When it comes to the holidays, the choice of cocktails can be just as important as the feast. And there’s no better way to toast the bounties of the season than with cocktail in hand.
“Who doesn’t want to be handed a signature cocktail when arriving at a holiday gathering?” said Alison Collins, owner of Boots Bakery and Lounge. “A holiday cocktail immediately unifies the gathering and can smooth the sometimes awkward beginning of a party, increasing the festive factor.”
Hosting an open table in her home each Christmas, Collins welcomes strangers and friends with a little holiday cheer.
“Having your cocktail prepared ahead of time, prior to your guests arriving, allows you to serve them easily and with very little fuss,” she said.
One of her go-to holiday cocktails is called the PB & G. Her simple recipe features pumpkin butter, bourbon and ginger liqueur.
“I’m a big bourbon fan, first and foremost,” Collins said. “I like this drink because it’s not too sweet or laden with typical pumpkin spice, which I think is sometimes the tendency with seasonal drinks. But it still invokes the feeling of fall and celebration.”
During the cold months, many gravitate toward hot drinks. Mulled apple cider, spiked with whiskey. Boozy hot chocolate infused with cinnamon. Hot toddies of every make, model and kind. A mug of hot buttered anything.
When serving hot drinks to a crowd, consider using your trusty slow-cooker. The steady gentle heat is perfect for infusing apple cider or wine with whole spices like cinnamon, star anise, clove, cardamom or allspice.
The slow-cooker can be safely neglected while socializing with your guests, with no worry of overheating on the stove. Set up a self-serve station, complete with a ladle, mugs and garnishes such as cinnamon sticks, orange zest and herb sprigs on the side.
If the classic holiday punchbowl is more your style, consider making a winter white sangria using white, rosé or sparkling wine. Infuse the wine with winter fruit like cranberries, blood oranges, pomegranate, apples, quince or pears.
Then spike it. Brandy is traditional, but feel free to experiment with gin, elderflower liqueur or orange liqueur. If unsure, mix a little “sample” glass to try before committing to the whole bowl. For every bottle of wine, add 1/3 to 1/2 cup of something stronger.
Lastly, sweeten the sangria and spice it up. An easy way to accomplish both is to make a simple syrup infused with whole spices. If cutting back on sugar, you can also sweeten sangria with apple cider or maple syrup. To keep the punchbowl nicely chilled during the party, make a giant ice cube using a large round plastic container the night before, placing the ice round it in the chilled punch just before serving.
If bubbles are more your style, create a holiday bubble bar featuring your favorite sparkler – Champagne, cava, prosseco or sparkling wine – paired with one or a variety of festive seasonal juices, such as pomegranate, cranberry, pear or back currant. Serve in champagne flutes or vintage coupes, with a splash of elderflower liqueur and a sprig of rosemary or thyme.
One of my favorite cozy wintry holiday cocktails brings a little of the outdoors inside. It’s called A Long Winter’s Nap, and it’s made with bourbon and fir-infused maple syrup.
It came about after a snowy walk in the woods last winter, when I tucked a few fragrant sprigs of fir into my pocket. When I brought them home, they were so aromatic I literally wanted to drink in their scent. So basically that’s what I did.
PB & G
From Alison Collins of Boots Bakery and Lounge
1 1/2 ounces bourbon
1/2 ounce ginger liqueur, such as Domaine de Canton
1 heaping teaspoon pumpkin butter
Place all ingredients in a shaker half filled with ice. Shake well, strain and pour into a martini glass, or vintage coupe. Garnish with lemon zest.
White Winter Sangria
1 (750-mililiter) bottle of sparkling or white wine
1 (12-ounce) bottle ginger beer
2 cups apple cider
1/2 cup brandy
2 pears, sliced
2 apples, sliced
1 cup fresh cranberries or pomegranate seeds (or both)
2 oranges or mandarins, sliced
Rosemary sprigs, for garnish
In a large pitcher or punch bowl combine all the ingredients. Stir and chill for 1-2 hours. Serve over ice and garnish with rosemary sprigs
A Long Winter’s Nap
2 ounces bourbon, whiskey or rye
2 tablespoons fir-infused maple syrup (or use plain maple syrup) (see recipe below)
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Star anise, for garnish
Lemon slice, for garnish
In a cocktail shaker, pour the bourbon, infused syrup and lemon juice over ice. Shake and strain into a small glass or martini glass. Garnish with a star anise pod and lemon slice (or zest)
Fir-infused Maple or Simple Syrup
1/2 cup real maple syrup (or make simple syrup using 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water)
1/2 cup water
1/8 cup sliced ginger
2-3 small sprigs of fir
Optional additions: 3 star anise pods, 3 crushed cardamom pods, 1 cinnamon stick, 6 whole clove, 10 peppercorns
Place maple syrup and water in a small pot. Add ginger, fir sprigs and optional whole spices. Heat over medium heat, then simmer for 5-10 minutes on low heat. Let stand 10 minutes. The longer you infuse, the more intense the flavor. You could let this sit overnight, or strain it right away.
The Seasonal Kitchen is a monthly feature. Local chef Sylvia Fountaine writes about seasonal foods, sharing recipes and a passion for local foods. Fountaine is a caterer and former co-owner of Mizuna restaurant. She writes about home cooking on her blog, Feasting at Home.
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