christmas cocktails

Not to get all nitpicky on Christmas Day, but it’s the one day each year when you’re almost definitely not working… and your favorite bar is almost definitely not open.

Which means you’ll be taking matters into your own hands. So now’s the time to plan ahead, lest you start talking up your famous Caramel Popcorn Old-Fashioned, only to discover you’re out of caramel popcorn.

Another word of warning: beware the lure of eggnog. “In theory, everyone wants eggnog cocktails—until you put them on the menu, then no one wants one,” says Todd Thrasher, the bartender behind P/X, the groundbreaking speakeasy in Alexandria, Virginia. Besides, you’re probably eating enough protein on Christmas Day. You needn’t drink it, too.

That said, here’s an hour-by-hour schedule to keep you cocktailing while you’re wassailing. Or while you’re doing whatever it is you do on Christmas Day.

9am: Breakfast Drinks

What you’re doing: Cooking breakfast and tearing presents open. Maybe not in that order.
What you’re drinking: Mimosas, naturally. They’re a breeze to make, and champagne just seems mandatory after you open that big, expensive thing you really wanted this year. But you can do better than simply mixing prosecco and Tropicana. Here’s a variation of the French 65 by Daniel Boulud’s longtime mixologist Xavier Herit.

French 65

3 oz champagne
1 oz Cointreau
1 oz blood orange juice
6 drops Angostura bitters
1 orange peel

In a shaker with ice, combine Cointreau, blood orange juice and bitters and shake. Strain into a chilled champagne flute and top with champagne. Garnish with orange peel.
*Adapted from Daniel Boulud’s Cocktails and Amuse-Bouches.

1pm: Midday Sustenance

What you’re doing: Coming in from sledding, if you’re lucky enough to live on a snowy mountain.
What you’re drinking: Something warm and restoring. Irish bartenders know a thing or two about warm cocktails, so I consulted the Dead Rabbit, which mixes up a Hot Buttered Blackstrap—a cross between a Hot Toddy and a Hot Buttered Rum. The bartenders at the Rabbit, however, tend to take a more-is-more approach to ingredients, so I’ve simplified things a bit.

hot buttered blackstrap cocktail

Hot Buttered Blackstrap

0.75 oz Old Forester Bourbon
0.75 oz dark rum
0.5 oz lemon sherbet
0.25 oz allspice dram
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 dashes chocolate bitters
2 tbsp butter, room temperature
3 oz hot water
Grated nutmeg

Add all the ingredients, except hot water and nutmeg, to a rocks glass or mug and stir. Add hot water. Garnish with grated nutmeg.
*Adapted from The Dead Rabbit Drinks Manual.

4pm: Afternoon Warm-Up

What you’re doing: Watching meaningless college bowl games.
What you’re drinking: Beer, naturally. But in cocktail form. This one came about as I was trying to concoct an Irish whiskey–based version of the Brooklyn cocktail. It turned into a long drink when I decided to top it off with porter. It lends itself extremely well to punch-sized batches.

I Feel My Luck Could Change

1.5 oz pot-still Irish whiskey
0.5 oz Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
2 dashes chocolate bitters
6 oz porter, like Great Lakes’ Edmund Fitzgerald

In a mixing glass with ice, combine whiskey, maraschino and bitters. Stir until well chilled. Strain into Collins glass filled with large ice cubes. Top with porter.

7pm: Liquid Appetizers

What you’re doing: Cooking dinner.
What you’re drinking: Probably not eggnog. But you’ll still want to visit the dairy section, because this is milk punch’s time to shine. People will be hanging around the kitchen, and their appetites will need whetting. You can really use any dark base spirit, but splitting between two is the way to go. A rum enthusiast (he’s about to open a rum distillery in D.C.), Thrasher likes to blend rum and bourbon. At the French 75 Bar in New Orleans, they use dark rum and brandy.

bourbon milk punch

Photo: Jim Beam

Milk Punch

1.25 oz bourbon
0.5 oz dark rum
2 oz whole milk
0.5 tsp vanilla extract
0.5 oz simple syrup
Grated nutmeg

In a shaker filled with ice, combine ingredients and shake about 30 seconds. Strain into a rocks glass. Dust with grated nutmeg.
*Adapted from Chris Hannah’s recipe for Arnaud’s French 75 Bar.

10pm: A Whiskey-Spiked Nightcap

What you’re doing: Mulling a life well lived by the fire, or just putting batteries in all your new gadgets.
What you’re drinking: Something dark and brooding for your nightcap. Maybe something with a bit of emotional value. Like a bottle of madeira that you only pour from once per year. Or a cocktail with a familial connection. Like this one. See, my father hasn’t smoked much of anything in decades, yet I distinctly remember him firing up a pipe for Christmas. Although he was barely 30 at the time, it still gave him the air of a wise old sage. This drink brings together the smoke, the piney notes of the Christmas tree, and the seasonal shot of cranberry, all over a rye whiskey base.

Dad’s Pipe

1.5 oz 90-proof rye, like High West Double Rye
0.5 oz cranberry-infused blanc vermouth*
0.25 oz Zirbenz Alpine pine liqueur
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Islay scotch rinse

In a mixing glass filled with ice, combine all ingredients. Stir well. Strain into Old-Fashioned glass with large ice cube. Garnish with rosemary sprig and cranberries, if desired.
*To make, steep 1 cup dried cranberries with 375ml blanc vermouth. Let sit in refrigerator at least 6 hours, or overnight. Strain.

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1 Comment

  • Paul says:

    Nice article. I liked the lifestyle predictions as much as the cocktail recommendations. Would almost like to see one of these for an ordinary “cubicle” working day. 😉 Or similar…

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