There’s a line of thinking that some of us drink to forget, and as much as that doesn’t always seems like a wise coping strategy, it doesn’t seem an entirely awful idea in 2020. Which has been a complete flaming fucking Dumpster fire. The following gifts will help your loved ones take the edge off a year that we’ll all look back upon and be glad we made it through. As always, try to support those working at the grassroots level by shopping locally. And remember, the goal should be maintaining a healthy glow, not passing out under the Christmas tree every morning around 11 a.m., and then waking up with your head feeling like a Dumpster on fire at 2 p.m.
Booze & Vinyl: A Spirited Guide to Great Music and Mixed Drinks
As anyone who has ever been to Seattle’s excellent record shop/cocktail bar Life on Mars could tell you, booze and vinyl make a pretty great combination. This is especially true in our current paradigm, in which music and alcohol are among the things keeping us sane. If you possess sufficient knowledge of both of those things, you can, of course, come up with your own pairings. For those who might need a nudge in the right direction, however, authors André Darlington and Tenaya Darlington have assembled a selection of 70 LPs from the 1930s through the 2000s, from artists ranging from Run-DMC to Joni Mitchell to Bon Iver. Working with ace photographer Jason Varney, they’ve given each album a mixed drink for both the A-side and the B-side. Do you really need to be sipping a classic Manhattan while spinning your grandpa’s old copy of In the Wee Small Hours? Of course not, but we think Frank Sinatra would approve. Seasoned mixologists might find the recipes a little too basic, but those new to the game will be relieved to see that many consist of only two or three ingredients. Sadly, there is no drink called the Dumpster Fire. ($31 at runningpress.com).
Takeaway Cocktail Kits
One of the bright spots in this most raging Dumpster fire-esque of years has been the way you can help others while helping yourself cope. After Vancouver bars were forced to close their doors in the spring, those on the frontlines asked themselves a question: if people will pay for takeout food, why wouldn’t they pay for takeout cocktails? Today we know the answer. The lockdowns have seen the city’s talented bartenders step up with cocktail kits that let anyone channel the ghosts of “Professor” Jerry Thomas or Ada Coleman—even if their idea of a great margarita starts with a squeeze bottle of ReaLime. As we gear up for the holiday season, Dachi has just rolled out $75 kits featuring the Natural Cure (Johnnie Walker Red, chamomile, ginger, lemon, and pressed apple). Chickadee’s $99 cocktail kits will have you whipping up a perfect Another Day in Paradise (Cazadores Reposado, St. Germain, charred pineapple, galangal, grapefruit, and hops bitters). The Keefer Bar’s $110 2 in 1 Rum Kit is the first stop to classic Mai Tais and Daiquiris. If you’ve got a favourite bar in Vancouver, odds are relatively good they’re offering up a cocktail kit. Consider it a gift that keeps on giving, especially if there’s a “mixologist” in your life who needs help understanding that SunRype and White Lightning do not an Appletini make. (Various prices and locations).
Admittedly, it doesn’t look like much, unless you’ve got a thing for spray bottles that happen to come in fancy brushed steel. But your favourite amateur bartender will love the worlds that are opened up by an atomizer. As you go deeper as a home mixologist—which is to say, aiming higher than Sailor Jerry and Hawaiian Punch—you’ll find drinks that call for flourishes like an absinthe wash. Fill your atomizer with Tofino Distillery’s Psychedelic Jellyfish Absinthe, then mist your glass, and you’ve gone full metal jacket. Where the atomizer really proves indispensable is on the subtle-accents front. Want to know how to take classic cocktails like the Manhattan, Old Fashioned, or even Margarita to an entirely different place? Load up your atomizer with a deliciously smoky Ardbeg, then spritz one or twice before serving. Simple yet amazing. And sorry, there is no atomizer shaped like a Dumpster on fire. (Starting from $11.95 at Modern Bartender).
You know what’s one of the worst possible things you could get the serious imbiber on your list? Besides, that is, a fuego de Contenedor? Whiskey stones. Oh, sure they seem like a good idea at first. The notion is that they keep your whiskey chilled without diluting it the way ice does. There are several problems with this line of thinking. First of all, it could be argued that serious whiskey drinkers take their Speyburn Bradan Orach at room temperature the way the good lord intended. Another issue is that, for those who do prefer their single-malt on ice, dilution is sort of the point. As the ice melts, that turns down the high-proof alcohol burn, allowing the palate to savour more nuanced flavours. But enough about all that. These Final Touch puck chillers are predicated on the same principle as whiskey stones, which is that they keep your drink cool without watering it down. The stainless-steel pucks are filled with a nontoxic cooling gel, and they’ll add a bit of shine to the recipient’s Tom Collins or Mojito. Those beverages are best enjoyed in the summer months, of course, when you want to keep things nice and cool. Unlike, say, whiskey, which is arguably best consumed straight out of the bottle while staring into a raging fireplace on New Year’s Eve, fervently hoping that 2021 is a vast improvement over 2020. ($15.99 per pair at the Gourmet Warehouse).
Locally Produced Liquor
Want a gift that someone is guaranteed to use, especially in the transcendentally Poubelle a la flambé year that has been 2020? You’re not going to go wrong with liquor, especially considering stats that show we’re consuming it these days as a coping mechanism. Once upon a time, made in B.C. was shorthand for your cousin Vito’s home-distilled (a.k.a. paint-removing and stomach-destroying) grappa. These days, craft distilleries flourish across the province, producing everything from award-winning vodkas (Per Se from Vancouver Island’s Ampersand) to artisanal liqueurs (No. 82 Amaretto from Sons of Vancouver). So as much as it’s great to give that thrice-removed cousin you see once a year a bottle of Michter’s Sour Mash Whiskey for Christmas, why not go local? That way you’re showing you care not only about a loved one, friend, or boss who didn’t lay you off in the spring but also about those manning the distilling pots in these troubled times. Need some ideas to kick-start your shopping? East Van’s Odd Society Spirits has just released this year’s edition of its gold medal–winning Salal Gin, made with salal berries harvested in Haida Gwaii. Roots and Wings Distillery in Langley has put together gift baskets featuring locally sourced mixers along with spirits like its Johnny Handsome charred-barrel whiskey and Dill Pickled vodka. Continuing with the best-in-show spirits, consider Railspur No. 3 Switch whiskey from the Liberty Distillery, Långbord Akvavit from Long Table Distillery, or the Woods Spirit Co. Pacific Northwest Amaro. And that’s just the cream of an industry that’s booming from Sparwood to Port Hardy and Victoria to Fort Nelson. Get on board with the knowledge that you’ll truly be making these holidays a little happier. (Various prices and locations).