Believe it or not, it’s time to start planning what your holiday cocktail menu is going to look like. Yup. It’s time to get those sparkly decorations down from the attic and to dig through your closets and drawers for those ugly sweaters.
The holidays provide us with a unique and welcome opportunity to depart from our established everyday cocktail routines in favor of doing things a little differently. Wine with dinner, beers with the big game, hard seltzer at the cookouts and picnics; give ‘em a rest. This time of year is all about switching those habits for something that feels a little more special. And it’s easy to take a few simple steps to ensure that this holiday at your bar will be something special.
Equipping yourself to craft extraordinary holiday cocktail recipes can be as simple or elaborate as you like. Here are some basic steps and preparations you can do in order to be well-stocked for the holiday season.
Do a Liquor Inventory
To spice things up a bit with your holiday cocktail ideas, you may want to use a selection of liquors and mixers that you don’t regularly use: Dark rums, Cointreau, Luxardo Cherry Liqueur, St. Germain, Chartreuse, Cassis, and Kahlua, for example, may be on that list. You should also do an inventory of other bar staples that you may not have used recently. For example, Rose’s lime juice, vermouth, and open jars of olives or onions should be kept in your refrigerator. If they haven’t been, you may want to check them or, even better, replace them with some fresh stuff.
Make Some Special Ingredients
Homemade infusions of all kinds can add real sparkle to your holiday cocktail ideas. It’s super easy to chop some fresh rosemary or thyme, for example, and let it sit in a few cups of Batch 22 aquavit or other liquor for a few hours. Slice a fresh jalapeño and half a cucumber into a few cups of Batch 22 and you’ve got the base for a spicy, fresh, and aromatic spin on a classic Bloody Mary or Mule. You can also infuse your favorite liquors with a whole host of other ingredients; everything from black tea to coffee beans to fruits of every size, shape, and flavor. Figs, pineapple, mango, and strawberries work very nicely.
Making your own simple syrups is another way to personalize your holiday cocktail recipes with a unique level of deliciousness. Simple syrups are, well, simple to make: They are equal parts water and sugar. Just boil the water and dissolve the sugar, stirring until the liquid is clear. To that basic formula, you can add an infinite selection of ingredients, each of which will infuse a special character to your syrup. Cinnamon, clove, allspice, orange peel, vanilla, cardamom, and ginger all make exceptional additions to a simple syrup—and they’ll add a very special component to any holiday cocktail ideas you’ll want to create. Just add the ingredients after the mixture turns clear, turn off the heat, and let it steep for an hour or so.
Don’t Forget Bitters
Having a well-rounded selection of bitters in your bar is like having a good spice rack in your kitchen. With a few shakes, bitters—which come in huge variety of flavors—add an extra dimension and interest to any cocktail. Black walnut, lavender, ghost pepper, fennel, tobacco, pimento, cherry bark; if you can imagine a flavor, there’s a good chance someone makes a bitters with it. [See our article on Great Cocktail Ingredients, where we discuss the use of bitters and shrubs and feature the cocktail accessory store Collins & Coupe.]
Keep Festive Garnishes on Hand
“You taste with your eyes,” as the saying goes. That’s why garnishes are such an important element to the success of holiday cocktail recipes. As the final flourish, the finishing touch, the right garnish adorns and accentuates the beauty of your cocktail and enhances the drinking experience for your guests. Festive garnishes don’t have to be elaborate; even simple ones can add an interesting shape, texture, or color to your presentation—and many can also add that special flavor or aromatic note that will make your holiday cocktail sing. Rosemary sprigs, cranberries, melon balls, stuffed olives, cornichons, banana peppers, kumquats, and dried fruit—dried lemon wheels, orange wheels, even dried roses—will add a lovely bit of visual interest to any glass.
No matter how you decide to celebrate this holiday season, you should take the opportunity to kick back, relax, and have some fun with new and creative cocktail recipes that will not only spice up your holiday festivities, they’ll brighten the rest of your year as well!