Boise originals: Five creative craft cocktails for the holidays

Check out The Matador's and The Mode's holiday drinks

Brian Livesay, general manager at The Matador, shows how to make a shimmery holiday drink. Sara Behunin, bartender at The Mode, makes non-alcoholic festive drinks.
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Brian Livesay, general manager at The Matador, shows how to make a shimmery holiday drink. Sara Behunin, bartender at The Mode, makes non-alcoholic festive drinks.


Peppermint candles flicker on the mantle, gingerbread cookies bake in the oven and Nat King Cole croons holiday classics on the stereo. The scene’s set for an epic holiday party except for one essential element: the right drinks.

This year, ditch the store-bought eggnog and syrupy mulled wine and treat your nearest and dearest to a festive craft cocktail. Whether you’re a novice mixologist or an expert barkeep, you can take your holiday tipples to the next level with a few simple tricks.

The secret to crafting the perfect holiday drink is balance, says Brian Livesay, a longtime bartender and The Matador’s general manager. In the season of sugarplum fairies and candy canes, Livesay says, it’s important to make sure your cocktails aren’t too cloying.

“The trick is to add just enough sugar to make it sweet enough, without overpowering everything else,” he said.

1118 TM Cocktails Matador Livesay
Matador Restaurants general manager Brian Livesay creates cocktails and margaritas that appear on The Matador menus in Boise, Meridian, Seattle, Portland and elsewhere. Kyle Green Idaho Statesman file

Livesay’s SnowDay gets its bite from El Mayor Anejo Tequila and Laird’s Applejack, and is rounded out by a squeeze of lemon juice, a dash of bitters and a lick of sweetness from homemade spiced apple syrup. For an extra festive touch, Livesay pours the drink over a large chai tea-infused ice cube.

Taking the time to make something from the ground up will make your creation festive.

“Anyone can go to the liquor store and buy bottles of things to mix,” Livesay says. “If you make something from scratch, you make it your own.”

At Capitol Bar on State Street, Kevin Hopper likes to keep his holiday drinks simple. And the trick to that, he says, is simple syrup.

“It’s so easy to prepare and it just makes making a drink a lot easier,” Hopper says.

Capitol Bar mixologist Kevin Hopper shows you how.

This winter, Hopper is shaking up the Woohoo, a minty combination of house-made chocolate simple syrup and Wondermint schnapps, an artisal spirit that blends peppermint extract, bitter almond, rosewater and absinthe.

“It’s like schnapps but it’s not as biting and syrupy,” says Hopper. “When paired with our chocolate syrup it almost tastes like a thin mint cookie.”

Mai Thai bartender Kevin Baker makes a Puerto Rican eggnog for the holiday season.

Kevin Baker at Mai Thai has an easy trick for serving holiday cocktails at home without being stuck behind the bar: batching.

Though the practice isn’t allowed in Boise bars, Baker recommends that home mixologists make a large pitcher of drinks in advance to ease their stress once guests arrive.

His favorite batchable holiday sipper is an extra-stiff riff on a holiday staple.

“In Puerto Rico they do a Coquito, which is like a Puerto Rican eggnog,” Baker says. “It’s rum, scotch, bourbon, honey syrup, lime zest, and a whole egg and nutmeg.”

If you’re looking to keep your holiday libations local, Grit American Cuisine in Eagle recently released its own Daywalker Whiskey, a locally crafted bourbon aged for two years in uncharred oak barrels that have been infused with orange peel and vanilla bean.

Matt Eggers, bartender at The Grit American Cuisine in Eagle, mixes up a simple holiday cocktail using flavored white whisky, ginger beer, and a house cranberry syrup.

Bartender Matt Eggers recommends pairing Grit’s whiskey with a house-made cranberry simple syrup and a spritz of ginger beer.

“We’re calling it the Aunt Loosey, inspired by the relative you might only see once a year at the holiday parties,” said Eggers. “We wanted to go for an easy drink using the house-made cranberry syrup to give it a holiday feel. During the holidays you don’t want to worry about making anything too complex.”

And Eggers adds that there’s a golden rule for hosting a great holiday cocktail party: “Make sure you have enough for everybody.”

The Matador’s Bengala Roja (Red Sparkler)

Yield: 1 cocktail

Bengala rosa crop
Kyle Green Idaho Statesman file

1 1/2 ounces El Mayor Blanco Tequila (or other blanco tequila)

 1/4 ounce Patron Citronge orange liquor

 1/2 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice

 3/4 ounce vanilla-cardamom pomegranate syrup (recipe follows)

Pinch of silver pearl dust (edible glitter), reserved

Orange for making twists

Fill a tall mixing glass or cocktail shaker with ice, add all ingredients and shake well. Strain into flute or coupe glass (old-style champagne glass). Add pinch of silver Pearl Dust and stir gently.


