The other day, I received a box in the mail. It was from Kaplifestyle’s superstar editor, Stephanie. I’m generally opposed to gifts on holidays. I prefer the art of giving whenever the mood strikes, but that’s a philosophical post for another day. Steph’s was a present of my favorite variety, homemade. In the box were her bitters, vanilla and coffee. She suggested that I mix them into scotch. The gesture was both thoughtful and inspiration for her guest post. Leave it to Stephanie to mix (see?) generosity and efficiency.
As the holiday season gears into full swing, there are lots of occasions for revelry and merrymaking. It’s a good time to step up your cocktail game.
My prep for the holidays usually starts a couple of months out. I know I still owe a post on single-malt Scotch (perhaps that could be our Kaplifestyle holiday party theme, Gabe??). This isn’t it. Cocktail-based gifts can make lovely presents, and this isn’t the time to impose my personal preferences on people. That means I’m making things like candy infused vodka and pumpkin spice vodka, because I know the recipient will enjoy it. These infusions are easy – simply take your flavourings, add them to a bottle, add your alcohol (vodka, gin, bourbon, rum, Scotch – just about anything will work), seal it, shake it and strain it.
I also usually use this time of year to make the more complex infusions, like bitters or complicated liqueurs (amaretto, for example). Anything with multiple stages will require some advance planning to ensure your timing is right, but the ability to make a product customized to your loved ones’ taste is a worthwhile endeavour.
The day of the celebration is a different story. As you may have noticed, I’m a big proponent of making cocktails and complex ones don’t usually put me off. During the parties, however, the last thing anyone wants to do is spend all their time behind the bar as guests wait for individual drinks. Instead, I look to make cocktails in batches, punches, and anything else I can do ahead of time that will still be enjoyed by everyone.
A clear holiday classic is eggnog. The household tends to prefer this aged eggnog recipe – you can’t get much easier than something you can make years in advance. This is rich, sweet and heavy on the alcohol (don’t cut down on the alcohol either, otherwise, bacteria will be able to grow. Preserving dairy ain’t for the faint of heart).
Alternatively, if your friends and family are into classic cocktails, simple drinks batch very well. Martinis, Manhattans, and Old Fashioneds can all be made in advance in a large bottle or pitcher, kept cold, and served as necessary. Garnish as you pour.
However, most of the festivities I attend are with people who prefer something a little less classic. In those cases, my go-to option is a sangria or punch. These can have bad connotations for a lot of people, remembering college party “punches” that were little more than kool-aid and whatever leftover alcohol people had lying around, dumped into a bucket. Punch actually has a long history, coming over from India to Britain in the 1600s. A classic punch involves alcohol, sweetener, tea, fruit juice, or water, something acidic, and spices.
This gives you a huge range of options, depending on taste. One of my favourite punches involved half a dozen different alcohols, green tea, passion fruit juice, wine, and several other ingredients. It was delicious, but probably not worth the effort. A simpler option I’m considering involves blended Scotch, lemon juice, and cardamom syrup.
Sangria, on the other hand, is well known as wine infused with fruit. I’m considering using cranberries and citrus fruits, as well as making a cranberry-orange-black pepper syrup as my base. Combined with ginger liqueur, brandy, wine, and topped with champagne, I’m hoping for a drink with enough subtlety to be interesting, but still fruity and approachable for everyone.
Cocktails can be an integral part of the holiday season, and you don’t have to resort to expensive (and low quality) pre-made mixers for your party or generic bottles from the liquor store as gifts.