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Holiday spirits

Cocktails for surviving the most wonderful time of the year

Hot toddy

The holidays are here, and mixed in with the giddy expectation of days off, time with family members (the ones we like) and tons of parties, comes the other realization that our lives are about to get crazy busy. A change in season means a change in flavors and spirits for the wind-down cocktails that get us through the holidays—especially the dinner table with the political uncle.

“There’s a reason Starbucks releases the PSL this time of year,” Derek Hillman said. The general manager of Juniper is, of course, referencing the Pumpkin Spice Latte, the popularity of which has spun off a million derivative products. “Those are the flavors we start thinking about around the holidays: cinnamon, allspice, cloves.”

Since most of our tables will feature sweet potatoes in one form or another for the celebratory meals, Juniper found a way to incorporate that flavor into a cocktail. The bartenders infuse Four Roses Bourbon with sweet potatoes and cinnamon.

“The bourbon pulls a lot of those delicious fats and proteins from the sweet potato, and it adds the spiced seasonal components we all love,” Hillman said. “We add sweet vermouth and orange bitters to create the Yamhattan.”

Yes, Yamhattan—the most perfect holiday cocktail name ever. This is definitely an editorial comment, but there should be an award for best cocktail names. The Yamhattan would win.

It’s not just the mixers that change with the onset of winter. People tend to gravitate toward dark liquors and away from clear ones during this time of year. Gavin Hatcher, a bartender at Saturn Room, said that the holidays summon up a taste for mulled wine, spiced rum, a hot toddy, and an old favorite, boozy eggnog.

“Some people still like the fruity components, but the fruits tend toward apples, pears and cranberries, not citrus or tropical,” Hatcher said.

The Old Fashioned Voodoo at Saturn Room draws on all these ideas. Hatcher calls it one of his favorite seasonal cocktails, and it’s finished with toasted coconut and nutmeg, two flavors popular this time of year. It begins with apricot brandy, Don Q Gold Rum and guanabana nectar—the fruit of a flowering evergreen tree.

“Apricot is a great way to add flavor to any cocktail, but I love it in thicker, creamier style cocktails, and it’s really good with eggnog,” Hatcher said.

While various whiskeys and darker rums tend to dominate the seasonal menus right now, Juniper bartender Rachel Rector has created a winter cocktail with vodka. She infuses vodka with pears and then uses a quarter ounce of allspice dram in a delicious twist on the French 75 that she calls the Pear 75.

Many Oklahomans grew up in religious traditions that forbade the consumption of alcohol, but a hot toddy was old school medicine, and so those flavors are nostalgic in the best way: comforting, nurturing, forbidden fruit. At the recent Giving Spirits fundraiser, MixCo bartender Hank Hanewinkel, III, won the popular vote with his hot toddy concoction, In the Cold, Cold Night. Hanewinkel is a Jack White fan—thus the name—and he often draws inspiration from song titles or lyrics.

The basics of a hot toddy are simple: whiskey, lemon juice and honey. Hanewinkel started with Johnny Smoking Gun Whiskey from Two James Spirits, a Detroit distillery that recently arrived in Oklahoma via Provisions Fine Beverage Purveyors. This particular whiskey is made with blended Asian teas, adding a perfect seasonal note, and so Hanewinkel went with a Chinese five spice theme to make the hot toddy. The cocktail will be on the MixCo menu all winter.

To help with your holiday entertaining, Hanewinkel and Hatcher offered a couple recipes that don’t require some kind of mixology certification to pull off.

Cable Car
From Gavin Hatcher

  • 1.5 oz Spiced Rum
  • ¾ oz Cointreau
  • ¾ oz Lemon Juice

Shake and strain into cinnamon and sugar rimmed cocktail glass.

Of the rum, Hatcher said, “We use Crusoe Organic Spiced Rum but Sailor Jerry works well, too.”

Hot Toddy

From Hank Hanewinkel, III

  • 1.5 oz favorite whiskey
  • ½ oz fresh lemon juice
  • ½ oz honey

You can make simple syrup, too, by mixing sugar and water in equal portions and then heat them until the sugar dissolves. Experiment with different whiskeys and honeys for flavor variations, but typically it’s best to stay away from smokier choices like peated Scotch.

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