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Bartending gift ideas for holidays - Festive Bitters, Books & More!



Ho, ho, ho, Friends of Cocktails, ‘tis the season of giving and if you have friends who are into cocktails I have some gift ideas for you. From homemade bitters, bottled cocktails, festive drinks, to barware and books that will upgrade anyone’s cocktail game, today I’ll show you how to find something perfect for that special someone. We have a lot to go over today, so let’s start right away. It’s Cocktail Time!

First let’s make some homemade Festive Bitters using a new technique with an iSi Whipper, which we’ll use to make a bottled Christmas Old Fashioned.


Festive Bitters

● 350 mL Dark Rum (I used Plantation)

● 2,8g cloves

● 1,4g star anise

● 9,4g cassia cinnamon

● 10g allspice

● 2g cardamom

● 0,3g nutmeg

● 2g vanilla bean

● 2,6g coriander

● 1,5g cinchona bark

● 1,5g wormwood

● 15mL (0.5oz) demerara simple syrup


All you have to do is measure out all of your ingredients, crush the spices and add them to the siphon. Now close it and charge it with the first N2O charger, then give everything a good shake for about 20 seconds before adding another N2O charger. The pressure will force the liquid into the pores of our flavoring and bittering agents, infusing it much faster than the traditional way - this ingenious technique to speed up the lengthy maceration process is described by Dave Arnold in his Liquid Intelligence book.


After 1 hour your flavoring and bitter agents have released their flavors - just make sure to give it a shake a few times in that period. Now carefully release the pressure (which will also release the infused liquid from the solid particles), wait for the bubbling to end before moving on to the next step, filtering. Filter the bitters through a coffee filter, then measure out how much you end up with. This is important because we’ll add a hint of sweetness with a 1:1 demerara syrup - just 3mL for every 60mL of the total volume of bitters.


Your bitters are now ready and you can pour them into your selected bottles, and that is your first gift idea done. As far as making bitters goes it doesn’t get any faster than that, but what can these be used in?



Prebatched Christmas Old Fashioned

● 575g 45% ABV Bourbon (Maker’s Mark)

● 73g rich ginger tea syrup

● 16g Festive Bitters

● 0.85g saline solution


This recipe will fill a 750mL bottle, and it is very simple to make. Just add the ingredients into a bottle and give it a few turns to combine. We didn’t add any water, so it will need to be diluted over ice before drinking but it has enough alcohol so it can stay under the Christmas tree for a few weeks - a perfect gift! Now, you can use any ginger syrup, like Liber&Co’s Fiery Ginger Syrup which is made from juiced fresh ginger root as well, providing a perfect burn needed to enhance a wide variety of cocktails.


But I wanted our Prebatched Christmas Old Fashioned to be clear, so I made my own syrup with dehydrated ginger. It’s super simple to make.


Ginger Tea Syrup

● 200g demerara sugar

● 100g water

● 20g dehydrated ginger pieces


Add your ingredients into a pot and place on medium heat, stir to mix and cover with a lid. Once it starts simmering, stir again and leave covered for another 3 minutes on low heat. At that point, turn off the heat and leave it to cool completely, then filter it through a mesh strainer and bottle it. This syrup gives a pleasant ginger aroma but without so much of a spicy ginger kick!


We have now 2 gift ideas done, but what if someone would like something lighter and even more in the holiday spirit? Well… eggnog. Gingerbread Cookie Eggnog. Since I made a recipe for it almost 2 years ago, I’ll just quickly go over how to make it, starting with the Gingerbread Cookie Syrup.


Gingerbread Cookie Syrup

● 130 g demerara sugar

● 20 g muscovado sugar

● 61 g forest honey

● 10 g fresh ginger

● 1 g ceylon cinnamon

● 4 cloves

● 2 cm vanilla bean splitted

● nutmeg grated

● 89 g water



It’s as easy as combining the ingredients in a sous vide bag, which you’ll place in a 60° C (140°F) bath for 5 hours. Then strain, bottle and start making the eggnog with it.


Gingerbread Cookie Eggnog

● 2 egg yolks

● 2 egg whites

● 75ml (2.5oz) Gingerbread Cookie Syrup*

● 120ml (4oz) heavy cream

● 180ml (6oz) milk

● 120ml (4oz) Diplomatico Mantuano rum

● 30ml (1oz) Sherry Nectar Pedro Ximenez

● 4 drops saline solution


Start by adding the egg yolks into a blender and running it at the slowest speed. Add the syrup and cream with 30 seconds in between for each ingredient. Now bring the blender to a higher speed and add the milk, aged rum, Pedro Ximénez Sherry and saline solution. Transfer the mix to a bowl and place in the fridge for a couple of hours and in the meantime lightly beat egg whites to get soft peaks and after 2 hours have passed gently fold the egg whites into the eggnog. The finishing touch is a grating of nutmeg over the top, but we’ll be bottling it as a gift!


One thing that’s almost as synonymous with the holiday season as eggnog and santa claus is the red Coca Cola truck with his face on it. For over 25 years it’s been bringing the message across the globe that ‘tis the season, so why not gift a few bottles of homemade Cola? Kevin Kola, just like the Original taste of Coca Cola, has quite a long list of ingredients but once you have everything it’s an easy process.


