I come bearing (ideas for) gifts
OPEN THIS NOW: Almost everything in here is on sale but only for a few days!
There is nothing in the world I love more than finding and giving the perfect gift. I can spend hours upon hours upon hours reading every gift guide on every website, even when I have absolutely no one to whom the gift guide applies. I just love the entire idea of gift giving, of finding something someone never knew they wanted but are genuinely ecstatic to see when they open it, or that they have looked at with longing but could never justify buying for themselves. In that spirit (heh), and because tomorrow is Black Friday and a bunch of places are having sales on zero-proof drinks, instead of a cocktail recipe and serving suggestions this week, I bring you:
The 2021 5PM Eternal Holiday Gift Guide
For the traditionalists
Pairing a couple of bottles of a great non-alcoholic spirit, or a spirit and mixer, with the appropriate garnish, glassware, and mixing tools (or some combination thereof) is perfect for the person in your life who likes to keep things simple, classic, and elegant. You know, the ones whose white button down, jeans, and loafers cost more than your evening wear, their kitchen is stocked with Le Creuset that they actually use. They aren’t afraid to spend money, but they won’t drop a dime on anything unless they can at least use it for the rest of their life, and preferably leave it to their grandkids.
For example, a bottle of Kentucky 74, a very sippable non-alcoholic bourbon from Spiritless, and a Bittermilk syrup for a ready-to-go old-fashioned kit. Keep it simple with their original Bourbon Barrel Aged Old Fashioned, go festive with Gingerbread Old Fashioned, or spoil them with the Bittermilk Old Fashioned Set of 3 different syrups. If you want to really impress them, these beautiful Admiral cut crystal tumblers are on sale at Viski right now, as either a pair or a set of 4. Since everything is 20% off, why not add the matching mixing glass, a weighted bar spoon, and a channel knife or citrus peeler (for the perfect orange twist) to make a very elegant set indeed!
Make them a Manhattan kit with Monday Zero Alcohol Whiskey, Lyre’s Aperitif Rosso, and a bottle of good Italian cherries in syrup. Luxardo is the standard for most cocktail snobs, but I’m partial to Fabbri because of the pretty ceramic jar, but both of them are great. If your recipient is okay with bitters (always err on the side of no for people in recovery unless they’ve told you explicitly), Scrappy’s Bitters Essentials Kit has both the orange and aromatic bitters called for in a proper Manhattan, and the chocolate and firewater can be used to riff on the traditional flavor. (Chocolate orange old-fashioneds and Mexican chocolate Manhattans are both great.) For glasses, consider these Bormioli Rosso martini glasses; the rounded bell shape makes them less likely to spill than the sharp, triangle profile version.
Yes, Virginia, there is a good non-alcoholic martini: pair a bottle of Monday Zero Alcohol Gin (trust me, this is the only non-alcoholic gin to drink in a martini) with Lyre’s Aperitif Dry. Throw in a jar of good quality olives, some simple but elegant stainless steel cocktail picks, and a set of Nick & Nora glasses, the original martini glasses and the right (small) size for the drink. Of course, they’ll need a good cocktail shaker— don’t believe that nonsense about “bruising” gin— and while the Boston shaker tin and Hawthorne strainer are the most traditional options, the capped shaker with built in strainer is easier to use and the standard in most bars today. I recently upgraded to this one from Better Rhodes which is not only excellent, but I like the fact that it’s engraved with the company’s name and marks it as being, specifically, for non-alcoholic drinks.
If you want to go absolutely all out, get all of the above and add a bottle of Lyre’s Italian Orange for Negronis, Boulevardiers, and Americanos.
For the aspiring non-alcoholic mixologist
If they’re starting from scratch, this 7-piece barware essentials kit from Viski (on sale for $63.99), with a shaker, strainer, mixing glass, bar spoon, muddler, and jigger will give them everything they need to make zero-proof craft cocktails, and makes it very easy for you, as the gift giver, to get it all in one place at one time. While a jigger is good for fast measures as long as you only need to measure 1.5 or .5 ounces, when I am designing a drink, I find that I use this mini-measuring glass, with several precise measurement increments, more than anything else. This would also make a really good stocking stuffer, and you can usually find them in the impulse buy part of any Bed, Bath, and Beyond.
