Mix up these drinks to get out from behind the bar and into the revelry.
Part of the joy of the holiday season is entertaining groups of family or friends, but those get-togethers can also be challenging—particularly for the amateur bartender. Each of your guests is likely to have his or her own drink preferences, and making cocktails individually for 15 or 20 people could take up the bulk of your evening. Here are some tips from the experts on how to navigate your way through holiday entertaining.
Develop a seasonal strategy. “Dark spirits really come into play when the weather cools off,” says David Bouchard, principal bartender for The Cooper in Palm Beach Gardens. “Think in terms of bourbon, rye, and aged rums. Most people lean toward savory modifiers: vanilla and maple syrup; spices such as cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and ginger; winter citrus, such as Meyer lemon and blood and bitter oranges.”
Use materials at hand. One of Bouchard’s most successful creations came about by accident while working at a restaurant in Connecticut. “We had some Knob Creek Maple Rye left over from a bourbon and cigar dinner,” he recalls. “I took an ounce of that with half an ounce of maple syrup and three-quarters of an ounce of lemon juice, layered the ingredients into a highball glass, and topped it with three ounces of Stella Artois Cidre and a dash of Angostura bitters. It’s a warm and comfortable drink that brings back childhood holiday memories.”
Think punch. There’s a good reason why punch has been popular since the seventeenth century, when employees of the British East India Company brought it back to England from India. The libation is easy to prepare, allows guests to help themselves, and guarantees a stress-free evening for the host. Making punch—traditionally a blend of alcohol, sugar, lemon, water, and spices—is far from rocket science. When in doubt, fall back on the old rule: “One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, and four of weak.”
Charles Steadman, managing partner of Jack’s Grumpy Grouper in Lantana, has a go-to rum punch that stands out as a holiday favorite. “Sugar-based spirits are incredibly versatile,” he says, “and rum can pair very well with a range of winter flavors.” He recommends lining the rim of a punch bowl with clove-flavored sugar, then pouring in a whole bottle of dark or amber rum such as Brugal Añejo or Mount Gay Eclipse. He then adds fresh-pressed lime juice for the sour base, pineapple and orange juice for a touch of sweetness, coconut water to round out the taste, and grenadine for color. Top it off with a festive garnish such as mint springs, cranberries, or orange peel studded with cloves.
This eggnog libation, garnished with a festive Christmas biscuit, puts a haute spin on Washington’s recipe.
Eggnog adaptation. Eggnog is one of the few parts of the Christmas ritual designed for adults. It migrated here from England and has been with us since the Colonial era. Every year, I dust off what was supposedly George Washington’s recipe: Mix one quart each of cream and milk, one cup of sugar, one pint of brandy, a half pint of rye whiskey, and a quarter-pint each of dark rum and Sherry. Separate one dozen eggs, and add sugar to the beaten yolks. Add the liquor mixture while beating slowly, and then add the milk and cream. Beat the egg whites until stiff, and fold them in. Store in the refrigerator for seven days, and don’t plan on driving anywhere after you try it.