Carey Parker makes a Pumpkin Pie shot at Doc Watson's in Toledo.
The Blade/Lori King
You may want to ignore it. You may even try to deny it. But it’s true. And we even have proof: Some stores have already had their Christmas decorations up for weeks.
It isn’t time to panic yet. The holidays are not even remotely here. But they’re there, just over the horizon.
The holidays bring stress, of course, but they also bring family, friends, comradeship. Starting now (or at least just over the horizon), we are entering a pleasant period of parties, get-togethers, and other social functions. For many folks, these gatherings are made even merrier by a seasonal cocktail or two. They make parties seem more festive, occasions more special.
And of course a seasonal cocktail can also help with the holiday stress, if needed.
Many bars, knowing the advantage of riding a trend, put considerable effort into developing cocktails that are perfect accompaniments for colder weather and holidays. The success they have selling them proves that, at this time of the year, people are looking for drinks that make gatherings memorable.
What makes a cocktail right for this time of year? It all begins by using the flavors of the season.
Pumpkin, for instance, is ubiquitous at this time of year. It’s in pies, breads, side dishes, mousses, and desserts. So it only follows that it has also become part of the cocktail landscape — in a big way. Just about every bar we talked to has a variation on a pumpkin pie-flavored drink.
They all begin with pumpkin spice liqueur, a seasonally available drink with strong hints of pumpkin pie spices in it along with vanilla and the taste of graham crackers. It is what they do with this pumpkin spice liqueur that makes each drink unique.
At Table Forty 4, the difference in their Rumkintini is RumChata, a cream liqueur blending Caribbean rum with real cream, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, and other spices. Vanilla vodka is also added to the drink, with caramel sauce dribbled down the inside of the glass. Served cold, with a few shakes of cinnamon on top, it is, as bartender Russell Palmer said, “like pumpkin pie in a glass.”'
It even has the color of pumpkin pie, more or less.
Pumpkin-flavored liqueur is also the driving force behind the Pumpkin Pie shot at Doc Watson’s. This, too, is an easy-to-make drink with an easy-to-remember ratio. They take three parts of spiced rum, two parts of pumpkin spice liqueur, and one part of half-and-half. They shake it with ice and strain about 2 ounces of it into a 6-ounce rocks glass.
Because of the cream, the sensation of drinking it is kind of like drinking a brandy Alexander, only with the marked taste of pumpkin.
Claddagh Irish Pub aims for a different, but equally popular, holiday flavor with its cocktail called a Sleigh Bell. Although this drink, too, uses the pumpkin spice liqueur, the finished flavor is more like an egg nog.
Bar manager Vincent Richardson came up with this recipe, which mixes equal parts of pumpkin liqueur, vanilla vodka, and half-and-half, shaken over ice and strained. His bar serves it as a shot, but it could easily be served as a larger drink, he said. If you want to drink more of it, he suggested using milk instead of half-and-half to keep from being overwhelmed by the richness.
The Sleigh Bell’s flavor does indeed resemble an egg nog, but without the egg. It’s just a nice, quick shot of nog.
The Apple Cider Sidecar served at Revolution Grille is more of a general drink for the fall and winter. Based on the classic Prohibition-era drink the Sidecar (cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice), the Revolution Grille version uses rye, Cointreau, and fresh, local apple cider.
Served on the rocks, it is a balanced, elegant drink, with a hip, retro taste from the rye and Cointreau (an orange liqueur similar to Grand Marnier). The cider gives it a bit of an apple kick, but nothing overwhelming.
Apple cider is also the not-so-secret ingredient in the Cranberry Spice Cocktail, a specialty of the Main Street Stable & Tavern in Blissfield. Bartender Lindsey Taylor begins with a spiced local cider and adds to it a shot of cranberry vodka and half of a slice of orange.
The final ingredient sounds more difficult to make than it is: ginger syrup. Just make a simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water, boiled together until the sugar dissolves), allow it to cool, and then stir in powdered ginger.
Put it all together and it is a fruity, pleasant drink; sweet from the cider, with just a hint of cranberry.
A little advance preparation is also required for an Old-Fashioned Christmas from The Attic, but the payoff is also worth it. Created by general manager Amelia Jarret, the idea is the same as a regular old fashioned (bourbon, sugar, bitters, muddled orange and cherry, on the rocks), but with a few interesting twists.
First, they infuse the bourbon with dried cherries, dried figs, cocoa nibs, and vanilla beans. You can do that at home, too; just pour all the ingredients into a jar and let it sit for at least five days. At the bar, they then allow this mixture to age in oak casks. That is more difficult to do at home, though you can buy miniature oak casks. Though you will lose a little something without the oak, the rest of the recipe makes a great treat for a party.
