NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Americans buy more booze during the winter holidays than at any other time of the year.
Traditionally, 40% of alcohol sales happen in the Thanksgiving to New Year period, according to Arthur Shapiro, head of A|M Shapiro & Associates LLC, a strategic marketing company that specializes in the alcohol industry.
“October, November and December is the busiest time of year for us,” says Mark Levinson, president of A. Hardy U.S.A., a Des Plaines, Ill.-based importer of high-end wine and spirits. Levinson's company does some 40% of its sales during the holiday quarter.
But what exactly should consumers be buying to make the most of the season’s festivities?
"When I think of 'holiday,' I think of 'sparkling,' because it's festive and lively," says Jenny Hong, a cocktail expert and assistant spirits buyer at Frankly Wines in New York. Punches, herbal-infused drinks and elixirs with warming cognac also come to mind.
To make the best holiday cocktails, you need the right tools. Hong recommends a jigger for measuring ingredients, a Boston shaker set for mixing the drinks and a Hawthorne strainer for pouring them into cups.
Armed with the trappings of an expert bartender, you can make a variety of cocktails that are perfect for this time of year. Hong has ten potent potions you should try, with the easiest cocktails to make at the top and the more complex ones at the bottom. Surprisingly, the most difficult drink to make on this list is eggnog; scroll down to see the interesting and delicious recipe we recommend.
"Super easy to make and really warming," says Hong, adding, "it's a great way to start your Christmas day."
1.5 oz of any Irish whiskey
1/2 oz of simple syrup
Mix Irish whiskey and simple syrup in coffee mug. Fill with coffee. Top with whipped cream and grated nutmeg as a garnish.
"It's easy and it looks festive," says Hong. "There's a nice red sugar cube on the bottom that dissolves as you drink."
Champagne or any white sparkling wine
1 sugar cube
Put the sugar cube at the bottom of the glass. Add four to five dashes of Angostura bitters. Fill glass with champagne or white sparkling wine.
"This is great in the winter, really nice and silky smooth," says Hong.
3/4 oz of rye whiskey
3/4 congnac, Pierre Ferand 1840 is preferred
3/4 oz of sweet vermouth
1.5 tsp of Benedictine
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
Mix ingredients in glass with ice and stir well. Strain and pour into a glass.
The Seelbach is a warming bourbon cocktail named for the famous hotel in Louisville, Ky., a center for whiskey and bourbon.
This cocktail works best with Four Roses bourbon, says Hong.
1 oz bourbon
1/2 oz Cointreau, Grand Marnier or another orange-flavored liqueur
7 dashes Angostura bitters
White sparkling wine
Combine bourbon, Cointreau or other orange-flavored liqueur, seven dashes of Angostura bitters and seven dashes of Peychaud's bitters in a glass with ice. Stir. Strain into a champagne flute and pour in the sparkling wine on top until the flute is full.
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"Gin is reminiscent of the smells of Christmas spirit because of all the botanicals," says Hong. "People are going to be eating rich foods this time of year, and this is a nice, light, fresh cocktail that won't overwhelm."
This cocktail works best with a London dry gin like Beefeater or Tanqueray, Hong says.
1 oz gin
1/2 oz of lemon juice
1/2 oz of simple syrup
4 to 5 oz of sparkling wine
Mix the gin, lemon and simple syrup in a glass. Shake with ice. Strain into a champagne flute and pour in the sparkling wine on top until the flute is full.
Chatham Artillery Punch
A big bowl of punch is one easy way to fuel a fun holiday party, says Hong.
"Punches are a great way to go," says Hong. "You don't have to measure the ingredients as long as they're evenly matched."
Dark rum, like Gosling's
White sparkling wine
Oleo saccharum (pictured below)
Ingredients for Oleo saccharum:
12 oz of sugar
Instructions for Oleo saccharum:
Peel the lemons and set the peels aside. Squeeze juice out of the lemons and set aside. Cover lemon peels with sugar. Mix lightly. Then mash the peels into the sugar. Then add the lemon juice to fully dissolve sugar.
Mix equal parts dark rum, cognac, whiskey with the Oleo saccharum. Add same amount of white sparkling wine (so, if you use a bottle of rum, a bottle of cognac and a bottle of whiskey, add three bottles of white sparkling wine).
When ready to serve, pour over ice in big bowl.
Another holiday classic. This recipe comes from Ina Garten, host of the Food Network show Barefoot Contessa.
4 cups apple cider
1 bottle red wine, Cabernet Sauvignon preferred
1/4 cup honey
2 cinnamon sticks
1 orange, zested and juiced
4 whole cloves
3 star anise
4 oranges, peeled, for garnish
Combine all the ingredients except the orange peel garnish in a large saucepan and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Add an orange peel to each mug you pour.
No Name Punch
Another holiday classic.
20 oz gin
6 oz lemon juice
10 oz cold brew Earl Grey tea
7 oz sugar
Fresh rosemary for garnish
Take three-to-five bags of Earl Grey tea and leave in cold water overnight. Mix with gin, lemon juice, tea and sugar. When ready to serve, pour over ice in big bowl. Add cranberries and fresh rosemary for garnish.
Rye rising is a flip cocktail, meaning basically that it is a frothy drink with eggs.
"I like flip cocktails, because they have all the essence of eggs and a really wonderful creamy mouth feel that comes from them," says Hong. "A lot of flips tend to have liqueurs that have a little bit of spice."
Combine all ingredients and shake. Then add ice and shake more until chilled. Then strain into a glass and garnish with ground nutmeg.
"Eggnog has the spices of the holidays - nutmeg and cinnamon - and the cream and egg that goes into it reminds me of liquid cookies," says Hong. "Who doesn't want to drink liquid cookies?" Hong recommends a recipe from famed bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler.
Blend eggs in a blender until smooth. Slowly add the nutmeg and sugar until they are dissolved. Then slowly add the sherry, tequila, milk and cream until mixed well. Refrigerate overnight. Garnish with ground nutmeg when serving.
--Written by Jeremy Greenfield for MainStreet