After many years behind the bar, I have a complicated relationship with holiday cocktails. People have varying expectations regarding their favorite winter holiday drinks, from the sickly sweet to the super strong.
We have that green-logoed coffee chain to blame for the ubiquity of particular fall and winter flavors like peppermint and pumpkin spice. Yes, these holiday flavors are a great thing about this time of year—but how do you navigate challenges like nostalgia and food allergies to create delicious holiday drinks at home? To answer these questions, I called upon a few of Reno’s finest barkeeps to help me help you pour some delightful and easy holiday cocktails.
Holiday drinks are all about invoking the feeling of the occasion; historically, we would spice our drinks during the holidays, because spices were rare and used only for special events. Nowadays, we start drinking our holiday beverages the moment the first leaf falls, and with that, we lose some of the ceremony of these flavors and replace them with nostalgia. These feelings of nostalgia drive the cocktail world year-around as we look to drinks that remind us of the joy we felt in carefree moments. That said, the problem with creating beverages that evoke nostalgia, especially during the holidays, is that everyone has different flavor memories. We hold our flavor memories close, because most flavors use all of our senses, especially in cocktails.
“Holiday cocktails indulge in flavor profiles that are bigger, bolder and decadent,” said Loren DeVincenzi, owner of Rum Sugar Lime.
That moment of, for example, sipping your first boozy eggnog around the fire with your friends—we tie all the feelings from events like that into a little bow and seek them out every time we sip one of our favorite holiday drinks, and that expectation gap can be challenging to overcome.
I recommend working smarter, not harder, to get your loved ones as close to their cherished flavor memories as possible. Using ingredients like store-bought eggnog and cider can be the best way to remind people of the flavors they love. We rarely have from-scratch flavors, and that’s OK, so why not dress up your favorite grocery store eggnog with a perfect blend of spirits to put your spin on a classic? Here’s the recipe for what I call Moberly’s Cheater Nog; this recipe yields 12 6-ounce servings, plus one to enjoy before guests arrive.
- 64 ounces of store-bought eggnog (I love the Southern Comfort)
- 8 ounces of bourbon (recommended: Frey Ranch)
- 4 ounces of dark rum (recommended: Myers’s)
- 2 ounces of cognac (cheap, but it must be cognac)
- 1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon powder
- 6 star anise pods
Combine all liquid ingredients in a punch bowl and stir. Top with the nutmeg, cinnamon and star anise.
Another challenge we face during this time of year is the sheer volume of dairy and sugar we must navigate. It is hard to get to the New Year without re-evaluating your relationship with dairy; I know I have spent many nights haunted by the ghost of Christmas cream-based cocktails.
“Holiday drinks hit the spot on a crisp, cold winter day, but I’m lactose intolerant,” said Alexis Gillum, bartender at 40 Mile Saloon, in commiseration.
It is hard to find dairy-free or nut-free holiday-drink recipes that only require a few ingredients and a small amount of time, yet we all want to be able to throw together a delicious and fun cocktail that everyone can enjoy.
When I asked Annalisa Suarez, beverage manager at 10 Torr Distilling and Brewing, about holiday drinks, she reminded me of a classic: “I love warm drinks around this time of the year. Something about getting together by a fire, watching the snow fall and drinking green chartreuse and hot chocolate make it feel like the holidays.”
Hot drinks are a perfect way to bring those classic holiday flavors to folks who do not consume dairy. Drinks like hot toddies, hot cognac ciders and mulled wine are great alternatives to eggnog and buttered rums. These dairy-free alternatives can make your parties more inclusive and help everyone’s tummy in the long run. Here’s what I call my dairy-free Apres Ski recipe; it yields four servings.
- 4 ounces of green Chartreuse
- 8 ounces of Monin dark chocolate sauce
- 24 ounces of creamy oat milk
Heat the oat milk in a saucepan, and stir in the chocolate sauce. Bring to a near simmer, and remove from heat. Stir in Chartreuse; garnish with a cinnamon stick for stirring.
No matter how complicated the holidays and their drinks may be, I still love them. My greatest joy comes after contemplating the best ways to make my loved ones happy. So cheers to holiday parties, good friends—and better cocktails!