I think books make great presents, I like getting them, I like giving them. Something I really miss from childhood is the joy of being given book tokens - the best gift for a bookish child (or adult), and the best books to give are ones you know are wanted. I turn my Amazon wish list over to my family and ask them to choose from it for me. I don't know what they've chosen, but they know I'll want it.
'The New Yorker Encyclopedia of Cartoons ' is definitely a wish list sort of book - expensive enough that you might put off buying it yourself for a while, but not so expensive that I wouldn't buy it for someone else (it's just under £50 on Amazon at the moment) if I knew they'd really like it.
It might give Santa a hernia trying to deliver it (you get a lot of book for your money) but this would be such a nice thing to open at Christmas and retreat into - it would keep you busy right through to the New Year and beyond.
The Manhattan, which features both vermouth and bitters, has been my favourite Cocktail discovery of the year. It's taken me so long to find them because I don't normally have American whiskey around, but I was given a bottle of Maker's Mark a few months back and needed something to do with it.
For preference I like my whisky Scottish, not because I think it's inherently better, but because it's what I grew up with. Bourbon has to be aged in new, charred, oak barrels and that wood has a dominant effect on the spirit. (A lot of those barrels then make their way to Scotland for malt whisky to be aged in, but the bourbon has tamed them a bit by then) and when I was first learning about these things good Rye whiskey wasn't as easy to buy as it is now so I've kind of overlooked it.
When I consult the Savoy Cocktail Book there are 4 Manhattan recipies giving options for sweet and dry, the one thing they all have in common is that they specify Rye or Canadian Club. My Maker's Mark is bourbon, so I kept looking for recipes. I found one on a bottle of Cocchi Vermouth di Torino (another current favourite). This just asks for an American whiskey, and the results are great. It's 60mls whiskey, 30mls Cocchi Torino and 2 dashes of bitters stirred over ice and poured into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of orange or a marischino cherry.
Angostura bitters are generally specified, but I've also been happily experimenting with some cranberry bitters I found going cheap in Marks & Spencer's. I think there are enough variations in the old recipes to allow a bit of space for innovation on the bitters front, but it is really important to use good whiskey and vermouth - you'll know if you don't.
Anything with vermouth in it has a vintage flavour to me (I imagine this is what the 1920's and 30's tasted like), my partner describes it as musty, I prefer complex - the more I drink it the more I like it. The Manhattan is a great showcase for it, and just the thing to sip with a really comprehensive collection of Cartoons.