A Spirited Exchange

The joys of a "Stock the Bar" swap


Every Christmas Eve, my father's side of the family gathers for three reasons: BBQ, our annual viewing of (and snarky commentary on) White Christmas, and a themed gift swap. The theme changes, ranging from "As Seen on TV" to "summer vacation," and every year one inspired family member will wrap a bottle of liquor that's either directly or tangentially relevant to the topic. Without fail, it will be the most sought-after gift in the game, and after a while, the joke will be made that we might as well just make that the theme.

When you've grown tired of cookie exchanges, lame Secret Santa arrangements and White Elephant parties, consider the foolproof nature of a "Stock the Bar" swap. Here are some tips to get you started.
Get Off Base ...

As host, you should have a line-up of the major base spirits -- vodka, gin, whiskey, tequila, and rum -- but the joy of the swap comes from giving bottles and mixers people might not buy for themselves. For less than the price of an ugly sweater or dish set, your friends and family can give the gift of classic cocktail ingredients: Creme de menthe, creme de cacao, St-Germain (bonus: the bottle itself is just lovely), Luxardo Maraschino, Campari, Lillet Blanc, vermouth, Chartreuse, Cynar. Keep a book of iconic recipes on hand, and after the swap, everyone can mix up their newly received wares.

... or Off the Beaten Path

If you associate with a crowd that's especially fond of one liquor category, you could narrow the exchange all the way down to one spirit type (scotch or cognac, say, though, beware the price implications) and encourage guests to bring their favorite brand or variation. Consider spirits from unexpected locales -- vodka from Texas or Long Island, aquavit from the Pacific Northwest -- and put together snacks meant to complement or heighten the chosen spirits' basic flavors. Better yet, just serve booze-infused desserts.

No Wining

A wine exchange is a lovely idea in and of itself, but it's a whole different animal; the glory of the liquor swap is that each bottle (especially when dealing in liqueurs or apertifs) can be enjoyed throughout the upcoming year. Besides, even when you receive a bottle of liquor you aren't particularly fond of, you can always keep it stocked in your bar for guests who love it. Announce your party as a specifically cocktail-centric affair and let everyone bring / take home the gift that literally keeps on giving.

Bitters are Better

Whether it's your party, or you've been invited to a cocktail swap and want to bring a bottle that will make any bar geek happy, consider some bitters. Our favorite spirit-themed gift idea this year comes from The Bitter Truth: a "Traveler's Set" of tiny (TSA-approved!) of the company's best -- celery bitters, creole bitters, and more. Particularly generous or ambitious hosts could even do well to pick up a set or two and hand them out as favors; do so and you'll be guaranteed a spot on everyone's Christmas card list for years to come.

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