books Are Magic, Brooklyn, NY.
Greenlight Books, Brooklyn, NY.
Lizzy Young Bookseller, Newport, RI.
Now Serving LA, Los Angeles, CA.
Omnivore Books, San Francisco, CA.
Rough Draft Books, Kingston, NY.
Volumes, Chicago, IL.
Hayman’s Gin: A classic, London Dry-style gin that, in these times of rising costs, is the best priced Martini gin out there. (I know I’m screwing myself by telling you this, but I bought a case of it before this post goes out, so my promotion of the brand won’t mess with my holiday plans.) Check out the Hayman’s Navy Strength Gin, too.
Jaywalk Heirloom Rye Whiskey ($129): 13 years in the making, the inaugural release of Jaywalk Heirloom Rye is the most audacious whiskey yet to come from Brooklyn’s New York Distilling Company. A project that started with just 10 seeds of a 17th century variety of rye native to New York has come to fruition as a 7-year-old, single-barrel, cask-strength whiskey. Tropical fruit and caramelized sugar underline an undulating rye as a testament to the belief that American rye whiskey is more than just spice. Believe me, we’ve tasted few ryes that are better. Available in person, by delivery in New York or by domestic shipping from Union Square Wine & Spirits and Gnarly Vines
The Pathfinder ($39): The “Pappy van Winkle of N/A brand,” this Seattle-made, no-abv amaro is hard to find sometimes, but well worth the hunt. You will want this around when the holidays are over and Dry January arrives. (That said, when I asked the founder of the company how he drank it, he said “with whiskey.”)
Bar Agricole Vermouth ($42): OK, you have to live in San Francisco for this one. Thad Vogler, owner of Bar Agricole, wasn’t content with the sweet vermouths that were available to him. So he made his own! And, boy, did he succeed. It is made with organic Nebbiolo and enhanced with real cane sugar, and bottled by the venerable Italian vermouth-maker Bordiga. We brought a bottle back from San Francisco recently and our Manhattans have never been happier.
Michter’s Everything: Among the most joyous days of the year at the Simonson-Murray household are when a new bottling of Michter’s whiskey comes through the mail. This Kentucky distiller is among the most consistently excellent in the whiskey world. The Straight Rye and Straight Bourbon are the affordable benchmarks, but the 10-year-olds are well worth the investment, if you can find them.
Du Nord Apple Liqueur ($37): This unique spirit out of Minnesota, full and apple flavor and spices, is made for the holidays!
DeGroff Bitter Aperitivo ($30): Vaunted barman Dale DeGroff got in the spirts game this year releasing an aperitivo and an amaro under his own name. And you know a bar vet like Dale isn’t going to steer you wrong when it comes to serious matters like what goes into your Negroni!
Orgeat Works Orgeat ($19-$22): Around our house, we don’t use any other orgeat in our Mai Tais than that made by Brooklyn’s own “Tiki Adam” Kolesar. Also check out the Mai Tai Mix he collaborated on with Jeff “Beachbum” Berry. It’s perfect for anyone craving a decent Mai Tai when on the road.
Del Maguay Mezcal ($40 and up): Whatever agave varietal you’re looking for, whatever flavor profile you’re after, its likely Del Maguey’s line of “single village” expressions contains it.
Alma del Jaguar Tequila ($50): This new brand of tequila is doubly virtuous. It is made using sustainable production practices, in partnership with Sergio Vivanco, patriarch of the fifth-generation Vivanco tequila family; and the company donates part of their proceeds to the Northern Jaguar Project (NJP), a bi-national effort between conservationists from the U.S. and Mexico to preserve and recover the world’s northernmost population of wild jaguars and their habitats.
Bill of Fare
There are few better gifts than food. Here are some of the things we like to snack on during the holidays.
St. Elmo’s Steakhouse Shrimp Cocktail Sauce ($9) : We have never encountered a better shrimp cocktail sauce than the sinus-clearing one served at this Indianapolis icon. Their other bottled goods aren’t bad either. You can also have the entire shrimp cocktail shipped to you for $99.
Central Grocery Muffuletta ($126 for 2): The New Orleans legend will ship its famous sandwich to your door.
