Trick Up Your Halloween Cocktails

On Halloween, in between handfuls of candy corn, snack-sized Butterfingers and packets of Pop Rocks, it's important to have a good cocktail to wash it all down.

But what makes a cocktail right for Halloween? The best ones will have seasonal flavors and unusual colors, provide an otherworldly effect (like smoke or fire) and satisfy a crowd.

H. Joseph Ehrmann, owner of San Francisco's Elixir and Cocktail Ambassadors, believes that people are drawn to "anything that's custom designed, whether it's an original cocktail menu or something thematic." Top hotels across the country understand the impact of a unique cocktail, and some hire Ehrmann to create seasonal cocktail menus.

For your signature Halloween cocktail, Ehrmann recommends using fall flavors, because "people want a drink to remind them of the season that they're in." Another tip is to get creative with Halloween-inspired cocktail names.

To satisfy these requirements, try a Pumpkin Nog (recipe below). It was created by modern mixologist Tony Abou Gamin, who is best known as Chef Mario Batali's bartender on Iron Chef and partner in Magic, Martinis and Mario, an upscale private event.

H. Joseph Ehrmann concocts the Blue Blazer.

If you don't have the cash to hire Abou Gamin and are worried about getting stuck behind the bar, go with a group drink. "Punches are great for Halloween," says Ehrmann. "People almost expect it."

"I encourage people to research punch recipes online," says Ehrmann. He recommends and Robert Hess', as well as books including David Wondrich's Imbibe and Dale Degroff's Craft of the Cocktail.

To create a special effect, consider dry ice. It's painfully cold and should not be touched or ingested. But, by placing a punch bowl inside a larger bowl containing dry ice, you can create an impressive effect.

Or, play with texture. Bubble drinks are the rage in Chinatowns across the country. These drinks rely on large tapioca pearls for their unique mouth feel. But on Halloween you can tell everyone that they are toad's eyes and watch your guests squirm.

If you want to play with color, consider Blavod, an aptly named black vodka, perhaps created with Halloween in mind. Or shake Sambuca with ice; it will glow smoky white. Play some bloody tricks with grenadine, a viscous red liquid. Use Rose's grenadine (or upgrade to a true pomegranate molasses) in a layered drink; it will dependably sink to the bottom.

Go ahead and play with fire; it's Halloween, after all. Ehrmann says: "Any alcohol that has a higher proof than 100 will burn well."

Ehrmann favors the Blue Blazer (recipe below), a twist on the hot toddy. It requires two sturdy heat-resistant mugs, the desire for the mixer to perform plenty of room and safety precaution. Whiskey and water are mixed in one mug, set on fire and poured from one mug to the next. "It makes a flaming show," notes Ehrmann.

Blue Blazer
Adapted from H. Joseph Ehrmann
Serves 1

2 ounces 100-130 proof whiskey
2 ounces water
Lemon twist
1/2 ounce simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water, dissolved to a viscous liquid)

Put the whiskey and water in an insulated pewter or silver mug and light iton fire. Holding one mug in each hand with the handle pointed straight back, slowly pass the drink from one mug to the other, gradually increasing the length of the stream. Pass 8-10 times and extinguish. (The flame very well might go out by itself, but if it does not, you want to cover the mug to cut off the supply of oxygen and extinguish the flame. You can do this with the second mug.) Pour into a coffee mug, add lemon and syrup and serve.

Pumpkin Nog
Adapted from Tony Abou Ganim
Yields 12 to 15 servings

12 jumbo eggs
5 cups 2% milk
3 cups spiced rum
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
2 teaspoons vanilla
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Freshly ground nutmeg

Whisk eggs and milk in large heavy saucepan. Cook and stir over medium heat until the mixture coats a metal spoon. DO NOT BOIL. Remove from heat.

Place pan in a large bowl of ice water and stir frequently until cooled, about 5 minutes. Stir in sugar, pumpkin, vanilla and ground cinnamon. Cover and chill eggnog mixture at least 2 hours before serving.

Sprinkle each serving with ground nutmeg just before serving.

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