Image: Photography by Alex Cao Drinks and Prop Styling: Roscoe Betsill
Eggnog may not incite as much partisan fervour as fruitcake, but people who don’t like eggnog—well, they really don’t like it. Maybe it’s the custardy texture. Maybe it’s just because eggnog is such a fusty, antiquarian-sounding drink. We are, after all, a thoroughly modern people and have earned the right to enjoy certain benefits. We have, for instance, invented ice. But when the holidays roll around, we instinctively crave holiday flavours. (Though what is the flavour of eggnog, exactly—noggy?) These essences are building blocks of our collective memories. Nutmeg is right up there, as are clove, cinnamon, allspice, pine, and cranberry, among others. One of the great things about the ongoing cocktail renaissance is that so many talented people now lie awake at night figuring out how to capture such elusive flavours in tasty beverages. And the ingredients are out there: These days there are more versions of bitters, curiously flavoured liqueurs, and other mixers for elevating the holiday spirits than you can shake a Yule log at. Here are some new options for your home bar worth caroling about.
Photography by Alex Cao
Chairman’s Reserve Spiced Rum
Making your own spiced rum isn’t terrifically complicated, but is it not a fine thing that you can simply drive to the liquor store and find an array of spiced rums? Just beware: Many pre-bottled spiced rums tend to lack depth and rely too heavily on vanilla. Chairman’s Reserve is a new spiced rum from St Lucia that manages to overflow with flavour yet somehow feel restrained. You may taste orange, nutmeg, cinnamon, raisins, and a touch of clove. Try it in a rum old-fashioned. Or, if you’re so inclined, put it in your eggnog.$22 for 750 ml
saintluciarums.com Trader Tiki’s Cinnamon Syrup
Cinnamon likes to roughhouse, and it can be a bully if it’s not used deftly. But a touch of cinnamon brings warmth and an intriguing complication to many cocktails, and the flavour and aroma emerge best in a warm toddy. Trader Tiki’s is a new line of handcrafted syrups for cocktails, and its cinnamon syrup is delicious and robust. Try a dollop in the Que Calor cocktail—or in a warmed-brandy milk punch, with a cinnamon stick as a garnish.$12 for 375 ml
tradertiki.com St Elizabeth Allspice Dram
This classic Jamaican liqueur was once an essential element of a great many Polynesian-style drinks.
(It was originally called pimento dram—after the local term for allspice liqueur—but has been rebranded in the United States for obvious reasons.) It fell out of fashion and disappeared some years ago. Happily, an enterprising importer recently reverse engineered it from Jamaican rum, cane sugar, and allspice berries, and is now making it in Austria. Put a touch of this in any classic cocktail and—hark!—you can all but hear the angels sing.$22 for 375 ml
Sweetgrass Cranberry Bitters
Maine’s boutique Sweetgrass Winery & Distillery—which makes gin and rum as well as dry fruit wines—recently came out with these wonderfully complex cranberry bitters. (Sweetgrass’ original bitters, fermented from blueberries, offer a pleasingly tart alternative to Angostura.) The cranberry is enlivened with spices and a bit of tangerine, and adds a delightfully bright note to a variety of drinks. Add a few drops to a classic gin martini to suggest rather than decree holiday cheer.$8 for 5 oz
sweetgrasswinery.com Zirbenz StonePine Liqueur of the Alps
A drink that tastes like a Christmas tree? Well, why not? This artisanal liqueur has been made in Austria since 1797, and one sniff of an open bottle will put you in mind of a Lions Club Christmas tree lot. Zirbenz is actually made from Alpine pinecones, recapturing a piney flavour that was once a cocktail commonplace. (The very first bar guide, written by Jerry Thomas in 1862, offers a recipe for Gin and Pine: “Split a piece
of the heart of a green pine log into fine splints….”) Try the Zirbenz in the Tannenbaum, or with a little gin, lemon juice, and maple syrup for a taste of the subpolar north. $29 for 375 ml
alpenz.com Rhum Clément Créole Shrubb
Creole shrub is a holiday tradition in Martinique—it’s made of sun-dried orange peels infused with a blend of aged and white rums, plus a few spices tossed in to give it a rounded profile. It’s a complex, layered, full-strength liqueur (80 proof ) that’s fluent in the language of the holidays, slightly drier than other orange liqueurs and with a more elusive finish. It’s superb served by itself in a snifter after a filling holiday meal.$30 for 750 ml
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(This story appears in the 25 January, 2013 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)