Portillo’s Chicago Hot Dog Service ($76-$100): Want to serve fully-dressed Chicago-style hot dogs at your holiday party? Portillo’s has you covered. Remember, Franksgiving is less than two weeks away!
Tony Packo’s Chili ($16 for 2 cans): One of the best canned chilis in the nation comes from this Toledo institution.
Pinch ($30 for 6): Rob Salamida is best known for his marinades, the sauces that lend flavor to spiedies, the Binghamton, New York, sandwich specialty. But he also made Pinch, an all-purpose seasoning that makes everything somehow taste better. There are various flavors, but the original Italian Blend is the best. Try it on oven-roasted veggies.
Twin Anchors: the Chicago ribs destination that was a favorite of Frank Sinatra bottles its own barbecue sauce. They also ship their ribs nationwide!
Bars don’t just sell drinks, you know.
Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge: Don’t let your Milwaukee loved ones go without a Brandy Old-Fashioned and Tom & Jerry this holiday season. Get them a Bryant’s gift certificate. The passes are also good at Bryant’s sister bars At Random and Jazz Estate.
Miller’s Pub Pint Glass ($4): Take home a little bit of the oldest and coziest bar in Chicago’s Loop with this Bloody Mary or Beer holder. (They also have a custom Tom & Jerry mug, but I’m not sure if it’s for sale. If you visit, ask.)
Stage Left Wine: Right next to Stage Left Steak, the New Brunswick, NJ, institution, is Stage Left Wine, which has one of the best wine and spirits selections in the state.
The Anvil Bar: Know someone who’s thirsty in Houston? The Anvil, the city’s most revered cocktail bar, has delicious to-go cocktails.
The Crunkleton: Do you have any North Carolina friends or relatives? Give them a gift certificate from one of Gary Crunkleton’s great bars!
Double Chicken Please Camping Plate ($25): The super-hot Lower East Side bar sells an enamel camping plate. Don’t ask why. Just buy it.
So, maybe you don’t want to mix drinks at your holiday party. Maybe you want an easier lift. Fill your fridge with these grab-and-go mixed adult beverages.
Bar Diver’s 50/50 Martinis: Joe Heron, the found of Copper & Kings brandy, recently got in the bottled cocktail game. We particularly like his take on the 50/50 Martini.
Social Hour Harvest Whiskey Sour: Brooklyn bar owner Julie Reiner and her partner Tom Macy author one of the best lines of canned cocktails out there. They are all good, but the Harvest Whiskey Sour, made with George Dickel, is a standout.
Dante Negroni Sessions: New York’s Dante was one of the first cocktail bars to get in on the bottled cocktail biz, and they’re still one of the best.
Badger State Gifts
As a native Wisconsinite, I have a soft spot for goods from America’s Dairyland. But my bias isn’t wholly sentimental. Wisconsin happens to produce some of the best foodstuffs in the nation, as well as some of the most fun and festive.
Usinger’s Famous Sausage: Usinger’s, the most famous purveyor of German meats in the state, and arguably the nation, has a holiday sausage-and-cheese package to meet every need. And I mean every need. The variety is mind-boggling.
Kringles: This flat, layered, oval, large-format pastry is a specialty of the Danish bakers in Racine. And no one does them better that O&H Danish Bakery, which ships nationwide. May we suggest the Brandy Old-Fashioned Kringle?
Cherry De-Lite: There’s no more addictive Door County snack that dried, tart, Montmorency cherries. Keep ‘em in a bowl over the holiday season and pop them in your mouth.
Mike’s Country Meats: Wisconsin makes, and consumes, a lot of beef jerky. There are many good brands, but this is my favorite. Warning: this is old-school, tough-as-leather jerky, not the weak, soft-serve, mass-marketed stuff. Get your chompers ready!
Pleasant Ridge Reserve: Uplands Cheese’s aged Gruyere-like cheese is simply one of the best cheeses in the county. It is made only in the summer months, but available now. Wherever you live, it’s likely your local artisan cheese shop carries it.
Andes Mints: These soothing, old-fashioned, Wisconsin-made chocolate mints should be in every good girl’s and boy’s stockings this December.