For inspiration and practice, Julia Bainbridge’s excellent book Good Drinks has dozens of non-alcoholic cocktail recipes from the finest bars across the US, most of which can be whipped up with a little time in the kitchen and do not require buying bottles of zero-proof spirits.
A starter set of booze-free bottles is also a great option for those who want to get to mixing right away. The Free Spirits Trifecta, with non-alcoholic alternatives for gin, whiskey, and tequila, is on sale right now, and the bottles are big— great for trial and error. A 3-piece gift set of Liber & Co. syrups is currently 10% off and comes with a 21 recipe cocktail book. For the total beginner, opt for Classic Gum Syrup, Demerara Syrup, and Grenadine, or go for Fiery Ginger Syrup, Premium Tonic Syrup, and Sugarcane Kola Syrup to add to seltzer water and make their own mixers.
For the zero-proof drinker who wants the $25 craft cocktail experience at home
My favorite thing about giving gifts is buying things for people that they would never buy for themselves. Non-alcoholic spirits aren’t exactly cheap; most of them are about the same price as mid or even top shelf liquor, and they should be. People have known how to make liquor for centuries, but making non-alcoholic drinks requires entirely new processes, months (or years!) of experimentation, and often a lot more raw ingredients to create a high quality product. If the only thing they’re drinking is a non-alcoholic whiskey and Coke (no shade, it’s popular because it’s perfect), the cost per drink isn’t that high, but if they’re trying to replicate contemporary craft cocktails with more obscure ingredients, or 4+ liquors and liqueurs per drink, the cost accumulates pretty fast. Or maybe they just didn’t know there was an alternative at all, and you can surprise them! Here are my favorite zero-proof swaps for bartender favorites:
Harmony Alpine Digestif fills in perfectly for Fernet-Branca
Mockingbird Agave Spirit is a nice replacement for extra-smooth tequilas where you want to actually taste the spirit (as opposed to being overwhelmed by citrus and salt in a margarita)
Harmony Smoked Aperitif can replace mezcal
Sexy AF Amar-Oh will replace most dark, bittersweet amari in cocktails
Sexy AF AperTease is a full bodied Campari replacement that I prefer over Lyre’s Italian Orange for anything that uses a mixer (soda water, tonic, etc.)
For Bitter For Worse Eva’s Spritz is a great Aperol replacement (though is very concentrated, so start with 1/2 of what the recipe calls for, taste, and scale up from there)
Lyre’s Coffee Originale will replace both coffee liqueurs and espresso for an espresso martini that’s not a complete PITA to make
Lyre’s Absinthe does what it says on the bottle (Though do note that it does not louche— that is, turn white/creamy with the addition of water. I’m going to figure out what to add to it to make that happen without disrupting the taste, so make sure you’re subscribed for when I’ve cracked the code!)
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For the novelty seeker
One of my favorite things about zero proof spirits is how many new and interesting options there are, and how inspiring their flavor profiles can be! You all know I adore Bonbuz Slow Burn, but the earthy/bitter/citrusy kick of the original is great, too, and they’re selling a combo pack with one of each for the holidays. Melati, the deep ruby red non-alcoholic aperitif with goji berry and pomegranate is rich, fruity, and delicious. Both Pentire expressions (Seaward and Adrift) have an unusual salinity from rock samphire, which you’d be hard pressed to find in an alcoholic spirit. Gnista Barreled Oak and Floral Wormwood are two of my favorites to drink straight up or over ice, and Barreled Oak in particular just tastes like a fantasy of homy, white Christmas mornings. Rasāsvāda “spirit restoratives” are some of the most unusual I’ve tried, but for someone who loves a challenge like I do, it’s a blast to play with the big floral perfume of Rose Bergamot, strangely herbal and mentholated Black Ginger, and amaro-like Ruby Artemisia, and a little of each goes a long way, and a set of the all three bottles would make a great gift.
For mixers, syrups, and garnishes, Bittermilk’s Variety Show pack comes with three exciting cocktail mixers: Tom Collins with Elderflower & Hops, Smoked Honey Whiskey Sour, and Charred Grapefruit Tonic with Bulls Bay Sea Salt. I’ll be honest that I haven’t tried them, but they are on my personal wish list after having tried their old-fashioned syrups. I’ve gushed about Fever-Tree’s mixers before, and I stand by them as great (and easily accessible at the grocery store) options, but lately I’m really into Avec’s Yuzu & Lime, Pomegranate & Hibiscus, Grapefruit & Pomelo, and Jalapeno & Blood Orange mixers. I wasn’t a fan of the Ginger, but I personally would pay the money for a variety pack, anyway, that’s how good the other four flavors are, and they’re 25% off until the 26th!
