It’s the holidays. The ham is in the oven; the stockings are stuffed; and your counter is overflowing with bottles of bang-for-the-buck wines. But, what about the cocktails!? Neat Pour talked to Matt Lofink, Chartreuse brand ambassador and bartender at New Orleans’ James Beard award winner Cure, about how to pull off some simple cocktails for the holidays.
For starters, we wanted drinks that “taste like Christmas.” Lofink explained that there is an actual name for that flavor profile: baking spices. Baking spices include favorites such as cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg.
“The flavors are aromatic and spicy, but more warming in sensation and smell as well. Typically baking spices are associated with wintertime and they evoke something visceral,” added Lofink. “Think about the smell of a pie cooking with cinnamon, you smell it through out the room. When you finally do taste it, it tastes warm, tastes soothing. It’s a comforting sensation in your mouth which is what we’re looking for this time of year.”
Baking spices pair surprisingly well with a host of base spirits. “Cognac is a great one. Bourbon,” suggested our expert. “Any spirit that’s been barrel aged tends to work. You get the flavors of wood and vanilla, and charred even charred white oak in the case of bourbon.”
For those looking for a less orthodox match, the pro opts for Aquavit citing the orange, fennel, cinnamon, and star anise elements. Plus, the spirit doesn’t even need to be mixed, it goes great served as a holiday shot alongside your favorite porter.
However, if you do want to meld the tastes in a drink, you’ll probably want some sort of modifier ingredient contains baking spices. For example, syrups are a common vehicle at bars. If you don’t have time to slave over an induction burner, Lofink advised cocktail bitters as an easier route. “The very reason that bitters are used in any recipe is that they’re aromatic, wafting all those great fragrances. Plus, lots of bitters are heavy on baking spices, even basic angostura has cinnamon bark.”
As for the cocktail to bring it all together, the choices are plentiful. Lofink enjoys classics like Mulled Wine or a Hot Toddy. from that same family, he created his own tweak on Hot Cocoa by adding some Chartreuse.
If you’re looking for something a little boozier, he is a fan of experimenting with an Old Fashioned or Manhattan which already have many of the base elements desired. A popular riff is adding a little Amaro Nardini which instills the desired hints of mint and cocoa.
Still (despite his affinity for a certain Lebowski darling, “I have no problems with a White Russian—ever”), Lofink’s favorite Christmas concoction might be the Stinger. “The Stinger is a perfect Christmas drink, a perfect combination of flavors: all that vanilla from the cognac plus some mint,” he gushed. “Tastes good, smells good, makes your breath smell good. And it’s soothing. That’s why we make these this time of year, soothe the body, soothe the mind.”
European cultures have been drinking hot, spiced wine beverages like Glögg and Glühwein for centuries. However, the most famous of them all (and all Christmas drinks) might be Britain’s contribution: Mulled Wine.
A mix of baking spices and red wine, the roots of the drink can be traced to Roman rule over the Sceptered Isle. However, the beverage we know as mulled wine really emerged during the Victorian era even appearing in the authoritative Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management.
The Christmas favorite soon spread to the American cousins across the pond.
Lofink specs are a baseline take on the standard–not overly complex, but a massive leap above those pre-mixed packs sold at the supermarket.
- Bring all to a boil, quickly, then simmer for 30 minutes.
- Strain into a punch bowl or carafe.
- Add brandy.
The Hot Toddy is one of those original, mother sauce-eque drinks like a Sling or Martini, more of a formula than an actual cocktail spec. Although Jerry Thomas is credited with publishing the earliest recipe, toddies were touted as a medicinal, winter illness cure-all for many generations before the Professor entered the scene. And, for good reason– the hot drink delivers a dose of booze just strong enough to soothe a sore throat, fill your innards with warmth, and deliver a bit of a buzz.
The recipe below is pretty generic. Swapping different base liquors will deliver vastly different flavor profiles think about the range between Cognac and an Irish Whiskey. That’s just the start, mess with modifiers and even the hot water (we like tea!) for a range of different drinks.
- Add the whiskey (or other base spirit) and lemon juice to a mug. Then, add the honey.
- Stir until honey is mostly incorporated.
- Pour hot water into mug and stir again until mixture is uniform.
- Garnish with a lemon at a minimum. Here's where you start leaving your mark, add other aromatics such as cinnamon or cloves.
Chartreuse Hot Cocoa
This simple combination suggested by Chartreuse brand ambassador Lofink is easy and surprisingly tasty. “It’s really, really simple and fun, a favorite of mine… but maybe I’m a little biased,” he commented.
Nope. Our unbiased NP staff can verify that that the flavors mesh seamlessly pricing a nice burst of warmth on a chilly day.
If you’re looking to get real experimental, Lofink recommends adding a little red wine as well. “It’s a highly underrated twist. Just a little bit, gives it a dry berry type of flavor,” he added.
The Stinger’s history is pretty murky. However, we do know that the drink is over a century old. Accounts of American airmen flying missions out of France during World War I mention the cocktail as a favorite of the flyboys and Stephen Sondheim’s classic “The Ladies Who Lunch” offers a lyrical homage to the beverage.
What is certain is that the mix of mint and brandy in this simple two ingredient cocktail is damn near perfect.
The specs here call for a ratio slightly off the typical 2:1 and specifically employ cognac, but any type of brandy will do. Experimentation works well with this formula, but we do suggest that you don’t skimp on the creme de menthe; quality makes a difference when you’re highlighting, not masking tastes.
- Measure cognac and creme de menthe into a stirring glass and ice. Stir.
- Optionally, rinse a coupe or Nick and Nora glass with absinthe.
- Strain cocktail into glass and serve!
Spring Stinger (Cure)
The Stinger is a classic martini variation enjoying a cult resurgence amongst drinks diehards since the Cocktail Renaissance. The classic specs provide for a delicious duet of brandy and creme de menthe perfect for a soporific or a cold day.
However, the folks at James Beard Award winner Cure (New Orleans) took the standard and turned it on its head. Their modern take reimagines the Stinger as a refreshing spring drink served in a wine glass on rocks. For good measure, an herbsaint rinse binds it all together.
- Rinse a wine glass with three sprays of Herbsaint.
- Add brandy and creme de menthe to a mixing glass with ice. Stir.
- Strain into wine glass. Add three cubes (Kold Draft preferred) ice to glass.
- Express lemon and discard.