Holiday parties are times for good friends, good food, and - yes - good drinks. There’s a dizzying amount of options a host looking to provision the bar. Do you play it safe with trusted beer and wine? There’s always winter traditions: mulled wine, well-spiked eggnog, and - if you’re an old British Isle descendant - sherry. This year, we broke out the cocktail shaker and tried our hand at some winterized renditions of classic cocktails.
While all of the Three Spoons love a good cocktail, we’ve never delved too deep into the bartending arts. This isn’t a caveat emptor; rather, it’s to show that with one or two practice drinks under your belt, cocktails are a deceptively easy way to wow guests. Worried about playing bartender all night?
Before starting Operation Boozy Christmakwanzakkah, make sure you have some of the necessary tools of the trade. At the minimum you’ll need a standard pint glass, metal shaker cup, a couple jiggers of different sizes, and a wire cocktail strainer. Bonus points are awarded for plastic squeeze bottles, a metal stirring spoon, and a flat bottom beaker with spout; you certainly can get by without, but they make life a lot easier.
There’s no need to splurge unless you absolutely want to. Restaurant supply shops can have you operational for a fraction of the price of a consumer home and kitchen store.
In the philosophical debate of how to stock a bar for guests, we always suggest going with the things you love, rather than the things you think your guests will love. At it’s core, our drink menu started simply - with our favourites. Kim will, without fail, order something refreshing with egg whites. Abhi wanted to take two classics - the vodka martini and eggnog - and present them in an unusual way. I, personally, love all things whiskey.
Mise En Place
Before the guests come knocking, there’s a small amount of kitchen prep needed to make your cocktails a success. Simple syrup is a sweetening staple for most bar drinks; and, as the name implies, making a batch is effortless. We also infused brown butter essence into a bottle of good cocktail bourbon. To save on kitchen stress, make these up to a week ahead of time. And don’t forget to stock up on ice!
- 750ml (26 oz) bourbon
- 75g butter
You’ll need a wide-mouth jar large enough to fit the bourbon you’ll be using. Heat the butter in a saucepan on medium heat. Don’t walk away - the goal is to heat the butter until the milk solids contained inside are toasted brown, not burned. The butter will froth twice. Once you see all of the milk solids have achieved a nutty brown colour, remove from heat and transfer to jar.
Add bourbon to jar. Close jar, and let sit for at least 4 hours. Move jar to freezer, upright, until solids rise to the top and congeal. This can be done overnight. Remove jar from freezer and use a spoon to lift butter from jar (save the butter - you’ve now also made bourbon-infused butter!). Using a funnel and cheesecloth (or a very clean, thin, unscented kitchen towel), strain bourbon back into bottle for serving.
We used Wild Turkey for this recipe, but any bourbon you have no qualms sipping neat will work. Just don’t break out a small batch Pappy van Winkle this time; save that for a glass and good company.
You can also try this fat-washing technique with any flavourful fat and liquor combination. Bacon could be wonderful, as could rum or vodka.
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1 cup water
- For Winter-Spiced Variation: 2 cloves star anise, 2 cardamom pods, 1 cinnamon stick
Combine sugar and water in saucepan and heat on medium. Stir occasionally until the liquid turns from opaque to completely clear, with small ripples throughout. Remove from heat. If you want to infuse the syrup with different flavours, now is the time to do it; add whole spices and let steep.
Once cool, transfer syrup to squeeze bottle - use a strainer if you infused the liquid. If you're making more, just remember it’s a 1:1 ratio of sugar to water - it scales perfectly.
Winter Rose Gin Sour - Kim
- 1.5 oz Dillon's Rose Gin
- 1 oz plain simple syrup
- 1 (¾ oz) egg white
- 5 dashes Angostura Orange bitters
- ¾ oz lemon juice, freshly squeezed
- 1 small sprig rosemary
- Nutmeg for garnish
Combine gin, simple syrup, egg white, lemon juice, and bitters in shaker. Shake vigorously, until egg whites are frothy. Open shaker cup and add ice. Shake well again. Strain into glass. Burn a small rosemary sprig with lighter and add to top of glass. Using a microplane, grate small amount of nutmeg on top. Serve. Brainstorm vogue ugly Christmas sweater concept.
Note: If you’re unsure about using fresh whole eggs, a carton of pasteurized egg whites works just as well.
Naughty Santa (Eggnog Martini) - Abhi
- 2 oz eggnog
- 2 oz vodka
- ¼ oz spiced simple syrup
- Cinnamon sugar for rim
- Cinnamon stick
Rim glass with cinnamon sugar. In an ice-filled shaker cup, add eggnog, vodka, and simple syrup. Shake well. Strain into glass. Use a microplane to grate small amount of fresh cinnamon on top. Serve. Plan logistics route for next late-night reindeer ride.
Browned-Butter Old Fashioned - Nick
- 2 oz browned butter bourbon
- 1 tsp (0.167 oz) spiced simple syrup
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- 1 orange peel, loonie-sized
In ice-filled beaker, add bourbon, simple syrup, and bitters. Stir vigorously. Strain into glass with ice. Bend orange peel to extract some essential oils, rub across lip of glass, then add to drink (for bar-side theatrics, bend the orange peel over a lit flame to spit orange-scented smoke across the glass). Serve. Discuss next backroom advertising deal.
Words by Nicholas Wong. Photos by Abhishek Dekate