There’s no season during the year that calls for cocktails more than the holidays. Family are arriving, a little time off work is beckoning, and it’s time to get a little silly while counting down the days until Santa arrives. But we aren’t just going to be drinking our standard manhattans and martinis. No. The holiday season merits something completely different. You’re going to want cocktails that are somewhat goofy (perfect to pair with your crazy sweater), warming (due to the cold weather outside), rich and decadent (who cares about getting a little belly – it’s sweater weather), communal (what with everyone visiting), and boozy (again, a little time off is just around the corner).
Let’s look at some classic cocktails for the season and see how we can perhaps even improve them to impress your holiday guests.
By now everyone already has their own opinion on eggnog, and probably their own recipes, too, so instead let’s look at something you’ve probably never considered doing before: aging your eggnog. You might think that sounds gross, what with the drink being made using eggs and dairy. Won’t those surely curdle and spoil if left sitting around for a day, never mind a few months? Amazingly, though, the heavy amount of booze is able to work a certain magic in not only keeping the eggnog safe for consumption, but, remarkably, making it even more complex and flavorful. So whether you’re drinking it later this season or waiting a whole year ’til next Christmas, now is the time to whip up some nog!
Still, maybe you are an eggnog lover, but even aging it isn’t enough to capture your imagination. If you’re ready to try something a little bit different, why not explore a bit of an eggnog variant – the Tom and Jerry. No, it’s not named after that famous cartoon cat-and-mouse duo, but instead dates to the early 1800s, when the drink was first created to promote a new play, Tom and Jerry, or Life in London.
No longer much connected to its original English origins, the drink is nowadays mostly associated with the American Midwest, where it’s a staple of Minnesota and Wisconsin. The tantalizing, decadent, egg-based Tom and Jerry “batter” is great for picky guests, as each person can choose to add their own spirits, in whatever amounts they prefer.
In days of Christmas yore, though – back in those Dickensian days before thermostats and in-house heating systems – you might have preferred a hot cocktail to keep you toasty. The oldest and most famous of hot cocktails is the hot toddy.
Originating in Scotland in the early 1700s, the drink was typically a mix of a spirit (usually whiskey, though rum and brandy are fine, too), boiling hot water, perhaps some honey or sugar, and spices. By now, the hot toddy is, of course, drunk the world over, with each region adding its own little tweaks to the delightful winter warmer. For instance, in America’s Midwestern states, ginger ale and lemon are often added. (We can’t help but note that toddies have long been thought to be curative drinks for whatever ails you. So drink up!)
Likewise, in other countries, other hot seasonal drinks rule. Grog is a popular Navy-strength rum-based hot drink, usually associated with 17th-century English sailors in the West Indies and still popular in Great Britain today. The Germans, Austrians, and Alsatian French drink Glühwein, the so-called “glow wine” heated up using hot (and glowing) irons. (The Germans also like Feuerzangenbowle, in which a rum-soaked sugarloaf is lit on fire and allowed to drip into the mulled wine.) The Nordic countries prefer Glögg, their version of mulled wine. In fact, pretty much every country has its own, slightly regionalized version of hot mulled wine.
If you’re wondering what “mulled” denotes in this usage, it simply means to warm an alcoholic beverage while adding sweetening and spices, something we’ll further explore below.
The last thing you probably want to do while entertaining party guests, or even while relaxing with the kids awaiting Santa’s arrival, is to keep heading to your kitchen or bar to whip up another single-serving cocktail. That’s why large-batch, punch-like drinks are perfect for the Christmas season. The most famous of the bunch would surely be the aforementioned mulled wine.
Whether you call it Glühwein, Glögg, or just plain mulled wine, the recipes don’t vary much and really haven’t changed over the past centuries. Originating as early as 2nd century Roman times and then becoming most prominent during Victorian times, the beverage has typically included three things: red wine, sugar, and various spices.
Today, those spices would typically include any of the most “Christmas-y” of pantry offerings, like cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise, cloves, cardamom, ginger, and allspice. Whatever the case, mulled wine is really a chance to add whatever you like to the recipe – it’s almost impossible to screw up. You then get the beverage boiling, and “set it and forget it.”
Of course, hot red wine isn’t the most American of holiday drinks. More American is apple cider, which also works perfectly as a hot, large-batch libation and is just as easy to make. In fact, those same “mulling” spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, etc. – can still be utilized; you’re just going to change up your liquid base a little bit.
The lazy person’s route is to simply head to your local farmer’s market or grocery store and grab a jug of fresh apple cider – better if it’s unfiltered. If you have the right appliances and a tad more energy – and who really does, come the holidays? – you could also juice some apples. Before boiling, you’ll want to spike it – dark rum or applejack tend to work best with the already-incorporated flavors.
When it comes to cider, you can even skip the alcohol, leaving a hot, drinkable treat for the little ones!
Of course, if we’re being honest, the holidays are really for the kids. They want to be a part of the revelry just as much as the adults, even if they are too young to have an alcoholic tipple just yet. That’s fine, and they need not be stuck with a glass of warm milk either.
There are plenty of “mocktails” – nonalcoholic cocktails – that are delicious and will make them feel just as good about celebrating the impending Christmas cheer. (Mocktails are obviously also perfect for nondrinkers, pregnant women, and those with medical conditions.)
Mocktails can be difficult to make during the rest of the year – no one wants a Shirley Temple – but the richness of Christmastime drinks lend themselves perfectly to being alcohol-free. Try eggnog or a Tom and Jerry sans booze – they’re like a milkshake. Speaking of milkshakes, why not whip up some vanilla ones with crushed peppermints and candy canes inside? Likewise, hot “soft” cider is obviously delicious, while you could just as easily substitute grape juice (or cranberry juice) in making a nonalcoholic mulled wine. Finally, a steaming mug of hot chocolate (with marshmallows) has never hurt anybody!
Happy Holidays everyone!