Another, lighter party drink is the Apple and Pear White Sangria that is served this time of year at La Scola Italian Grill. You can make it by the pitcher, which is why it is so good for parties, with sweet Moscato wine, apricot brandy, fruit juices (cranberry, orange, and pineapple), and elderflower liqueur, such as the type made by St. Germain.
“The St. Germain elderflower [liqueur] makes the flavor. It’s got that floral taste to it. Nice for the holidays. Refreshing, not too strong,” general manager Ryan Bogdanski said.
At Rockwell’s Lounge in the Oliver House, one of bartender Suzanne Stammer’s favorite winter drinks is a Gingerbread Martini. This specialty cocktail combines vanilla vodka with a hazelnut liqueur (they use Davinia, but Frangelico will do) and a shot of ginger beer. This is shaken — not too vigorously — with ice and strained into a martini glass rimmed with crushed ginger snaps.
And if your party is specifically a Christmassy type of event, you may want to try a Santatini like the ones served at Mancy’s Steak House. This bright, fresh-tasting cocktail tastes like the holidays: white chocolate liqueur, vanilla vodka, and amaretto chilled and served (this is the best part) in a martini glass rimmed with red, green, and white chocolate spinkles.
White creme de menthe could be substituted for the amaretto, said, bartender Debbie Walker. Either way, she said, “it’s easy to drink.”
Contact Daniel Neman at: email@example.com or 419-724-6155.
Apple and Pear White Sangria
Cook's note: To make simple syrup, mix 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water in a saucepan, bring to a boil, and cook, stirring, until sugar has dissolved. Cool before serving. Store in a glass jar in a refrigerator.
Stir all ingredients in a pitcher and add ice.
Yield: 1 pitcher (4 servings); Source: Ryan Bogdanski, La Scola Italian Grill
Cook's note: This recipe makes 1 shot. If you want to make a larger drink, keep the 1:1:1 proportions the same, but use milk in place of half-and-half.
Put all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a glass.
Yield: 1 drink; Source: Vincent Richardson, Claddagh Irish Pub
Spread chocolate syrup on a plate and rub the rim of a martini glass in it until rim is covered. Place sprinkles on another plate, and rub rim in them until covered.
Combine white chocolate liqueur, vanilla vodka, and amaretto in a cocktail shaker. Shake over ice and strain into the glass. Garnish with candy cane.
Yield: 1 drink; Source: Debbie Walker, Mancy's Steak House
Pumpkin Pie Shot
Combine in a cocktail shaker, shake over ice, and strain into two 6-ounce on-the-rocks glasses.
Yield: 2 drinks; Source: Carey Parker, Doc Watson's
Apple Cider Sidecar
Mix together rye, Cointreau, and apple cider. Serve on the rocks. Garnish with slice of apple.
Yield: 1 drink; Source: Rob Campbell, Revolution Grille
Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake with ice. Garnish with sprinkles of cinnamon.
Yield: 1 drink; Source: Bob Perry, Table Forty 4
Moisten the rim of a (chilled, if possible) martini glass by rubbing it with the wedge of lime. Turn glass upside down into plate of crushed ginger snaps, coating the rim of the glass.
In a cocktail shaker, combine vanilla vodka, hazelnut liqueur, schnapps, and the ginger beer over ice. Shake, not too vigorously, and strain into the glass.
Yield: 1 drink; Source: Heather Bird, Rockwell's Lounge
Cook's note: Cocoa nibs and organic cherry juice are available at health food stores.
Pour bourbon into a jar and add cherries, figs, cocoa nibs, and vanilla beans. Allow to stand, covered, at least 5 days. Strain out all solids.
Place orange slice, cherry juice, and bitters in a 6-ounce on-the-rocks glass, and muddle (squeeze or press down on the orange to force out the juice). Fill with ice and add 2 ounces of the infused bourbon. Garnish with a twist of orange peel.
Source: 1 drink; Source: Amelia Jarret, The Attic on Adams
Cranberry Spice Cocktail
Cook's note: To make ginger syrup, mix 2 cups sugar and 2 cups water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, and boil, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Allow to cool, and stir in 1 tablespoon powdered ginger. Store, refrigerated, in a glass jar. Place all ingredients (including the orange slice) in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well, and pour into a 6-ounce glass. Add more ice if necessary.
Yield: 1 drink; Source: Lindsey Taylor, Main Street Stable & Tavern, Blissfield