3 festive cocktails for the holidays


— When Thanksgiving arrives and your extended family is tumbling through your front door in a mess of coats, hats and scarves, it’s best to have those ambitious cocktails you planned on serving prepared ahead of time.

Part of the art of entertaining is knowing how to curate a great atmosphere for friends and family while making it look effortless, says Kellie Thorn, beverage director for celebrity chef Hugh Acheson’s restaurants in Atlanta and beyond.

Thorn likens it to being “a swan gliding elegantly on top of the water, but underneath, your feet are kicking really fast.”

The veteran bartender has lots of insights into serving flavor-complex cocktails while keeping a relaxed and jovial spirit in the kitchen. Part of that pacing, she says, is transition time. She suggests keeping cold bottles of Champagne and sherry in the fridge so you can pour an easy chilled beverage — equal parts of each — for your guests while you’re working on the main event: dinner.

“Throw a drink in someone’s hand (and keep one in your own hand at all times). It brings you back in touch with that joviality and … will bridge whatever wait time you have while keeping you sane. Keep that smile and take deep breaths,” Thorn said.

Thorn, who has long been attracted to the energy and people in the world of bartending, said the recipes she recommends are those that let you prepare most of the base ingredients ahead of time.

Thorn gave us three recipes that allow for things to be prepped beforehand.

“The night before, prepare as much as you possibly can. Get that anxiety out of the way so your guests don’t feel and see that,” she said. “And then the next day, you can compile all these well-thought-out flavors that you’ve put a lot of love and care into (making), but it looks effortless when they show up.”

Each recipe serves 8-10 (or less, depending whom you’re drinking with).

Mulled wine (served hot)

¾ teaspoon cardamom seed

4 heads star anise

1 cinnamon stick

1 teaspoon pink peppercorns

1 vanilla bean

6 bay leaves (fresh)

zest of an orange

zest of a lemon

1 cup dark raisins

½ cup honey

1 bottle quality full-bodied red wine (I used a La Linda Malbec)

1 cup port wine

½ cup cognac

¾ cup aquavit

The night before: Transfer the first four spices to a tea bag or cheesecloth. This way, you won’t have to strain them out of the liquid later. Then add the wine, bay leaves and vanilla bean. Allow this to gently simmer, but do not bring to a boil. After about five minutes, add fruit zest, raisins, honey, cognac and aquavit. Allow this to gently simmer for about 20 minutes on low heat. Then pull from heat and steep for another 10 minutes. Strain and discard spices. Reserve the raisins for garnish.

This can be stored overnight in the fridge.

The next day: Transfer the mulled wine to a slow cooker and turn it on to the lowest setting about an hour before guests arrive. Do not let it boil.

Ladle into mugs. Garnish with a cinnamon stick and raisins.

Sparkling apple cocktail

1 oz cardamom apple puree

Brut sparkling wine

In a champagne flute, add apple puree and then slowly add sparkling wine, gently stirring as you go.

Cardamom-scented apple puree

4 large apples

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Water to cover

Procedure: Cut apples into slices and toss them in lemon juice. Add them to a wide-bottomed saucepan and add sugar and just enough water to cover the apples. Cook on low heat, stirring occasionally, until the apples are completely broken down. Do not boil. This process should be slow.

Once the apples are broken down, transfer them to a blender and puree until smooth. Then pass them through a fine mesh strainer. Once the mixture is cool, add ¼ cup of cardamom simple syrup to every cup of apple puree.

Cardamom simple syrup

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon cardamom pods, cracked

In a saucepan, lightly toast the cardamom to temper (heat) it. Once you can smell the aromas, it’s done. This only takes a few seconds. Add water and bring to a simmer for about 10 minutes. Turn the heat off, add sugar and dissolve. Allow to cool completely before adding to apple puree.

Orchard punch

1 750 ml bottle of Barr Hill gin

3 cups Broadbent Rainwater madeira

1 bottle Le Pere Jules sparkling pear cider

4 to 5 lemons

1 cup sugar

The night before: Prepare your oleo-saccharum (sugar oil): Use a vegetable peeler to peel the lemons. Try to get the peels as thin as possible. Muddle the peels with the sugar, and be sure to really coat the peels. Cover tightly and leave at room temperature.

Ice ring: Find a bowl that will fit inside your punch bowl. Add to it a mixed cup of candied ginger, raisins, dried cranberries or whatever dried, colorful fruits you would like. Add water and freeze overnight.

The next day: You should have extracted a good bit of the oil from the peels. Juice the lemons you peeled until you obtain one cup of juice. Combine this with the lemon peels and stir until all the sugar is dissolved. Drain the solids and discard.

In your punch bowl, combine the madeira, gin and oleo-saccharum and juice mixture. Add your ice ring (or cubed ice) and finally the cider. Garnish with fruit, lemon wheels and bright sprigs of rosemary.


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