Ladies & Gentlemen, all ye here!
I now proclaim it to be the
wassailing time of year.
Raise your mug in health and
and let us repeat this year after year.
As in days of old and told from
young to old,
Let us sound our dreams and
wishes for all to behold.
May the peace and goodwill of the
Holidays always live within you. Cheers!
The holidays are a time to gather together and celebrate with friends and family. Memories made during the holidays often last a lifetime, as do the traditions celebrated each year that are passed on and honored from generation to generation.
Our traditions play a key part in the holiday season, especially food and drink. From casseroles and pies to punches and nogs, the holidays just wouldn’t be the same without some of our favorite food and beverage traditions.
In a year when change and uncertainty have become the norm, we need our holiday traditions now more than ever. And—especially in 2020—if traditions happen to include special adult beverages, well, that makes it even better.
My family, like so many others, has our own traditions that I always look forward to celebrating. You probably won’t be surprised to find that many of our holiday traditions revolve around beverages.
On Christmas Day, especially, we enjoy a variety of selections, including my father’s take on traditional English wassail. The recipe is a hot mulled cider that evolves each year with an extra jigger of this or dash of that. The service includes a wassail bowl along with personalized mugs that are brought out just once a year, only for this occasion.
As the years have gone by and these mugs are no longer available for purchase, the names on some of the mugs have had to be unceremoniously altered. But this is perfectly fine, as change is always a constant and we make the best of it. The question that now gets asked each year, “Who got Al’s mug?” has become as much a part of the family lore and tradition as the beverage itself.
The wassail fest is kicked off with a formal decree (shown above) and a raising of the mugs. It doesn’t end until everyone in attendance—from young to old—has given their holiday toasts. In case you are wondering, there is always a non-alcoholic version, as well as the spirited cider.
A mulled cider sure hits the spot during the holiday season, but the toasts and stories are even better—which is just the way it is meant to be.
Reminiscing about this family tradition got me wondering about what other beverages are celebrated over the holidays. So I reached out to a few of my mixology friends and asked these icons of the bar and beverage world what they enjoy to drink during the holidays.
Not surprisingly, they all had their own unique stories and amazing cocktails that they enjoy each year. Happily, they were willing to share these stories and recipes with us.
Whether you’re gathering in person or celebrating via Zoom for the holidays this year, the cocktails these mixologists have shared may be just what you need to start a new tradition, or at least add a little spirit to your 2020 holiday season.
Paul Brown is CEO of Tampa, FL-based Paul Brown Productions and the former national director of beverage for The Melting Pot/Front Burner Brands.
The Traditional Tom & Jerry
My cousin Helen David opened the Brass Rail Bar in Port Huron, MI, in 1937, and they’ve been making Tom & Jerrys with her recipe ever since! Maroun Abou-Ghanem, Helen’s cousin and the bar’s current owner, told me that the key was to make a fresh egg batter to which rum, brandy and hot water are added, and the whole thing is topped with fresh grated nutmeg.
“It’s a holiday specialty we start serving just prior to Thanksgiving and finish on New Year’s Day; we sell thousands of them!” he said.
It turns out that the grandfather of American bartending, “Professor” Jerry Thomas, is credited with developing the Tom & Jerry. According to his 1862 publication, The Bar-Tender’s Guide or How to Mix All Kinds of Plain and Fancy Drinks, this seasonal drink was not to be offered until after the first snowfall.
As wonderful a story that is, it seems the drink was actually named for the characters in Pierce Egan’s 1821 book, Life in London, which chronicles the after-hours roving antics of “Jerry Hawthorn, Esq., and his elegant friend Corinthian Tom.” Their relentless pursuit of living the high life, frequently with the aid of an alcoholic beverage, gave birth to the slang, “Tom and Jerrying.”
It is said that Egan took a recipe, considered a twist on the traditional eggnog, and named it the “Tom and Jerry” in order to publicize his book.
- 1 ladle of batter
- 1 oz. Appleton Jamaican rum
- 1 oz. Cognac
- In a pre-heated mug, add 1 heaping ladle of batter.
- Then add rum and Cognac.
- Top with hot water and dust with freshly grated nutmeg.
- Serve with a paddle or spoon.
- 8 Jumbo eggs
- 1 ½ cups
- Powdered sugar
- ½ tsp. Cream of tartar
- Freshly grated nutmeg Hot water
This is a fabulous cranberry punch, perfect for holiday gatherings. It’s also another use for that cranberry sauce no one every finishes at Thanksgiving.