Fox Valley Chocolates: For wholesome, good-old-fashioned chocolates, shop the heritage candy shops that dot the Fox River Valley, including Hughes’ in Oshkosh, Seroogy’s in Green Bay and Wilmar in Appleton.
Besties at The Mix
Here are a few excellent and unique offerings from some indefatigable supporters of The Mix. Don’t let our nepotism fool you—these guys actually put out really good stuff!
Gothic Flower Fashion: Your source for offbeat, unique fashion apparel, each item custom made.
Drinkify Me: Your only source for caricatures that make you look like your favorite cocktail! Artist and cocktail enthusiast Dave Stolte will give you a refreshing new look.
Drag City Records: Shop here for your favorite music — or cool music you’ve never heard of to give your niece, who thinks you’re not cool.
Koren Shadmi Artwork: Do you like the drawing of Robert that goes along with the Field Reports? Then you will like Koren’s other illustrations.
Sother Teague Items: The indefatigable Teague, owner of Amor y Amargo, always has a few exciting side hustles going on. We suggest checking out his holiday cocktail book Let’s Get Blitzen; his cocktail kit collaborations with Shaker and Spoon; his homemade Driftwood and Garden Party bitters; and his soon-to-come hot sauce, Desert Curse.
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Zebra Socks from Scalamandre ($18): Want your feet to look as classy as the walls at Gino’s, the bygone Upper East Side red sauce institution? Or as quirky as a scene from “The Royal Tenenbaums”? Here you go! The iconic red zebra design can also grace your phone case or coffee mug.
Finger Puppets from the Unemployed Philosophers Guild: The list of wonderful artists, writers, and historical personalities that are rendered here as puppets is endless. Everyone is here, from Da Vinci and Jane Austen to James Baldwin and Freddie Mercury. You’re going to need more fingers!
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Lastly, if the season’s rampant commercial gifting isn’t your style, why not give to a charity in someone’s name? They may not like that they didn’t get a traditional gift, and you just may be out of a Yankee Candle next year —but maybe that’s part of this plan. Here’s a few causes to start you off:
Odds and Ends…
‘Tis the season of holiday bar pop-ups. You’ll find one in every city. In some cites, you’ll find several! Check out: the Miracle on George at Catherine Lombardi in New Brunswick; Miracle Bar at Pacific Cocktail Haven in San Francisco; Miracle Bar at Rob Roy in Seattle; Sippin’ Santa at Latitude 29 in New Orleans; Sleyenda at Leyenda in Brooklyn; Krampas Cove at Someday Bar in New York; Snowday in Brooklyn at Sunday in Brooklyn, in, duh, Brooklyn; and Maccabee Hanukkah Bar at Ollie West Village… St. Elmo Steak House in Indianapolis has released a bottled Barrel Aged Old Fashioned. Available for a limited time only in Indiana… The Wild Turkey ice luge will return to Grand Army in Brooklyn on Monday, Nov. 20… Punch, the online drinks publication, celebrated 10 years in business this week… Elixir, the San Francisco cocktail bar, marked 20 years in business last week… Seaborne Bar in Brooklyn is having a chili cook-off on Sunday. Tasting begins at 3 pm; judging begins at 6:30… Gage & Tollner in Brooklyn has started offering pastries to go. Place your order via @explorestock by Wednesday to have goods delivered to your door Friday-Sunday… I wrote something about cocktails that taste like food for Vinepair… Florence Fabricant, legend of the The New York Times, wrote about my new book The Encyclopedia of Cocktails. Cheers, FloFab!… Jefferson’s Bourbon has teamed up with Lucali’s, the Brooklyn pizza icon, have teamed up for the Slice of New York Sweepstakes, offering a chance to win a reservation for 4 at the hard-to-get-into pizzeria. I recently went to a press event for the new initiative, and enjoyed what were probably the only cocktails ever served at Lucali’s. Appropriately enough, the Manhattans were on the rocks. Very old school. Apply here.
We’re off to a good start here, but maybe you’d like to chime in with some of your favorite gift ideas too—the more the merrier! Please add your suggestions below.