The most wonderful time (for a cocktail)

By Nathan Robins

Winter has come around again: the season of laughter, holiday music, family and friends. In this installment I present three cocktails to help you laugh more, tolerate the holiday music, and ring in the New Year feeling like a million bucks. Even writing from Texas, where it still feels like it could be summer, I couldn’t help but get into a festive mood while making these drinks.

I believe this is the first time I’ve worked with coffee as a base for a drink in this column, and that’s a shame. Coffee works surprisingly well with a variety of spirits. Building from the concept of an Irish coffee, one can make a Jamaican coffee or Highland coffee using rum or scotch respectively. It can even play well with citrus flavored spirits and more esoteric liqueurs like Benedictine. Though prepared initially as a hot beverage, the coffee drink included here is exceptionally good over ice, as are many other coffee-based cocktails.

Given that one can find vodka flavored to taste like anything – from birthday cake to black pepper – I’m sure someone has made spearmint vodka. However, making infusions such as this one can be very easy, and is usually cheaper than buying another bottle. They can also be potent, and I’ve included one in a drink that may be too minty for some. If taken in big gulps some might find it akin to mouthwash – remember it’s a drink meant for moderation. This drink also incorporates habanero bitters, which should be used with caution as they can be quite spicy.

My nod to toasting in the New Year is actually something of a throwback cocktail re-imagined. It gives a chance to add a little sparkle to an underused cocktail ingredient – just don’t serve it to your vegan friends.

Happy holidays, and safe and happy drinking.

webIMG_4680Winter’s Kiss

This drink can be considered something of a winter take on a mojito: lots of mint and just a hint of sweetness, plus a bit of a burn.

I made spearmint vodka by soaking dried spearmint in unflavored vodka for half an hour. The blue in the drink comes from this – I added dyes to a variety of infusions I was trying. The color is of course optional, but it adds a bit of festivity to what would otherwise be a pale off-green infusion.

For the habanero bitters, I used Hellfire Bitters by Bittermens, which adds a subtle lingering burn to the mix. The Orgeat syrup – derived from almonds, sugar and rosewater – adds a bit of mouth feel, but if only overly sweet syrup can be found this should be omitted. I recommend serving this as a sipping drink – think of it as a palate cleanser, or as a surprisingly intense shot.

1 oz. Spearmint Vodka
½ oz. Peppermint Schnapps
½ oz. Orgeat Syrup
1-2 drops Hellfire (Habanero) Bitters

Combine all ingredients in a shaker of ice, shake vigorously and pour into a cordial or vodka glass.


Salted Caramel Irish Mocha

In my last column I included a drink which paid homage to an autumnal favorite – the pumpkin spice latte. It seems I am destined yet again to take inspiration from the world’s favorite coffee chain and replicate another drink it popularized – the salted caramel mocha.

Adding cream and whiskey to coffee is nothing new, and an Irish coffee is a great way to start or end the day. Here you can either add the two separately or take a shortcut and just use Irish cream, which combines cream, whiskey, and neutral spirits in a homogeneous mixture. Mixing caramel into coffee can be tricky, so I recommend making an easy caramel sauce: microwave caramel until it is has melted, and then mix in heavy cream and a dab of corn syrup to thin it further. When it cools, it should remain thin enough to mix into the drink and drizzle over the top of whipped cream.

Recently a company began selling alcohol-infused whipped cream in several flavors. If you want to add an extra kick to this drink, that would certainly do it. If you really want to play up one of the key flavors, both Irish cream and coffee liqueur are available in caramel and mocha varities. I am partial to coarsely-ground Himalayan pink salt for applications like this, but if you’re looking to best replicate the inspiring drink, a mix of turbinado sugar and lightly smoked sea salt is called for. Speaking of the topping, be sure use powdered chocolate or a good hot chocolate mix – standard cocoa powder is much too bitter to use for dusting.

3 oz. Brewed Dark Roast Coffee
1.5 oz. Coffee liqueur
½ oz. Irish Cream
½ oz. Crème de Cacao
½ oz. Caramel Syrup
Dash of Coarse Salt
Powdered (Ground) Chocolate
Whipped Cream

Combine coffee, coffee liqueur, Irish cream, crème de cacao, caramel and salt – either stirring together or shaking vigorously with ice if preparing cold – and pour into an Irish Coffee Glass. Top with whipped cream, drizzle with caramel, dust with chocolate powder and sprinkle with salt.

webIMG_4707editMillionaire’s Toast

This is a loose take on the classic cocktail the Millionaire. While many variants of that drink exist, at its heart are whiskey, orange liqueur (usually Grand Marnier), lemon juice and an egg white. In this rendition I’ve substituted Brandy for the whiskey, though a good Cognac could be used if you’re truly feeling like a millionaire.

The Grand Marnier was replaced with Bauchant. This Cognac-based liqueur is made with sweet as well as bitter orange peels, and is similar to Cointreau. Inexpensive Curaçaos are typically sweeter, being made from sweet peels, while higher-end liqueurs like Grand Marnier are typically made from more bitter oils. Bauchant falls somewhere between these two, having a nice and mellow sweetness.

The egg is optional, but had adds a distinct mouth feel to this, and many other classic cocktails. While it is making a comeback, a drink with egg in it may still be too strange for some drinkers. If it is undesired, or there are health concerns over using raw egg, it can be omitted, or replaced with pasteurized egg whites or another substitute.

Though any sparkling wine can be used to finish this cocktail, I recommend using an Asti. This Italian sparkling wine from the eponymous city in the Piedmont region is balanced without being too sweet or too dry, complementing the other balanced ingredients of this cocktail.

1 ½ oz. Brandy
1 oz. Bauchant
½ oz. Lemon Juice
½ oz. Egg White (Optional)
Maraschino Cherry
Asti (Or Similar Sparkling Wine)

Combine Brandy, Bauchant, lemon juice, egg white, and bitters in a shaker of ice, shake vigorously and strain into a glass. Add cherry and top with Asti.

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