I love the holidays, and I love playing hostess. But one place where my enthusiasm wanes is in the kitchen. I don’t know about you, but sweating off my makeup over a pan of gravy or spending the next day scrubbing turkey gizzard out from under my nails does not say “fun” to me. Course, that doesn’t mean the holidays have to be a total party bust. The solution: a great cocktail. The cocktail you serve at your next soiree says just as much about you as the of-the-moment midi rings you stack on your fingers.
To get the scoop on the trends in cocktails for fall and winter (because we wouldn’t dare suggest you whip up something that is so last season) we chatted with Elayne Duff, the New York-based head mixologist for Diageo Wine and Spirits Luxury Devision who divulged the “it” flavors of the season. We also scouted out some swoon-worthy (and easy!) cocktail recipes suitable to serve at your giant family holiday party or the intimate dinner with your significant other.
The Flavors of the Season
Hunting for a cocktail recipe that captures the flavors of the season? According to Duff, the flavors to be on the lookout for are apple cider, pear, chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon, clove and allspice. And the best liquor you can stock your bar with to stave off winter chill: A good whiskey (she recommends Bulleit Rye or Dickle 12) or a nice, aged tequila like Don Julio Reposado.
To ease your way into cocktail crafting, Duff recommends taking a classic drink recipe and switching out a few ingredients, to give it your own personalized twist. Her advice: Be sure to swap them out with similar ingredients: for instance, acids for acids, sugars for sugars, clear liquors for clear liquors and so on. Some simple substitutions: tequila for gin, vanilla syrup or cinnamon syrup for simple syrup or agave, and grapefruit for lemon.
Punch It Up
Another trick for the hostess who doesn’t want to spend her evening playing bartender: Make a versatile punch. “If you make a great punch, your friends and family kind of help themselves,” Duff says. And to make it look extra pretty, with minimal effort on your part, she recommends making your own block of ice using a salad bowl — toss in some cinnamon sticks, orange peels, or other extras for added oomph. Bonus: it’s also practical because a block of ice will melt more slowly than regular ice cubes, which can dilute your punch (and nobody wants a watered-down drink).
The “meeting his entire extended family for the first time” holiday party
Remember that ice block trick from earlier? This is where you’ll want to use it. Blood orange is a seasonal citrus update that “adds tart berrylike notes, and the whole is rounded out by the perfume of almond liquor,” says food stylist and author Maria del Mar Sacasa. The bourbon gives it a smokiness that is unexpected in a champagne-based punch, making it perfect for serving in cooler weather.
Bloody Good Punch
4 cups bourbon
1 ½ cups Blood Orange Sour Mix (recipe below)
1 cup amaretto or other almond-flavored liqueur
2 (750-ml) bottles champagne, chilled
Stir bourbon, sour mix, and amaretto together in a punch or other serving bowl. When ready to serve, stir in champagne and slide in ice mold. Serve.
Blood Orange Sour Mix
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons finely grated lime zest
1 cup water
1 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 6 lemons), strained
1 cup fresh lime juice (from about 10 limes), strained
Pulse sugar and zests in a food processor until sugar is damp and no zest strands remain. (Alternately, rub zest into sugar with fingertips.) Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring, until sugar is completely dissolved. Let syrup cool to room temperature and then stir in lemon and lime juices. Refrigerate for up to one month in an airtight container.
Catching up with old friends
Need to impress those friends you haven’t seen in forever but always seem to pop up around the holidays? This oh-so-festive bright red cocktail should do the trick. The rhubarb syrup keeps the drink tart and crisp, while the pomegranate seeds float around the glass as you sip. The whisky imparts a smoky flavor that rounds out the drink. “By the end of the sip,” says Jeremy LeBlanc, author of The Best Craft Cocktails, “note how the pomegranate seeds have taken on a smokier flavor.”
Yields One Cocktail
1 ½ oz whiskey
$#189; oz red cranberry juice
1 tsp homemade rhubarb syrup (recipe below, or your can buy it canned)
2 tsp pomegranate seeds
In a bar tin, combine 20 pieces of ice, whiskey, juice, and syrup. Shake vigorously for a count of 15, strain and pour into a cocktail glass. In your glass, add seeds and stir for 10 revolutions. Serve and suggest guest notes flavors at the first and last sip.
When you realize you’re out of that bakery-bought pie and guests are clamoring for dessert
We know we promised that there would be no cooking, but this recipe is as easy as boiling water (you can do that much, right?). According to del Mar Sacasa, the Nutella melts effortlessly into the milk — and if we have the culinary ability to make this, we’re sure you do as well. The nutty flavor is enhanced with hazelnut liqueur and a garnish of toasted coconut, while the salt and espresso add sophistication (and keep it from being too tooth-achingly sweet).
Yields One Cocktail
4 cups whole milk
¼ cup Nutella
6 ounces hazelnut liqueur, such as Frangelico
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
¼ cup confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
¼ cup toasted hazelnuts, chopped, for garnish
Toasted coconut flakes, for garnish
Bring milk, Nutella, and salt to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring until Nutella is completely dissolved. Stir in liqueur. Turn off the heat but leave the pot on the stove while you whip up the cream.
Using an electric mixer, beat cream, confectioners’ sugar, and espresso powder on medium speed in a large, chilled bowl until soft peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes. (Alternately, beat by hand using a large wire whisk). Ladle drink into warm cups and top with whipped cream. Sprinkle with hazelnuts and coconut.
The party with your health nut friends
If you’ve got friends who are trying to stay healthy throughout the holidays (more power to them!), figuring out what to serve can be a nightmare. Whip up this pumpkin pie-inspired cocktail, and there will be no complaints from health nuts or those who love to indulge. Kelly Milton, creator of the blog Paleo Girl’s Kitchen, recommends using potato vodka because it isn’t made from grains and contains no added refined sugar — a good option for those who are living the gluten-free or low-carb lifestyles.
Pumpkin Pie Martini
6 ounces potato vodka
2 cups canned coconut milk (try to find one with no added ingredients)
1/3 cup canned unsweetened pumpkin
1/3 cup honey
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 cup ice cubes
In a blender, add the vodka, coconut milk, pumpkin, honey, vanilla extract, pumpkin pie spice, and ice cubes. Blend the mixture on high until smooth, and pour into glasses.
‘Twas the Night Before Christmas
If your only experience with eggnog is the store-bought stuff, take the classic winter beverage to a whole new level with this homemade version. Eggnog and its predecessors (betcha didn’t know that versions of eggnog have been around since the middle ages) were an essential winter libation because, as mixologist Tristan Stephenson, author of The Curious Bartender, explains, “alcohol warms the blood, sugar provides energy, eggs supply protein and the fat from the milk and cream gives the drinker the necessary ‘layers’ to survive the winter season.” These days, we can’t really claim the custardy drink is essential for survival — but it certainly makes decking the halls more fun.
The brunch that comes before the Thanksgiving dinner gorging
Substituting pears for the typical peaches in this recipe is a great way to take the classic bellini into winter, plus “the pear lends a subtle flavor to the champagne that is very refreshing,” says Paleo-lifestyle blogger and cookbook author Kelly Milton. And with no added sugar, this is one indulgence you won’t feel guilty about
The last-minute party you were roped into throwing
Need something fast that everyone will enjoy? Have guests at your next big party be their own bartender with this “DIY Nog Bar” from Polar Seltzer. All you have to do is line up the ingredients, make a sign with the recipe rules, and let your friends mix and match categories. It’s like those Ice Cream Sundae bars we all loved as kids, only better.