How much do I love the holidays? So. Much. I love the concept, the traditions, the cookies, the cocktails, the music, and the panache! In my own little world I imagine holiday traditions beginning in a frosty Scandinavian land where people are all snowed in for the winter. Around the winter solstice they decide to trek to each other’s houses to celebrate the days getting longer and to spread neighborly goodwill, share food and special handmade goodies and gifts with each other in the glow of the fire. Basically, the holidays began a lot like a Hobbit movie.
In one way or another, people have been drinking glug, nog, grog, kogel mogel, and other variations of wine, herbs and honey around the holidays since Hippocrates first boiled vino in the name of science. Widely considered the father of medicine, he’s also the father of the holiday cocktail. It doesn’t get more retro than that. Through the years, these seasonal cocktails morphed from wassail (which is both a beverage and a verb, wassailing is the antique word for caroling) to negus and sherry based drinks that were heated with fruits and spices, and then onto nogs and grogs that were egg and cream based and made with rum and widely thought to have been invented by rum-loving sailors. Not a whole lot has changed since the invention of these wintery booze gifts. Passed down decade after decade, there’s something that appeals to our instincts about drinking a hot spicy elixir when it’s cold outside. And I follow in the footsteps of a long line of Calvosas, warming my tum like a decadent little Roman with wines and nogs & toddies throughout the winter, letting the nostalgia wash over me as I break out the antique punchbowl just like my grandparents used to do.
With a little help from the official Synthesis taste testers, we’ve come up with some modern twists on these ultra retro holiday cocktails. They’re sure to rosy up your cheeks with festive holiday glee!
Hot Buttered Rum
This is one of the most widely known holiday cocktails. What I love about it is that it’s really simple to make and can be a homemade gift for hostesses with the mostesses when you’re trotting about town to all your parties. Squish the goo into a little mason jar, type out instructions on a typewriter or use your favorite fun font, and tie them with a ribbon to the jar, just below the lid. Aren’t you such a classy friend?
8 oz brown sugar
(1/2 lb) 1 stick butter
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp orange zest (I used clementine zest because I got a huge bag of Cuties from the Costco)
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 shot of rum
Beat the hell out of all ingredients in a bowl until everything is integrated. It’ll look like a bowl of creamy sparkly spicy sugar goo. Refrigerate or freeze until ready to use.
Add rum and 1 tablespoon of butter batter to a small coffee mug. Pour boiling water over the top, find the coziest spot in the house and enjoy.
*Note that I used a spice grinder to grind my spices fresh but that’s because I’m a huge overachiever. You really don’t have to grind them like a pilgrim but you might want to take this opportunity to try it out if you’ve been wanting to; once you start grinding your own spices, you’ll never go back.
Tom & Jerry
The intrepid Synthesis taste testers decided that this was the winner of the batter-based cocktails. They loved the noggy, spicy, gooey goodness. It’s made with raw eggs so please wash the eggs before you use them, and make sure that you use boiling water in case there are any holiday fun-spoiling amoebas hanging around.
6 eggs separated
1.5 lbs of powdered sugar
½ lb (2 sticks) of room temperature butter
1/4 tsp: cayenne
1/4 tsp: nutmeg
1/4 tsp: cinnamon
1/4 tsp: star anise
1/4 tsp: coriander *blend all the spices in your grinder if you’re using one
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 shot brandy (I used Hennessy because I got a GIGANTIC bottle of it at the Costco)
You’re going to need a bunch of bowls.
-Separate your egg yellows from your egg whites in two separate bowls.
-Toss the sugar and the butter into a giant mixing bowl (everybody’s going to end up in that pool)
Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Rinse beaters.
Beat the egg yellows until soft peaks form. Rinse beaters.
Beat the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Which, I know is a stupid description, but really just beat it until there aren’t any chunks of butter visible anymore.
Add the yellows, the vanilla, the spices and then the egg whites and then go to town with your beaters. Beat the concoction until everything is integrated and there’s a glassy sheen to your snowy batter. It felt like forever, but it’s totally worth it. Refrigerate or freeze until ready to use.
Add brandy to mug with a tablespoon of Tom & Jerry batter. Fill with boiling water and sprinkle a little ground nutmeg and cayenne on top. Traipse about your house like a glamorous snow princess.
Hot Toddy Elixir
Basically I just took my go-to cure-all and added booze. Hot toddies are so versatile and classic and easy to make, feel free to experiment and use your own favorite spices. This is my favorite.
Juice of 1 lemon
1/8 tsp cayenne
1 tsp honey
1 shot brandy
Add the lemon juice and brandy to a small mug, then the honey and the cayenne. Stir it up a little and then add the boiling water. Lastly, make yourself an awesome chesterfield nest, curl up and sip away any hangovers or colds that may be lingering or looming.
French 75 Punch
My favorite cocktail is the French 75, but in a larger quantity it can make a perfect punch for your Grandma’s antique punch bowl. And cocktail punches are all the rage this year dahling. Gail Brown with Skylake Farms helped me concoct this delicious, festive punch.
1 bottle of champagne/prosecco/sparkling wine
5-6 shots of an aromatic gin like Sapphire or Hendricks (or cognac – remember, the enormous bottle of Hennessy from the Costco? Gin is traditional but cognac is Franchier)
¾ of a bottle of pomegranate grenadine from Skylake Ranch (Look for them at the Farmer’s Market, Made in Chico and S&S)
seasonal fruit slices for floating in your punchbowl
Everybody in the pool! This cocktail is guaranteed to put a holly jolly spring in the step of anybody’s jingle horse.
Unlike the franchy French 75 punch, Gaelic Punch is served warm. Young Irish whiskeys, like base-model Jameson or Bushmills, work best.
¾ cup of raw sugar
40 oz. boiling water
1 750-ml bottle of Irish
Strips of zest from 6 lemons, plus 6 thin lemon slices, each studded with 4 cloves for a garnish
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
In a heatproof bowl, muddle the lemon zest with the sugar. Let stand for 1 to 2 hours. Muddle again; add 8 ounces boiling water and stir until the sugar dissolves. Strain your muddled business into a warm heatproof bowl and stir in the whiskey. Add the remaining 32 ounces of boiling water and garnish with the studded lemon slices and nutmeg.