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Winter Drinks Party 2011

by Francoise Villeneuve
Antoinette Bruno and Will Blunt
December 2010

Hot toddies have been fueling holiday get-togethers (and starting and ending family rows) for years. But for the conscientious mixologist, oldies but goodies are full of opportunities for reinterpretation. What better first drink of the night (to warm the hands after walking inside from the bleak and bracing winter) than a reworked milk punch-turned-steaming-hot-toddy at Brooklyn’s The Clover Club. It’s here that 2010 New York Rising Star Mixologist Brad Farran gives that frothy hot mug of milk before bedtime a makeover with a very grown-up double dose of rums.

Sours are no longer the cheeseball domain of the turtleneck-clad whiskey sour or 80s Midori sour-quaffers. San Francisco Mixologist H. Joseph Ehrmann puts Campari in the spotlight in a very Christmassy looking Winter Sour at Elixir. “I had this challenge to create a Campari cocktail,” said Ehrmann, “and didn’t want to just use a little Campari. That has a full ounce and a half of Campari.” A tired 70s throwback is hip again—it’s a Christmas miracle!

Robert Frost caught on to the powerful juxtaposition of fire and ice in his eponymous poem, but they’re surprisingly sublime companions behind the bar, too. Maybe it’s because the resultant smoke hints at fantasy evenings in a comfy chair listening to the crackling of logs on the fire as the woodsy aromas of the burning wood fill the room—to us city dwellers at any rate! Whatever the reason, smoke is a great choice for a creative winter cocktail menu. Mixologist Sam Anderson’s Ring of Fire starts off on the right foot, with rosemary-infused smoky mezcal and a rim of hickory smoked salt at Hotel Delmano. Trummer’s on Main owner and Mixologist StefanTrummer goes a sweeter route with bourbon-based blue corn juice that takes its smoke from the trapped embers of smoldering vanilla and cinnamon in the bowl of the serving glass. Singed rosemary and peaty cave-aged tea are the smoky components in Mixologist Chantal Tseng’s lit-inspired The Buried Life. These smoky cocktails are all served ice-cold.

Whether it’s with a hot cocktail, a healthy dose of (nicotine-free) smoke, or a play on a classic sour structure, a successful winter cocktail makes your seasonal menu festive and attracts more customers looking to drink away the holiday pangs in style. See the five cocktails below from mixologists around the country for inspiration.

 

Winter Sour: Campari, Meyer Lemon Juice, Muddled Rosemary, and Egg WhitesWinter Sour
Mixologist H. Joseph Ehrmann of Elixir – San Francisco, CA

Sours can be pretty old-fashioned, but Ehrmann sees this diverse group of cocktails as full of inspiration ripe for the picking. Even classics can go seasonal, and this red-and-green beauty looks good—it’s as Christmas-card appropriate as it gets with the sprig of rosemary topping a beautiful crimson sour in a vintage glass. The bitter Campari and woodsy rosemary made us think of a Thanksgiving feast, mirroring the sour-bitter play of cranberry sauce against the rosemary of a golden brown, oven-kissed bird. The typical lemon or lime juice of a sour is replaced with the sweeter and more aromatic Meyer lemon juice. Campari is often relegated to a supporting role as secondary liqueur to add a back note of bitterness, but when Ehrmann created this drink for a round table discussion at the Commonwealth Club, he decided to give it a starring role. The egg white-fueled foam creates a slight lightness that gives the drink that signature sour mouthfeel without sacrificing seasonal kick.

 

 

Voodoo Milk Punch: Whole Milk, Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 Year Old Rum, Market Spice Tea-Infused Smith & Cross Jamaican Rum, Benedictine, and Demerara SyrupVoodoo Milk Punch
Mixologist Brad Farran of The Clover Club – Brooklyn, NY

You can’t beat the warmth and comfort of a hot toddy when winter really sinks its teeth into you. This clever spin has a milk punch served steamy hot instead of cold. It balances sweet warm spices and creamy milk, while a hefty kick of Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 Year Old Rum and spice-infused Smith & Cross Jamaican rum gives this initially sweet and innocent drink backbone and grown-up cred. Hot cocktails are a no-brainer for a winter drink menu—we naturally crave hot drinks when we’re cold. Adding a service element to the presentation—like pouring the hot milk into the drink from a white porcelain jug—elevates the experience and helps put the drink on the mixology map.

 

 

 

 

Voodoo Milk Punch: Whole Milk, Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 Year Old Rum, Market Spice Tea-Infused Smith & Cross Jamaican Rum, Benedictine, and Demerara SyrupRing of Fire
Mixologist Sam Anderson of Hotel Delmano - Brooklyn, NY

Warm spices, rum drinks, and hot toddies are great, but a creative winter cocktail list should give the drinker more varied options than the unsubtle cinnamon sticks that invade a plethora of beverages this time of year. Mixologist Sam Anderson takes a basic rickey and throws it into creative hyper-drive with a rim of hickory smoked salt. That’s what comes to the customer’s mind when faced with smoked elements—Johnny Cash aside. The rosemary goes toe to toe with the mezcal in this infusion (what better spirit to ground it all than the smoky great granddaddy of tequila) and yellow chartreuse seals the deal. There’s a healthy dose of the hip factor too—mezcal has been showing up on New York cocktail menus all year.

 

 

 

Voodoo Milk Punch: Whole Milk, Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 Year Old Rum, Market Spice Tea-Infused Smith & Cross Jamaican Rum, Benedictine, and Demerara SyrupBlue Corn
Owner/Mixologist Stefan Trummer of Trummer's On Main - Clifton, VA

Rising Star Mixologist Stefan Trummer takes smoke in a new direction in this smoldering but sweet cocktail. Instead of adding a smoky garnish to the drink, like Anderson’s smoked salt or Tseng’s singed rosemary, he engulfs the bowl of the serving glass with still-smoking cinnamon and vanilla. The drink itself is surprisingly sweet for blue corn. When the vibrant purple-hued drink is poured from a carafe into the still-smoking glass, the aroma of cinnamon, vanilla, and a light char come together to help cut some of the sugar of the blue corn mixture. Woodsy and sweet balance each other out in this appealing cocktail. And the way Trummer works smoke into the presentation pushes it to the forefront.

 

 

 

Voodoo Milk Punch: Whole Milk, Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 Year Old Rum, Market Spice Tea-Infused Smith & Cross Jamaican Rum, Benedictine, and Demerara SyrupThe Buried Life
Mixologist Chantal Tseng of The Tabard Inn – Washington, DC

This might seem like a weirdly macabre name for a cocktail, and English writer Matthew Arnold’s poem by the same name is aptly depressing. (It details the isolation that takes place in a marriage as partners hide a part of themselves from those they are closest to). Mad Men-esque angst aside, the drink itself has a bittersweet palate in common with the poem. Reposado tequila takes on vegetal notes, bright acidity, and a faint back note of vanillin from its six months in oak barrels. Earthy Pu-erh tea is stored in damp, dark caves (perhaps another inspiration for the drink’s name?) and instead of fermenting, becomes dusty and soily. Earthy, peaty tea, acidic tequila, and lemon juice come together for a balanced flavor profile suitable for the most winter-worn soul. Lightly singed rosemary adds a touch of smoky aroma to the drink, but not the flavor profile. Blood orange peel and a dehydrated lemon wheel add a wintry touch.