Winter darkness: truncated days, light that’s weak and grey,
grimy slush soaking through your boots. This time of year, you don’t want citrusy spritzers that sparkle on your tongue, recalling spring, or fruity gin bombs that would cool you down in summer. You want fatty,
sugary, warming beverages: tonics that meld hot caramel and warm cream with fiery liquor — or, at least, that are overburdened with sensations of
campfires. Here are seven timeless holiday cocktails with my own recipes (or duly screened links to other people's recipes) and tips on maintaining your yuletide tipsiness the whole season through.
Tom and Jerry. Not the cartoon that people older than you watched as a kid; the drink that people older than them used to have in the winter. Essentially, the Tom and Jerry is whipped egg mixed with the spices typical of christmas — cinnamon, allspice, and clove — and then mixed with milk, brandy, and rum. Oh my. Most Tom and Jerry recipes, like this one from Esquire, yield enough to fill a punchbowl, so. Invite friends.
Eggnog. If you’re wise, you won’t drink this from the carton, or in your lattés. Eggnog is essentially the same as a Tom and Jerry, but with bourbon added as spirit. And it's usually aged. Try this recipe from chow.com. And don’t worry: you won’t get sick from the raw eggs.
Hot Toddy. The watery drink you get at your local bar is not finest hot toddy available. Where they typically add a squeeze of lemon and honey to your hot water and rum, you can do all sorts of things: bake an apple with butter and sugar; add nutmeg, cinnamon, and powdered clove; add curried spices; swap out the apple for a pear; use molasses instead of honey. Here’s an Alton Brown recipe to get you started.
Hot buttered rum. Hot buttered rum invites improvisation as much as hot toddies; the only difference is that there’s rum instead of whiskey or bourbon, and usually more milk fat. (I’m neutral about rum being swapped in, but more milk fat is usually a good thing.) This recipe calls for using vanilla ice cream as the creamifier, but you could just as easily swap in heavy cream and sugar, keeping all the strange emulsifying chemicals out of your drink. Or skip animal fats all together and use coconut milk.
Barrel-aged beers. Putting beer into barrels that have been used to age spirits or wine imparts a bit of magic-flavor alchemy. The different characters of bourbons, scotches, cognacs, pinot grigios, merlots, zinfandels, and other boozes overlay the foundation of the beer — generally a potent porter or stout — and the result is a highly complex, very enjoyable drink. In keeping with the smoky, fiery theme: try Ola Dubh or Bourbon County Brand Stout.
Mulled cider & wine. As varied as many hot toddy and buttered rum variations, mulled ciders and wines all seem to derive from a special family recipe. Which itself has its roots in the whims of a dead relative who’s no longer around to explain themselves. If you have a recipe like that, use it. If not, use mine for mulled cider: get a gallon of unpasteurized cider, toss in the usual bouquet of Christmas spices, the juice and peel of something citrus (I usually use orange), and set on low heat for a while. ("A while" is flexible, but longer is better.) Once things are sufficiently mulled, add the spirit of your choice, to the potency that is appropriate for your needs. I use bourbon, and I let occasion dictate need.
Islay Scotch, neat. Winter is bracing; the brutal frankness of a blast of February wind doesn’t need any embellishments. Sort of like an Islay scotch: severe and vivifying, clouds of peat-smoke coming through to remind you what fire smells like. You don’t have to confuse things by drinking sugar and fat with your booze in winter, just like you don’t have to wear a pritty patterned scarf or a beanie with a puffball on top. You can just drink simple, unadulterated scotch. Pretend you have a trust fund and pick up a bottle of Lagavulin 16.