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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
Mai Thai’s Coquito
Yield: 1 cocktail
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
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