Start Your Own Holiday Drinks Tradition

By Marsha Fottler –
toasting_50830669_p1s1bmMy sister and brother-in-law gifted me with mulled wine that they made together in batches and bottled for friends and relatives to enjoy during the holiday season. Kate and Bruce told me to serve it warm in demitasse cups as an aperitif or late at night while sitting in front of the fire and relaxing. I’m also going to keep a little cup on the counter where I wrap holiday presents and sip while I work.

Kate’s homemade mulled wine made me think about all time most of us spend preparing our holiday food menus to make them special and memorable. But, we often don’t give much thought to the bar until a few hours before guests arrive. Why not start a drinks tradition at your home and become known for unique and tasty beverages you serve to family and friends from Thanksgiving right on through New Year’s Day.

You could become locally famous for a certain signature drink that people look forward to sipping when they come to your home. Here are a few cocktails and old-time beverage recipes that might get you started in developing a bar menu that is specific to your brand of holiday cheer. Practice is the key, so test out your top three favorites on friends with a good palate and then tweak the recipes until it is uniquely your own. You might even come up with a secret ingredient. If so, keep it secret. Pay attention to glasses and garnishes, which are additional ways of making a drink special. Look at you, you’re starting a tradition!


Mulled Wine

(From Ina Garten, TV cook and cookbook author of the Barefoot Contessa series.)


4 cups apple cider

1 (750-ml) bottle red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon

1/4 cup honey

2 cinnamon sticks

1 orange, zested and juiced

4 whole cloves

3 star anise

4 oranges, peeled, for garnish


Combine the cider, wine, honey, cinnamon sticks, zest, juice, cloves and star anise in a large saucepan, bring to a boil and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Pour into mugs, add an orange peel to each and serve.



winsyl(From American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, 1796.)

The proportions of this depend entirely on personal taste so it’s a good recipe to experiment with until you get it just right for your house bar menu. In the 1700s, syllabubs were whipped to a froth and garnished with a Rosemary sprig and served cold as a dessert.


Sweeten a quart of cider (or a sweet white wine) with refined sugar. Grate nutmeg into it and then add some milk. Then add a healthy dose of sweet heavy cream. Serve cool.


Bronx Cocktail

bronx(from The Ideal Bartender by Thomas Bullock, 1917)

Fill a large bar glass ¾ full with shaved ice.


1/3  jigger dry gin

1/3  jigger French vermouth

1/3  jigger Italian vermouth

1 slice orange

Shake well and strain into a cocktail glass and serve.



(Serves 1, but you could make 4 at a time by adjusting the recipe. From Easy Cocktails, Parragon Books, Bath England, 2009.)


1 teaspoon creme de menthe

1 tablespoon heavy cream

2 measures coffee or chocolate liqueur

Chocolate sticks for garnish

Gently beat the mint liqueur into the cream until thick. Pour the coffee or chocolate liqueur into a very small iced glass and carefully spoon on the whipped flavored cream. Serve with chocolate sticks. A great dessert drink.



woo_classic(Serves 1 but can be made in batches. From Easy Cocktails, Parragon Books, Bath England, 2009)

cracked ice

2 measures vodka

2 measures peach schnapps

4 measures cranberry juice

Peach slice, to decorate (Optional. You could dream up your own garnish)


Fill a chilled cocktail glass halfway with cracked ice. Pour the vodka, peach schnapps and cranberry juice over the ice. Stir well and dress with a garnish.



mud2(Serves 1, but can serve lots more. Just adjust the measurements. From Easy Cocktails, Parragon Books, Bath England, 2009).


1 ½ measures Kahlua

1 ½ measures Bailey Irish Cream

1 ½ measures vodka

Cracked ice


Shake the Kahlua, Baileys Irish Cream and vodka vigorously over ice until well frosted. Strain into a chilled glass.


Figs in Whiskey

(This is actually dessert and it’s delicious. You could serve it in a martini glass. Serves 4. From Life is Meals, by by James and Kay Salter, Alfred Knopf, 2006).


1 package dried figs

2 cups sugar

1 ½ cups Scotch whiskey

Boil the figs in about one quart of water with the sugar for 20 minutes. Allow to cool until tepid, drain off about half the remaining water and add the whiskey. Set aside in a covered bowl to steep before serving.




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