While a dash of alcohol-extracted bitters in an otherwise non-alcoholic cocktail is not going to be intoxicating, some people (especially those in recovery) prefer to avoid them nonetheless. Dram Apothecary’s unusual and completely alcohol-free bitters come in a sample set that includes all of their unique flavors, like the amazing Black bitters with cardamom, black tea, blackcurrants, and hawthorne berries. If alcohol-extracted bitters are not a deal breaker for your gift recipient, the ones in Scrappy’s New Classics set are fantastic and surprisingly versatile, particularly the cardamom bitters, and are currently on sale at Viski.
I recently picked up a mini bottle of Floral Elixir Co.’s Jasmine syrup, which is exquisite with de-alcoholized sparkling wine, and now I want to try everything they make. The Botanist Cocktail Kit looks particularly interesting to me, and the Holiday Cheers Flower Cocktail Kit is seasonally appropriate, but everything is 20% off on their website through Sunday, so whatever strikes your fancy will be less expensive if you get it this weekend. And I’ll always recommend a sample pack of Nickel Dime’s cocktail syrups, or a full bottle variety pack, both of which are 25% off right now with code BFCM25.
For the recovering wine snob
Non-alcoholic wine is almost universally dreadful (sparkling being the exception that proves the rule), but I’m in love with the Non zero percent alcohol drinks that I’ve tried— you can read my thoughts on #2 Pear and Konbu and #4 Beetroot & Sansho in this piece on wine alternatives at Food52. I haven’t tried #1 Salted Raspberry & Chamomile, #3 Toasted Cinnamon & Yuzu, or #5 Lemon Marmalade & Hibiscus, but I feel confident recommending them on the basis of the other two, alone. Similarly, while I’ve only tried 3 of the offerings from Unified Ferments, I would absolutely recommend anything in their current lineup. Nothing like the fruity flavored stuff you can buy at the grocery store, Unified Ferments makes fascinating and complexly layered drinks with high minerality and salinity, using just teas, kombucha starter, and sometimes honey.
If you’ve got someone you really want to impress, you can blow their mind with a pre-paid 3, 6, or 9 month Wine Proxies subscription from Acid League. I have a monthly subscription, and I cannot recommend it enough for those who always want to try new things and have their mind a little bit blown. Each month, you get 3 new and different bottles of wine alternatives— NOT de-alcoholized wine, but something wholly new— along with a card for each with the tasting notes and food pairing suggestions. Proxies are designed to be paired with food, and as much as I love a great zero-proof cocktail, sometimes you just want to pour something in a glass and savor it over a nice meal. I like to make an occasion of drinking a bottle by cooking something listed among the food pairings, but these are also just so drinkable on their own. If a subscription is too rich for your blood, the Holiday Proxies pack has their current seasonally inspired trio, which I am super excited to get this month.
Speaking of subscriptions…
Curious Elixirs makes ready-to-drink zero-proof cocktails with herbal botanicals that are the best ready-to-drink options I have ever tasted. Every one of them is perfectly balanced and full bodied, and though they are inspired by classic cocktails, they have unique flavor profiles that are just out of this world delicious. I haven’t tried No. 6, yet, but it’s on my own wishlist, but you can also gift someone a monthly subscription of rotating flavors.
For craft beer lovers (and for people who are really into fitness— non-alcoholic beer is a better rehydrator than Gatorade!), Athletic Brewing Co.’s Athletic Club is super customizable, and you can choose the flavors, the number of six packs, and the frequency that they are sent. The Club also gives subscribers first access to a variety of limited edition and experimental beers throughout the year, like the pumpkin-spicy Dark & Gourdy, the excellent First Ride coffee porter, and the assortment of fruit-infused weisses and sour beers they have throughout the summer.
Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate. Now go forth and stock up on fantastic non-alcoholic drink gifts to share the 5PM Eternal energy with your loved ones all season long! What are you buying to give, and what are you adding to your own list? Let me know in the comments!