Between the long hours and physical demands, bartending is a tough job. Every bartender you know could likely benefit from a little TLC in the form of a thoughtful gift. Here are our picks of the best bartender-approved gifts guaranteed to make an impact on their personal or professional lives in one way or another.
Best Gadget: Breville Smoking Gun
“The smoking gun is popular with some chefs as a tool to add cold smoke aromas and flavors to food, but it’s great for bartenders as well to make terrific smoked cocktails,” says Victor Bautista, bar manager of Concord Hill in Brooklyn. “You can use various types of wood chips like apple, cherry, or hickory but also teas or other dried ingredients.” He adds, “The hose is flexible and allows you to fill any vessel with smoke—a glass, bowl or a small decanter, which is what I like to use for our Smoke Break cocktail.”
Best Splurge: Whynter Portable Ice Maker
It’s likely that the bartender you’re shopping for relies on silicone molds to make their ice, which can take forever in terms of prep. An ice maker, whether countertop or built-in, would be a dream gift for many bar pros, like Leah Schoenburg, a bartender at The Dandy Crown in Chicago. “When you’re actually making cocktails, ice trays are never enough,” she says.
Of course, you should be cognizant of kitchen space when deciding between an undercounter or countertop model, but either way, Whynter makes excellent ice machines that are both durable and easy on the eyes. Take this portable stainless steel model, for instance: it’ll produce up to 49 pounds of ice in a single day.
Best Stocking Stuffer: The Cocktail Parlor Midnight Stinger Candle
Veteran bartender Courtney McKamey is the mastermind behind The Cocktail Parlor, a one-stop-shop for sensory cocktail experiences that go beyond the glass. This Brooklyn concept transforms ultra-fragrant cocktail recipes into natural soy-wax candles, like the Midnight Stinger, which layers notes of Elijah Craig bourbon, Fernet-Branca, mint and lemon. Each candle is 12 ounces and burns for up to 52 hours, so it’s definitely worth the investment. Also, if your recipient is located in Manhattan, Brooklyn or Queens, you can include some of McKamey’s sweet treats (think boozy cupcakes, cookies, cakes, truffles and more), all of which are equal parts beautiful and delectable.
Best Commercial: LEM Mighty Bite 10-Tray Dehydrator
“I’m in a constant battle with myself about not wanting to spend too much money on myself on expensive gadgets I don’t really ‘need’ for at-home bartending,” says Patrick Smith, who works with NYC institutions Gramercy Tavern and The Modern.
If this is the case with the bartender you’d like to gift, Smith recommends a dehydrator as an option, which can be used for many culinary purposes (think protein bars to take to work), garnishes, powders and so much more. This 10-tray model from LEM features digital controls, 15 square feet of dehydrating space, a rear-mounted fan for even drying, and a convenient hinged bottom door.
Most Unique: Flavour Blaster Cocktail Kit
Several bartenders highly recommend the Flavour Blaster, a cocktail-specific gadget that, well, blasts flavor into your drinks. Bautista elaborates: “You can make smoke bubbles to place on top of cocktails [for a] very cool effect—when the bubble is touched, it turns into smoke. The Flavour Blaster is super easy to use as it skips a step of burning the chips; however, it’s a lot more expensive.”
This starter kit is a great investment, which includes one Flavour Blaster gun, a USB charging cable, one aroma tank, five bottles of Cocktail Aroma, five tank coils (a separate one for each aroma), one bottle of Bubble Mixture (Bubble X) and a one-year limited warranty on the gun. Choose from a variety of colors.
Best Personalized: Waterford Marquis Maxwell Decanter
A personalized gift, says Brooklyn, N.Y.-based bartender Dea Pierre, is always a safe bet—one of her favorite drinks-related gifts was a monogrammed glass. “I was gifted a customized whiskey decanter with my name on it and was in awe at the thought put into that,” she says. “It’s now the centerpiece for my bar.”
Jordan David Smith, head bartender and spirits director of Odo in New York City, is also a proponent of the decanter as a gift idea for bartenders. “I’m not saying it has to be Waterford crystal, but they are selling a selection of [great] ship-style decanters (i.e. those that would house the captain’s good stuff) at $100—that’s a steal!”
Although there are many engraved decanter options, consider going with a reasonably-priced decanter, like Waterford’s 1.2-liter Marquis Maxwell, and having it engraved on your own.
Best Handmade: Forge to Table 3.5-Inch Paring Knife
Kitchen supplies and gadgets are a smart gift idea, according to Smith. “In general, I think the most overlooked aspect of bartending is the amount of work you do that overlaps with being in the kitchen,” he says. “No bartender will ever say no to a new paring knife.”
We asked a few bartenders about their favorite knives for cutting garnishes and the like, and Liquid Kitchen founder Kathy Casey recommends Japanese-style knife smith Forge to Table. According to Casey, these handmade knives make for excellent bar tools, and you can even add wooden Sayas (protective sheaths) to your order. Each knife is also made by third-generation artisans using high-quality steel from Japan, and orders are shipped rather quickly.