One of the best things you can give to a friend who has invited you into his or her home for the holidays is something good to drink. But telling you to buy a bottle of booze would make for a pretty boring, if practical, Gift Guide. (If you do buy a bottle of booze, be a love and wrap it nicely?)
There's a problem, though, when it comes to getting more creative with your hostess gifts—and here I'll stop and ask that we come up with a better term for these devotions, because "hostess" is gendered, and that's unfair to Bob. You know, Bob? Your pal who throws that great Latkefest every year, and never forgets to put out both sour cream and apple sauce? Yes, that Bob! He's great, and he deserves a gift that conveys to him your appreciation of being invited to Latkefest, even after that incident in 2009 when you overdid it on the beet latkes. We can't very well give Bob a hostess gift, can we? And "host gift" doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. So we need something better, but here's the problem: You might end up giving your friend whiskey stones because you saw it in some Gift Guide somewhere else on the internet, and whiskey stones blow, which is why friends don't let friends buy whiskey stones for other friends. Therefore, we've compiled this list of actually-good stuff you should get for the nice people who will be inviting you into their homes this holiday season.
Bittermens Boston Bittahs | The Boston Shaker, $21.95
"Fancy bitters" was a near-universal choice for a good alcohol-adjacent gift item among some lushes I surveyed; you can't go wrong with any of the fine offerings from Fee Brothers or the classic Peychaud's. There are, however, so many newfangled purveyors of bitters that you could also choose to get a little artisanal with any number of the Bittermens' offerings, like their Burlesque Bitters or the Hellfire Habanero Shrub (which gives me heartburn just thinking about it). But for my money, the Boston Bittahs are where it's at, because we Bostonians wear our provincialism on our sleeves.
Wine Away | Sur La Table, $9.95
There are a bunch of ways to remove red-wine stains, which is good, because red-wine spills are inevitable and devastating. I've written about red-wine stain-removal techniques that employ table salt, white wine, and dish soap (always dish soap, love you so much dish soap), but if those don't feel nearly commercial enough for gift-giving purposes, go ahead pick up a bottle of Wine Away, safe in the knowledge that this product is Clean Person (and Good Housekeeping Institute!) approved.
Exotic Salt Collection | Salt Works, $39.95
This is a bad gift to give to your friend who suffers from hypertension, but a great gift for just about everyone else, because salt is so great. For your friend with the hypertension, a mustard gift set is a nice alternative. Is your host a coffee lover? Consider a coffee sampler. You know what else are great at the holidays? Nuts. You know what's even better at the holidays? Candy. Can't decide? Candied nuts!
Green and White Linen Cocktail Napkins | Old Main Emporium, $3 each
When you find yourself aging out of "One Martini, Two Martini, Three Martini, Floor" paper cocktail napkins, inexpensive linen ones like these are a great way to transition into a life in which you're fancy enough to own these $225 "cocktail napkins" that I love but that I couldn't even begin to justify putting on this list.
Horse Head Brand Matches | The Prancing Peacock Boutique, $4
I included these for two reasons: a) They're cool, and wooden matches are surprisingly handy to have around the house, and b) I want to talk to you for a moment about buying candles as gifts, and this gives me a good reason to do so. Candles are one of those items that seem like such a great gift idea, but are actually really tricky to get right and here's why: Scents are a really personal thing, and the likelihood that you'll select one that works with your friend's nose isn't in your favor. When in doubt, stick with something attractive-looking and scentless. If you must go with something scented, stick with holiday smells like orange, clove, and pine. Avoid holiday smells like cinnamon, which in candle form can be cloying and artificial-smelling. Don't buy Yankee Candles.
Jar Bar | Bittermilk, $105
This set of six mixers ("just add booze") includes three different old-fashioned mixes, a Tom Collins mix, a smoked honey whiskey sour mix, and a bottle of charred grapefruit tonic. It's pricey, so save this one for the friend who's having you to stay overnight. The set is enticing enough to make me overlook the inclusion of a Mason Shaker and instead ask if you agree that the whiskey sour is going to make a big comeback in 2015. It will, right?