Have you ever wanted to make unique, holiday cocktails for a holiday party, but instead ended up bringing your go-to because you didn’t know what else to make?

Us too. So this year we decided to ask the experts how to construct the perfect holiday cocktails.

Holiday CocktailsClaudine Chegini is the Bar Manager at Blue Gill Quality Food, one of the top restaurants in Gainesville Florida. Blue Gill features a diverse assortment of whiskeys and is becoming known for their creative seasonal cocktails. According to Claudine, constructing a great holiday cocktail is all about matching your drink to the weather. “Good winter cocktails tend to be stronger, often sweeter, and more heavily spiced or savory herb driven,” she said. “All of these elements convey a warming quality to any drink that works well with during the winter months.”  Blue Gill’s General Manager, Troy Weindorf, echoed Claudine’s suggestions and added that it is also helpful to use ingredients that evoke traditional holiday flavor profiles. “Ingredients like maple syrup, sage, and baking spices match the flavors in many of the rich, fatty foods we eat during the holidays. They are comforting ingredients.”

I asked Troy to pour a few of Blue Gill’s holiday-themed cocktails for my friend Chad and I. Below are the recipes and a brief summary of our tasting notes.

Sage and “Wry”

  • 2oz rye whiskey (Blue Gill uses Pendleton 1910)
  • 1oz honey syrup*
  • 1oz lemon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 sage leaves
  • Place all the ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake, and pour over ice. Garnish with fresh sage.

Tasting Notes:  This cocktail smells fantastic, with lemon, honey, and sage all mingling together. The flavor reminded me of an herbal lemonade or a hot toddy. As you might expect, the rye spice helps to balance out the sweeter aspects of the drink and ultimately allows the whiskey to shine through. Chad wanted the drink to be a bit stronger, or maybe feature a bolder rye, but we both agreed that it was great holiday option – especially if paired with dishes featuring sage.

*dissolve 1/3 cup honey with 2/3 cup water (near boiling). Cool before using.

Maple Bacon Old Fashioned

  • 2oz bacon infused bourbon*
  • 1oz house old fashioned mix**
  • 1-2 dashes each of orange and old fashioned bitters
  • Place all ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake, and pour over ice. Garnish with orange peel (optional)

Tasting Notes: At first, this take on an old fashioned seems sweeter than the traditional version, but big notes of cinnamon, bacon, and baking spices add a spicy/savory component that brings the drink into balance. The more I sipped on this cocktail the more the flavor profile reminded me of one of my favorite childhood drinks – Cherry Coke. However, Chad noted that the cherry is quite prominent, so you may want to use less cherry syrup in the old fashioned mix if cherry isn’t your thing. My family often prepared beef dishes on Christmas day – this cocktail would match perfectly with those meals.

*Soak 10 pieces of cooked bacon in 1 liter of bourbon overnight. Strain before using.

** Mix ratio are 6:6:3:1 of triple sec, natural maple syrup, luxardo cherry juice, and vanilla-infused bourbon (made by soaking vanilla beans in bourbon until desired flavor achieved).

In summation, there are three key points to keep in mind if you want your holiday cocktail to impress:

  1. Go boozy. Choosing a higher proof spirit, or using several alcoholic components, will bring a warming quality to the cocktail that better suits the cold weather
  2. Feel free to make it sweeter. When we think of the holiday’s we often think of dessert. Drinks can be desserts too.
  3. Don’t shy away from spices and herbs. Many of our favorite holiday foods are rich in spices and savory herbal components. A cocktail that matches this profile is always a solid choice.

And as a final tip, Claudine suggested resisting the urge to go cheap on your mixer, as many cut-rate whiskeys are astringent and harsh. Instead, she recommended trying something a little higher on the shelf. “Using a high quality whiskey in a spirit driven cocktail can make a huge difference in the final quality of drink and can be a great way to enjoy more expensive whiskeys.” In other words, don’t hesitate to splurge a little bit during the holiday season!

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