Let Grandma guzzle the eggnog this Christmas. You can do better. For cocktails with soul, depth, and some razzle-dazzle, the holidays are prime time for showboating. The drinks don't have to be complicated -- the margarita here simply switches in some seasonal clementine juice -- but they should rise to the occasion, and sparkle just a little. These six recipes incorporate six different spirits, so there's no reason you can't find exactly what you and your guests are looking for. Just turn up "Santa Baby" on the Jambox, and get mixing.
A holiday party is the best excuse for a punch bowl, and this easy recipe from Boothby's World Drinks (1934 reprint) -- recently revived in the excellent cocktail guide The 12 Bottle Bar -- is Christmas personified.
1 bottle amber rum (Appleton and Planters are both good)
18 oz. ginger beer
5 oz. strained, freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
5 oz. grenadine
Combine the rum, ginger beer, grapefruit juice, and grenadine in a punch bowl and stir. Add a large block of ice (a Bundt pan works well for this) and garnish with grapefruit rings.
Black Walnut Old-Fashioned
The Old-Fashioned is always a perfect drink, but this version, designed by Minneapolis-based bartender Toby Maloney and featured in Robert Simonson's excellent book The Old-Fashioned, gets a bittersweet pop from Nux Alpina black walnut liqueur.
2 oz. Bulleit bourbon
1/4 oz. Demerara syrup (made from heating 1 cup Demerara sugar with 1/2 cup water)
3 dashes orange bitters
Nux Alpina black walnut liqueur
Combine the bourbon, syrup, and bitters in a mixing glass filled with ice and stir until chilled. Rinse an Old-Fashioned glass with the black walnut liqueur. Add 1 ice cube. Strain the contents of the mixing glass into the Old-Fashioned glass. Twist a large piece of orange zest over the drink and drop into the glass.
Sherry Berry Bramble
Another discovery from The 12 Bottle Bar, this twist on the beloved Bramble cocktail gets its complexity from amontillado sherry.
1 1/2 oz. dry gin
3/4 oz. amontillado sherry
3/4 oz. strained lemon juice
3/4 oz. simple syrup
1/4 oz. blackberry liqueur
Mint sprig and confectioners' sugar
Combine all the liquid ingredients in a Collins glass. Fill the glass three-quarters full with crushed ice and stir until very diluted, 30 seconds. Refill the glass to the top with crushed ice. Garnish with the mint sprig and a dusting of the sugar.
Clementines are good for you -- especially with tequila.
1 lime wedge
4 1/2 oz. silver tequila
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons fresh clementine juice
1 1/2 oz. orange liqueur
Rub the rims of 4 small margarita glasses with the lime. Spread salt in a saucer and dip the glass rims in it. In a shaker, mix the tequila, juices, and orange liqueur. Add ice and shake vigorously. Strain into the glasses.
The good people at Ketel One introduced us to this unexpected pleasure: a vodka cocktail with rare body and character, which marks the 325th Anniversary of the Nolet Family Distillery, home to Ketel One vodka. The cumin and coriander seeds give it a spicy kick that is nicely balanced by the peach liqueur.
1 1/4 oz. Ketel One vodka
1 1/2 oz. coriander-, cumin-, and fennel-infused tea
3/4 oz. lemon juice
1/2 oz. simple syrup
1/2 oz. creme de peche liqueur
1 dash aromatic bitters
Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Whip shake with 1 or 2 ice cubes. Strain into a rocks glass over ice. Top with prosecco. Garnish with lemon zest. To make coriander-, cumin-, and fennel-infused tea, add 1/2 teaspoon each of coriander, cumin, and fennel seeds to 3 cups boiling water. Steep for 5 minutes. Strain and cool.
Few things are more welcome than a warm glass of brandy-spiked wine, a European tradition you can easily make your own.
1 bottle (750 ml) light-bodied red wine (such as Beaujolais)
3 ounces brandy
1/2 cup sugar
1 orange studded with 6 cloves
4 strips lemon zest
2 cinnamon sticks
2 star anise
Bring red wine, brandy, sugar, cloves, lemon zest, cinnamon sticks, and star anise to a simmer in a saucepan, covered, over high heat. Remove from heat; steep for 10 minutes. Ladle into 4 mugs.