Homemade Coca Cola

● 300 mL (10 oz) water

● 180 g plain white sugar

● 90 g demerara sugar

● 60 g caramel sugar

● 6 g caramel coloring

● 0.7 g grated lemon peels

● 0.7 g grated lime peels

● 1.8 g grated orange peels

● 2.3 g citric acid

● 0.6 g malic acid

● 0.6 g ceylon cinnamon

● 0.6 g nutmeg

● 0.45 g vanilla bean

● 0.75 g coriander seeds

● 4.5 g rosehip

● 0.12 g coffee bean

● 0.9 g kola nut

● 0.3 g makrut lime leaf

● Soda water


Again I used a sous vide since it gives total control of the temperature, nothing evaporates and all flavors infuse nicely. So add everything into the sous vide bag, but don’t forget to crush the ceylon cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla bean, coriander seeds, rosehip, coffee, kola nut, and makrut lime leaves into a powder. Now place it in the sous vide bath for 1.5 hours at 80 °C or 175 °F, then make sure to filter out all of the small particles and you’ve got your very own Kevin Kola Syrup! If getting some of these ingredients is difficult where you live, you can also use Liber&Co’s Cola syrup as well.


To bottle your own cola I suggest using 7 oz or 200 ml bottles and adding 1 oz or 30 ml of our kola syrup, with 2 drops of saline solution and gently topping it up with cold soda water. Then seal the bottles with a bottle capper, add a label and that’s it - if you want a unique Cocktail Time label for the syrup click here. But what if you’re not into making homemade stuff? Well there’s still plenty of great and useful stuff for everyone who likes cocktails.


Starting with quality barware. Often someone starting the cocktail journey will buy or even be gifted the cheapest cocktail set out there - you know the one, with the low quality cobbler shaker, jigger without any measurements, hawthorne strainer that doesn’t really strain much, etc. - so when you get a quality piece of gear for someone it can mean a lot! Still, there’s no need to break the bank, and free worldwide shipping certainly helps with that, right? So we have partnered with DeBarSupplies to get you a 20% discount on all barware on their site until the end of the year using the code “CocktailTime20“ at checkout on debarsupplies.com.



And what about books? The Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero famously said “A homebar without books is like a body without a soul” (maybe he said “A room without books…”, but the message stays the same), and there are many excellent books out there about cocktails, spirits and drinking, so I’ve narrowed them down to 6, to make it just a bit easier to decide on the right one. Starting with 2 works by Jeffrey Morgenthaler we have Drinking Distilled, the perfect book for anyone that’s just learning about the world of spirits, cocktails, and drinking in general, and The Bar Book, tailored to more experienced bartenders, professionals or home enthusiasts.


Next we have Liquid Intelligence by Dave Arnold, for someone that has mastered all essential techniques and wants to take their craft to the next level. Arnold thinks like a scientist and will take you behind the bar and into the lab, so it will change how you think about cocktails. Speaking of changing the points of views, when combining flavors for cocktails you’ll always have something new to learn from the amazing 2018 book Flavor Matrix, by James Briscione and Brooke Parkhurst. Not primarily a cocktail book but I’ve created many a cocktail with the help from these pages.


But if someone is interested about the very beginnings of mixed drinks, David Wondrich and his Imbibe! is the way to go. It also contains more than 100 recipes for punches, cocktails, sours, fizzes, toddies, slings, and other essential drinks, along with detailed historical and mixological notes, with a section focused on Jerry Thomas, father of the American bar. Finally, the hottest cocktail book at the moment, fresh off the press is Steve The Bartender’s Cocktail Guide. Steve has won the hearts of cocktail lovers on YouTube, and his book is bound to do the same. It covers all of the basics before beautifully showcasing a variety of cocktails you can make at home, with the help of his videos no less. If you’re not sure about how advanced the book you’re buying should be, go with this one - it’s new, useful and beautiful.


Lastly, two ideas if you’re looking for something special for someone who is a Cocktail Time fan is to make them a part of Cocktail Time! Become our top tier Patron and place their name on our Cocktail Time Wall of Fame, so they’ll see their name at the end of our episode when I’ll place it on a brick of your choice, with a thank you (to both of you) for your support. Additionally, we’ve also added a Wall of Fame subpage on kevinkos.com where you can see all active members and the episodes in which they were featured. Finally, for someone who’s looking for an idea on where to take their cocktail journey next, you can get them their very own personal Cocktail Time Consultancy.


Gift them a full hour 1-on-1 session with me, where they can ask me anything they think I can help them with. We can talk about bartending, cocktails, trends, techniques, even YouTube, or we can just chat about life. You can click here to check out the consultancies and use the code DECEMBER10 for 10% off. Hopefully this wasn’t too much and you found the right idea for that special someone, or even for yourself - I think you deserve something nice this holiday season too! We appreciate you being with us and we wish you a season filled with hope, joy, and delicious cocktails. Cheers, Friends of Cocktails!

By buying through the affiliate links you’re also helping out the Cocktail Time channel with a small commission (at no additional cost to you). Cheers!



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