You may recall that about this time last year, Bar Keeper owner Joe Keeper introduced several clever holiday gift boxes created by L.A.-area mixologists. Each contained recipes by the likes of Marcos Tello and Matt Biancello, plus the spirits and bottled mixers required to make the recipes (bitters, flavored syrups), along with a presentation bonus like retro cocktail stirrers or the appropriate glassware. A pretty clever gift for the “celebrity” bartender-obsessed on your list. Or as Keeper described them to us, a great way for him to bring local bartender flavor into his shop's carefully edited global spirits collection.
More interesting, perhaps, is that the challenges of working with L.A.'s cocktail-induced celebrities aren't all that different from movie star version — at least in terms of those strict liquid diet requirements.
Keeper's global spirits selection is so small and carefully edited that he didn't have many of the spirits and mixers the bartenders requested for their namesake gift boxes. “Last year I went to my favorite bartenders and asked for recipes for [the gift boxes] without really thinking about it,” recalls Keeper.
No problem, just buy the spirits the bartenders want, right? While a restaurant can resolve a guest chef's ingredient requirements with a quick trip to the farmers market, for a small spirits shop dealing with local distribution constraints, getting that Ron del Barrilito rum in stock in time for the holidays is hardly a simple proposition.
Keeper already spends a lot of time dancing between local distributors and logs an impressive number of freeway miles to Northern California to pick up those spirits that he can't get via a L.A. distributor. And there's also that superstore downside to stocking up on whatever the bartenders request. “I don't want to carry what the [big liquor stores] have, what would be the point?,” he says.
And so this year, Keeper is adding more stockroom parameters to the holiday gift box liquor list. He's also inviting a few new bartenders into the fold. “We've had an enormous surge of female bartenders in L.A. getting national recognition this year,” he says, rattling off a few of his local favorites like Naomi Schimek and Harvard & Stone's Mia Sarazen (we'd also add Gabriella Mlynarczyk to the list).
Of course, buying the bottle of rye whiskey, absinthe and orange bitters (just for starters) that are included in Eric Alperin's “Colonial Ties”-themed gift box is hardly inexpensive (the custom boxes range from $85 to $145). But hey, if you're out every night buying $13 “celebrity” bartender cocktails, that probably sounds like a gift-giving steal.
For the rest of us, Keeper still has some of the hilarious “It's All Chemistry” Periodic Table of (Cocktail) Elements T-shirts in stock that he designed a while back. Add a fancy cocktail-inspired gift tag (“The Dmitri Mendeleev”?) and a bottle of your favorite holiday spirit (yeah, we're going with Ron del Barrilito), and you've got your very own — affordable — science geek “celebrity” cocktail gift box.
[More from Jenn Garbee @eathistory + eathistory.com]