The week between Christmas and New Year’s has rarely been a time of rambling, for me. It’s usually a time of drinking. This year, I hope to take a little ramble ’round my liquor cabinet. Come along with me, won’t you? In no particular order, my favorite holiday drinks — and, where relevant, the watering holes that inspired them:
1. Champagne cocktail. Dress up your cheap bubbly with cognac and a sugar cube soaked in angostura bitters for an even more festive way to ring in the New Year. (The Taj Hotel on Arlington Street does a lovely version with Veuve Clicquot, though it seems a bit sad to adulterate the good widow that way.)
2. Hot toddy. A cold weather classic. Throw some cheapish whiskey (like Dewar’s or equivalent) in a glass; top with hot water; add a touch of honey and a lemon wedge. It’s medicinal! If you’re feeling fancy, stud the wedge with whole cloves — that’s how they serve it at River Gods in Central Square.
3. Wassail. This is what we’ll be drinking Chez Green later tonight. There are many ways to make this fruity, boozy punch, which originated in England as a way to warm up “wassailers” (eg, carolers) as they went door to door. My recipe has been modified from one that appeared in The Harvard Press a number of years ago: throw together a bunch of apple cider and half as much cranberry juice in a large pot. Add juice of one orange. Take three other oranges and stud with whole cloves. Put them in the pot, too. Take more cloves, whole allspice, and cinnamon sticks and put them in a cheesecloth or a tea strainer; plop into the pot. Bring to just simmering; let steam for about half an hour. Ladle into mugs, being sure to stir (so that the spices don’t all settle to the bottom); garnish with cranberries or a cinnamon stick (or both!). Don’t forget to add some dark rum and a dash of Angostura.
4. Glogg. Chances are, if you listen to public radio, you’ve heard NPR’s glogg (best name for a drink ever) recipe already. I love this Norwegian treat even more than wassail, actually; it uses red wine instead of juice, and features cardamom and brandy-soaked raisins. Unless you’re safely snowbound somewhere, only consume if you have a designated sleigh-driver.
5. Gluhwein. Similar glogg, but with fewer ingredients and German. I had the pleasure of sampling some at a Christmas market in Stuttgart in 2009. I’ve decided that Northern Europeans like to project an image of cold, dark, desolate winters just to have more gluhwein and glogg for themselves.
6. Eggnog. It took me a long time to find an eggnog I liked: in the end, the answer was using soy milk to produce a less-sweet version. If that doesn’t sound appealing this Atlantic article reveals another a possible solution: the author’s grandmother “misread the recipe for eggnog that called for ‘Whiskey or Brandy or Rum,’ and replaced the ‘or’ with ‘and.’ This led to a rather stiff cup but also greatly improved familial relations.”
7. Manhattan. In the summer, you’ll often find me with a pitcher of Pimm’s or gin and tonic. In the winter, I switch to whiskey cocktails, and there’s no better standard than the Manhattan. There are many ways to make these; my current favorite is rye whiskey and Averna (instead of vermouth), with 3 parts whiskey to 1 part Averna. Put it in a glass of cracked ice and stir; strain and pour into a martini glass. Garnish with an orange peel. Don’t feel like making your own? Head to the Blue Room in Kendall Square for their version. And if you like that, head down the street to Craigie on Main between Kendall and Central and ask for their Zelda Fitzgerald. It’s not on the menu anymore, but it’s still my favorite.
8. Blue Blazer. This fine winter’s drink involves spirits set alight and poured, while flaming, between two tankards. Given my lack of coordination, I have never tried this at home. (I’m pretty sure it’s not covered in my renter’s insurance.) But don’t let that stop you! Actual recipes for this cocktail vary — it’s traditionally made with whiskey, but the Internet offers variations using everything from brandy to tequila to sambuca. (Drink in Fort Point even makes a version with chartreuse called a Green Blazer.) The point is not to labor over the ingredients; the point is to have fun setting things on fire.
9. Mudslide. A great option for when you’re too lazy to make dessert. I prefer the way my friend Nick makes this drink: equal parts vodka, Bailey’s, and Kahlua poured over ice in a glass. Leave the milk in the fridge.
10. Hot chocolate with Bailey’s. My favorite way to make this is with a Taza chocolate round, picked up from their factory right in Somerville. (The cinnamon or vanilla flavors make your hot chocolate even tastier; try guajillo chile for a little extra kick.) Chop up the chocolate and whisk into a saucepan of hot milk until the chocolate dissolves. Pour (carefully…) into a mug. Add a liberal amount of Bailey’s; serve.
11. Mulled cider with booze. There’s nothing more New Englandy than buying a mulled cider from Sally Ann’s in Concord*, adding a little rum or brandy from your hip flask, and enjoying this excellent winter warmer while strolling over the Old North Bridge or through Estabrook Woods, a great off-leash place for dogs.
*Sally Ann’s apparently no longer makes their amazing mulled cider. They are now dead to me.
12. Single malt Scotch, neat. My no-muss, no-fuss option: open bottle. Find glass. Pour contents of bottle into glass. Drink. Wait for spring. (If that’s a little too manly for you, make it a Godfather, a simple cocktail I first sampled at Somerville’s Highland Kitchen: Take three parts Scotch, add one part amaretto, serve over ice. For this, I’d use a cheap blended Scotch rather than blashpheme your Lagavulin 16.)
Merry Christmas to all! And if you have a great holiday drink (or drinking place) we should be sampling, be sure to let us know in the comments.