Like store end-caps full of candy canes, it seems to start sooner and sooner every year: dinner party season. Once upon a time the world spent the first two weeks of December rushing around from house to house carrying bottles of wine in shiny bags and little packages of fancy cheese knives under our arms. Now, there’s apple-picking and harvest dinners and pumpkin-carving parties and all manner of cozy seasonal shit at the end of October. Dinner party season is not nigh. Dinner party season is here.
With all that cozy seasonal shit comes a need for some cozy seasonal (or not so seasonal) host/hostess gifts. Rather than buying whatever bottle of wine looks the nicest for under $20, consider throwing one of these in that gift bag you’ve been meaning to re-use and thank your host in unexpected style.
Fancy tonic water or ginger beer
The best hostess gifts are practical and consumable—otherwise, you’re sticking your friends with a tchotchke they may or may not have room for. I love fancy cocktail mixers like tonic water or ginger beer as gifts because they fall in the category of ‘practical luxuries.’ As much as I love Fever Tree Tonic or Fentimans Ginger Beer And Muddled Lime, I don’t often splurge on them for my own home cocktails; they’re always welcome gifts. Plus, giving mixers instead of booze still allows your host to choose their spirits, which some people can be very particular about. [Kate Bernot]
Pocky variety pack
As an Asian, I’m contractually obligated to eat Pocky at least twice a year. These are the delightful pencil-length biscuit sticks dipped in one end with a candy coating—chocolate, strawberry, and increasingly with more adventurous flavors such as banana cream and matcha. I think these are just perfect as host gifts—they have a whiff of luxe and classiness to them, and they’re ideal for light pre- or post-dinner snacking. Whereas a decade ago you could only buy these at Asian specialty grocers, I’m seeing Pocky more and more in Whole Foods and higher-end Western grocers. Or do as I do: Buy a variety six-pack online. [Kevin Pang]
Apple cider liqueur
As I may have mentioned, I moonlight in a fancy booze-and-cheese-and-soap shop, and we sell a lot of last-minute gifts to people who are about to be late to a dinner party. At this time of year, my go-to recommendation for those folks is Journeyman Distillery’s O.C.G. (Old Country Goodness). It’s like drinking apple pie, folks—an un-aged rye fortified with Michigan apple cider, apple juice, and loads of spices that drinks like a dessert wine. There are two things, besides the amazing taste, to recommend O.C.G. as a gift. First, it generally clocks in at around $15 a bottle, and it seriously overdelivers on that price. Second, it’s super versatile—it’s great hot or cold on its own, but is also good in tea, in other cocktails, with whiskey, with cider, or with whiskey AND cider, which is how I like it. If your hosts don’t drink, Journeyman also makes terrific maple syrup and honey, but if they do, this is amazing.
Sadly, they distribute in only 16 states so far. Feel free to sub a very tasty apple brandy if you’re in one of the other 34. [Allison Shoemaker]