By Tara Roberts
It’s holiday party season, people. Time to break out the ugly sweaters, crank up the Bing Crosby Christmas Album and impress your guests with snazzy cocktails.
A simple flute of champagne or glass of Irish cream always have a place at the table, but I set out to find some fresh takes on tradition.
Lessons learned: Anise is always a good idea. Canned pumpkin puree is always a bad idea (unless you’re making pumpkin pie). And, it’s easy to update classic seasonal drinks with a few simple, modern twists.
We Wish You a Merry Cranberry
Some extra zing and quality turn the boring bar-staple vodka cranberry into Instant Holiday in a Glass. Skip the cheap cranberry cocktail on this one — there’s no substitute for real-deal juice.
Make your own simple syrup by bringing 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar to a boil, simmering two minutes, then pouring into a heat-proof container over two teaspoons of grated fresh ginger and a star anise pod. Let soak for two hours, then strain (or leave the ginger in, if you’re a fan) and store in the fridge.
1 ounce ginger-anise simple syrup
2 ounces 100 percent cranberry juice
2 ounces gin (or vodka, if you must)
3 ounces club soda or champagne (optional)
Shake or stir syrup, juice and gin thoroughly, then pour over ice. Add a glug of club soda or champagne if you’re feeling bubbly.
For kids and non-drinkers, the simple syrup adds a pleasant kick to plain or sparkling cranberry or apple juice.
Wrap up your party with a take on the hot toddy that cranks up the cozy level with the addition of warming chai spices.
You can find basic chai concentrate in most supermarkets and fancier batches in specialty food stores. Even better? Brew your own in your slow cooker. The internet abounds with recipes, and you can adjust them to highlight your favorite spices. (Anise, I’m telling you.)
Any whiskey will do for this drink, but consider giving yourself an early Christmas present and splurging on a bottle of the good stuff. I recommend the Washington Wheat Whiskey from Spokane-based Dry Fly Distilling.
3/4 cup chai concentrate (give or take)
3/4 cup water
2 ounces whiskey
Generous squeeze of lemon
Mix and zap for a minute or two in the microwave for a single serving, or quadruple the recipe and heat on the stove to warm up a crowd.
Tara Roberts lives in Moscow with her husband, kids and poodle. She recommends pairing holiday drinks with pie. Lots of pie.