Yield: about 11 ounces, enough for 15 cocktails

2 cups pomegranate juice

1 vanilla bean, split

10 green cardamom pods

1 teaspoon dried orange peel

 3/4 cup sugar

Combine juice, vanilla, cardamom and orange in a small, non-reactive sauce pot. Place over very low heat and let simmer to reduced by half, about 30 to 40 minutes. Pour through a fine mesh strainer to remove solids. Then add sugar and stir to dissolve. Let syrup cool, then place in sealed container and store in refrigerator. Can be made a few days in advance.

Capitol Bar’s WooHoo

Yield: 1 cocktail

Capitol Bar, Tara Morgan
The ingredients for Kevin Hopper’s WooHoo holiday cocktail that is like an icy peppermint patty. Tara Morgan Special to Treasure Magazine

1 1/2 ounces Wondermint schnapps

1 1/2 ounces chocolate simple syrup (recipe follows)

Soda water

Combine Wondermint and chocolate simple syrup over ice. Stir and top with a splash of soda water.


Yield: 1 cup

1 cup water

2 cups sugar

 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

 1/2 teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

Bring water, sugar, vanilla and salt to a simmer. Allow sugar to dissolve, remove from heat and stir in cocoa powder. Place in an air-tight container and store in the refrigerator.

By Kevin Hopper

The Matador’s SnowDay

Yield: 1 cocktail

1118 TM Cocktails snow day
The Matador’s Snow Day, created by Brian Livesay features the exotic flavors of garam masala and cardamom. Kyle Green Idaho Statesman file

1 ounce El Mayor Anejo Tequila (or other anejo tequila)

1 ounce Laird’s Applejack

 3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed Lemon Juice

 3/4 ounce Spiced Apple Syrup (recipe follows)

2 dashes Regan’s orange bitters

1 large Chai tea-ice cube (recipe follows)

1 red apple, seeded, thinly sliced

Add all ingredients in a mixing glass or cocktail shaker and shake well. Strain into a rocks glass over a single chai-tea ice cube. Garnish with apple.


Yield: about 11 ounces enough for about 15 cocktails

2 cups unsweetened apple cider

1 cinnamon stick

6 cardamom pods

8 allspice berries

10 pink peppercorns

6 coriander seeds

 3/4 cup sugar

Add all ingredients to a small, nonreactive pot and place over very low heat. Simmer for 30-40 minutes, until reduced by half to one cup. Strain fluid to remove solids. Add sugar and stir to dissolve. Cool and store in refrigerator. Can be made a few days in advance.

Chai-tea ice cubes: Make a batch of half-strength chai tea using tea bags, not a liquid concentrate that contains sugar. Pour into large ice cube mold and freeze. As the cubes melt, your drink will evolve.

By Brian Livesay

Mai Thai’s Coquito

Yield: 1 cocktail

Mai thai drink
Kevin Baker’s Yuqing Zhu Idaho Statesman file

1 ounce honey simple syrup (a one to one mix of water and honey)

1 ounce Famous Grouse scotch

1 ounce Buffalo Trace bourbon

1 ounce Gosling’s rum

1 raw egg

Fresh grated nutmeg

Lime zest

Combine honey simple syrup, scotch, bourbon and rum into a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake vigorously and strain into second clean cocktail shaker. Discard ice. Add the egg and shake vigorously for 30 seconds. Strain into a rocks glass and top with fresh grated nutmeg and lime zest.

By Kevin Baker

Grit American Cuisine’s Aunt Loosey

Yield: 1 cocktail

1118 TM holiday cocktail gr
Darin Oswald

1 1/2 ounces Ground Game Daywalker whiskey

 3/4 ounce cranberry simple syrup (recipe to follow)

Splash Gosling’s Ginger Beer

Candied ginger

Combine whiskey and simple syrup. Stir and pour over ice. Top with a splash of Gosling’s and garnish with piece of candied ginger.


1 pound fresh cranberries

2 cups sugar

1 quart water

Combine whole cranberries and sugar in a sauce pan. Pour in the water and bring to a low boil. Simmer for 15 minutes. Then put into a blender and pulse to break up the berries. Strain through a fine mesh sieve to take out the solids. Place in an air-tight container and store in the refrigerator.Can be made a few days in advance.

By Matt Eggers