- 1 ½ oz. Orange-flavored vodka
- ¾ oz. Cointreau or Grand Marnier
- 2 tbsps. Cranberry sauce*
- Lemon wedge squeeze
- Splash of cranberry juice
- Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake vigorously.
- Strain into small cocktail glasses and garnish with a rosemary sprig.
- 1 bag Frozen cranberries
- 2 cups Water
- 2 cups Sugar zest of 1 Orange
- 2 Cinnamon sticks
Hot Buttered Rum
Hot Buttered Rum reminds me of making holiday cookies, since there are similar spices added to butter and brown sugar. Being the youngest child in the family, I was lucky enough to get to eat what was left over on the paddles of the mixing bowl. My version of Hot Buttered Rum uses Chinese Five Spice instead of the traditional cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Chinese Five Spice is a blend of cinnamon, cloves, fennel, star anise and Szechuan peppercorns. That gives the batter an extra layer of holiday flavor—especially with the additional cinnamon.
- 1 ½ oz. Dark aged rum
- 2 Tbsp Butter batter
- Hot water
- In a mixing bowl, beat softened butter, brown sugar, spices and vanilla until they resemble cookie dough batter.
- To store, keep covered in the refrigerator.
- Let sit out to get to room temperature before using.
- In a tempered mug, add butter batter, rum and hot water and stir.
- Garnish with a cinnamon stick.
- 1 cup Brown sugar
- 1 stick Butter (softened)
- 2 tsps. Chinese Five Spice
- ½ tsp. Cinnamon
- 1 tsp. Vanilla
Douglas Fir Sparkletini
Living in the Northwest, Douglas fir is abundant. The light essence of Douglas-fir-infused gin instantly conjures holiday memories, and a splash of Champagne adds festive bubbles. This is absolutely my favorite holiday cocktail. If fresh Douglas fir is not available, you can substitute a Douglas fir tea bag, available online. I also like to make a variation with half vodka, half gin and squeeze in a wedge of tangerine. For a drier version, eliminate or decrease the white cranberry juice.
- 1 ½ oz. Douglas fir-infused gin
- ¾ oz. White cranberry juice
- ¾ oz. Fresh lemon juice
- ¾ oz. Simple syru*
- Splash of Brut Champagne or sparkling wine chilled
- Fill a cocktail shaker with ice.
- Measure in the infused gin, cranberry juice, lemon and simple syrup.
- Cap and shake vigorously.
- Strain into a Martini glass and top with a splash of Champagne.
- Garnish with a tiny Douglas fir sprig and float a frozen cranberry in the drink.
- 1 (5- to 6-inch) sprig of fresh-picked Douglas fir branch, rinsed
- 1 bottle (750-ml.) gin
Holiday in Houston Sangria
Christmas Eve is “family Christmas,” and I like to batch something that we can sip on while we are cooking. The holidays in Houston usually aren’t very cold, so this sangria is light and fruity. The best part is, if you have leftovers (you probably won’t), it tastes even better the next day. Our Christmas morning tradition is a little less complicated—nice Champagne and tamales.
- 6 oz. Hibiscus tea
- 6 oz. Ramazzotti Aperitivo Rosato or Lillet Rose
- 1 oz. Fresh grapefruit juice
- 1 oz. Fresh lemon juice
- 1 oz. Simple syrup
- 8 oz. Dry rosé wine
- Strawberries, raspberries, grapefruit wheels and orange wheels
- Brew 6 oz. of hibiscus tea and chill.
- Once chilled, add tea to a large pitcher.
- Add the rest of the ingredients.
- Fill pitcher with ice.
- Top with club soda.
Red Ryder Daiquiri
This Red Ryder Daiquiri is a super refreshing cocktail that will hit you right over the head with holiday flavors. I enjoy classic Daiquiris to begin with, and this recipe combines the best part of Ron Zacapa rum with the holiday season. Zirbenz, a stone pine liqueur of the Alps, and St. Elizabeth allspice dram, a liqueur flavored with allspice berries, elevate classic winter baking spices, and I really like the structure that the lemon and lime juice provides the palate. Without a doubt, a favorite drink of mine to sip on while wrapping gifts or shooting my BB gun!
- 1 ½ oz. Ron Zacapa 23 Solera rum
- ¼ oz. Zirbenz Stone Pine liqueur
- ¼ oz. St. Elizabeth allspice dram
- 1 oz. Cane sugar simple syrup
- ¾ oz. Lemon juice
- 1 oz. Lime juice
- Combine all ingredients into a shaker with ice.
- Shake until the mixture is cold and properly diluted.
- Double strain into coupe or cocktail glass.