by Clair McLafferty
Nothing conjures up memories of the holiday season quite like the first sip of a holiday cocktail. Though the usual suspects — spiked cider, mulled wine, hot toddies, eggnog, milk punch, hot chocolate — are pretty standard in most parts of the U.S., it’s hard not to feel festive when you’ve got one in hand.
To put you in the mood for the holiday season, I’ve put together some classic adjacent recipes and some twists on the classics for your drink-making pleasure. For the sake of brevity, Milk Punch has been omitted, but you can find more about it here.
When I was a kid, the holiday treat that marked the season was eggnog. Not fancy ’nog laboriously crafted from separated eggs following a generations-old recipe scribbled on a batter-flecked index card, but the viscous, sweet Barber's eggnog fresh out of the green carton. In my family's low-fat, low-sodium, booze-is-for-baking house, if the eggnog was ever mixed with anything, it was lengthened with skim milk, not bourbon or brandy. It wasn’t until years later that I tasted true, made-from-scratch eggnog, and it wasn’t until I got behind the bar and began making single-portion drinks that I began to truly like it.
The Classic(ish): Eggnog for One
½ ounce simple syrup
½ ounce cream
1 ounce bourbon
1 ounce cognac
Pinch fresh nutmeg
Crack egg into one shaker tin. In other shaker tin, combine liquid ingredients. Add spices last, and shake vigorously without ice for 12-15 seconds to combine. Add ice and shake vigorously again. Strain into a chilled rocks glass and garnish with another pinch of cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg.
The Modern Twist: Garam Masala Egg Nog
From Jen Gregory of The Mad Priest, Chattanooga, Tennessee
“Here, the warming effects of Indian spices meet the richness of eggnog,” says Gregory. “Amaro [a family of bittersweet Italian liqueurs often used as aperitifs or digestifs] balances out the typical sweetness. ... I’ve been playing with worldly influences of late for the menu here at The Mad Priest, as many of the flavors on the menu are influenced by several cultures. The baking spices and savory aspects of garam masala seemed a perfect fit for eggnog.”
2 whole eggs
½ cup granulated sugar
1 ½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
3 ounces garam masala-infused Don Q Cristal rum*
1 ½ ounces Meletti Amaro
6 ounces heavy cream
4 ounces whole milk
Blend eggs and sugar with hand mixer or blender. Add nutmeg, then add rum and amaro slowly, continuing to blend. Add milk and cream. Refrigerate, and when ready to serve, garnish with grated nutmeg and star anise pod. Makes two cocktails.
*Garam Masala Rum:
1 L Don Q Cristal Rum
2 teaspoons whole allspice
2 tablespoons whole cloves
15 cardamom pods
2 tablespoons whole black peppercorn
2 inches peeled and diced ginger
4 cinnamon sticks, broken up
2 tablespoons whole coriander
(Instead of spices, a garam masala packet from a local Indian grocery will also work)
For many others, the Hot Toddy is the iconic winter drink. It’s super simple: booze, sweetener, citrus, spices, and hot water or tea, but all of these elements change regionally based on what used to be available in the area. In the South, the cure-all was likely made from honey or sorghum, depending on what was available, plus fruit brandy or whiskey, and hot water.
To keep your toddy hot, pre-warm your mug by rinsing it with hot water or letting hot water sit it in for a minute or two. When you’re ready for your drink, dump out that water and build your cocktail.
The Classic(ish): Hot Toddy
From Joe Witkowski of Bakery Bar, New Orleans, Louisiana
4 dashes Angostura bitters
¼ ounce cinnamon syrup
½ ounce honey syrup*
½ ounce fresh lemon juice
1 ½ ounces bourbon
Hot water, to top
Combine liquid ingredients in a heated mug. Garnish with freshly grated cinnamon and a twist of lemon.
Combine equal parts honey and water in a saucepan. Stir over medium heat until honey dissolves. Return to room temperature before using.
The Modern Twist: For The Trees
From T. Cole Newton of Twelve Mile Limit, New Orleans, Louisiana
This twist on the Toddy won the Tales of the Toddy competition in 2013. Instead of the traditional booze-heavy flavors, this take pairs herbaceous, floral flavors with the traditional honey and lime. “Each participant was assigned a base spirit — Grande Liqueur de Sapins, in my case — and a style of seasonal drink,” says Newton. “I simply swapped the bourbon in my standard Toddy recipe, minus a quarter ounce to adjust for the variance in ABV, for the assigned spirit and switched from lemon to lime to better balance the added sugar from the liqueur. I figured that would be a good starting point, but it was pretty perfect just like that.”
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
¾ ounce honey syrup
¾ ounce lime juice
1 ounce Grande Liqueur de Sapins (or Green Chartreuse)
2 ½ ounces hot water
Combine ingredients in small mug or teacup. Stir lightly and garnish with a lime peel.
From Scott David Mayer, Atlanta
Hanukkah is most heavily associated with memories of food and Manischewitz, says Atlanta’s Scott David Mayer. Here, “olive oil is symbolic of the candelabra lasting for eight days instead of one, [as in] the Hanukkah Story,” he says. “Manischewitz is used to celebrate any and all holidays as a toast,” and the drink uses it as a syrup. The drink itself is a play on the New York Sour because of the city’s robust Jewish community.
One egg white
¾ ounce simple syrup
¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
1 ½ ounces rye whiskey
½ ounce Manischewitz, to float
Combine first four ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously without ice for 15-20 seconds, then add ice and shake vigorously again. Strain into a chilled rocks glass and float Manischewitz on top.