Whether you’re hosting a festive holiday get together or a small gathering among friends, a signature cocktail will add a special personal touch to any celebration this season.
“A great cocktail creates a sense of togetherness. If you’re handing people a drink as they walk in the door or setting out a punch bowl for all to enjoy, everyone’s drinking the same thing together,” says Jenner Cormier, owner of Bar Kismet in Halifax.
Cormier insists you don’t have to be a mixologist to whip up something festive. He gives us a holiday primer on holiday cocktails made with spirits and liqueurs from the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation (NSLC).
The first rule of holiday mixology: stick to what you know. “You want to be adventurous but make sure you’re comfortable first,” says Cormier. Taking your guests’ personal preferences into account is also important. Try adding a survey to your holiday invitation so you can sidestep any aversions.
Bar cart standards vodka and gin are a great base for many holiday sippers, especially light and refreshing ones. They’re also spirits that are rarely polarizing for guests.
A vodka such as Absolut will pair well with larger flavours and it’s a great jumping off point for many cocktails. “Absolut is consistent, crisp, and easy to mix,” says Cormier. As one of the larger vodka brands, it’s also affordable so it’s great for use in punches and large batch cocktails.
Cormier recommends trying out a version of a Black Russian at your next holiday get together. Combine chocolate liqueur, heavy cream and vodka in a cocktail shaker with ice, shake well, and serve on the rocks in a low-ball glass with chocolate shavings on top.
For something a little different, Cormier recommends Ciroc. It’s an ultra-premium French spirit that’s distilled with French grapes from the Charente-Maritime region of France.
“This is a spirit that can hold its own,” says Cormier. It’s layered with floral notes and lots of citrus. Add it to sparkling wine or champagne with a dash of juice to create an effervescent aperitif.
Ciroc is also delicious in the NSLC’s fruity and colourful Holiday Cranberry Cosmo.
As a base for zippy and bright holiday cocktails, gin is also a frontrunner. Though many see gin as a standard, Cormier says that juniper, which gives gin its distinctive flavour, is not for everyone. For a gin that’s lighter on the juniper, he recommends Star of Bombay Gin. It’s a limited run release from Bombay Spirits and is smooth and floral without being overwhelming.
To show off the botanicals in the Star of Bombay, Cormier likes to keep cocktails simple with citrus. In a cocktail shaker, he shakes Star of Bombay, lemon juice, triple sec and ice before straining it into a martini glass. For bonus points, add an egg white to the shaker to create a deliciously frothy foam.
For the after-dinner crowd, brown spirits like whisky and cognac can also serve as the foundations for a great cocktail. These cocktails are likely to be more spirit-forward and warming, so they’re best saved for the end of the night.
Grand Marnier is synonymous with dessert. It’s a cognac-based liqueur loaded with holiday flavours such as stewed fruit, fruitcake, orange peel and baking spices, and it pairs well with chocolate and caramel.
In a cocktail, Cormier recommends using it as an accent ingredient. Add a dash of Grand Marnier to your whisky with some sweet vermouth for a festive holiday upgrade to your end-of-the-night sipper.
If you’re breaking out the Scotch whisky, start with a smooth single malt Scotch like Auchentoshan 12 year old. It’s light on peatiness, so it won’t overwhelm Scotch newbies. In a stirring glass, stir together Scotch, sweet vermouth, B&B liqueur and ice. Strain and serve in a martini glass for a classy cocktail to wrap up the festivities.
When it comes to holiday mixology, the key is to do your research. Whether you’re looking for something light and festive to start the night or something rich and warming to share among friends, Cormier recommends a trial run before the big day.
“Grab a friend and mix up a batch to test it out together,” says Cormier. It’s the best way to get the holiday cocktail season started early.
For more holiday cocktail ideas and recipes, head to the NSLC’s website.