Restaurants serve up holiday spirits

Bartenders put a festive spin on seasonal cocktails

Restaurant operators and bar specialists are devising new ways to spread some liquid “holiday cheer” with cocktails this season.

Some drinks go for easily recognizable holiday flavors.

Haru, the Benihana-owned sushi chain with nine locations in New York, Boston and Philadelphia, is serving up a Peppermint Mojito at participating locations. The cocktail has traditional earmarks of the mojito such as rum, mint leaves and lime. However, it also includes sake, peppermint schnapps for its namesake flavor, and grenadine to give the drink a red glow.

Hot chocolate is a cold weather crowd pleaser that easily can be transformed into an adult beverage with the addition of spirits.

At Poe’s Kitchen at the Rattlesnake in Boston, the Naughty Hot Cocoa is elevated to boozy dessert status with its mixture of Chambord, espresso-infused vodka, and hot cocoa with tiramisu liquor topped with whipped cream, cinnamon sugar toasted marshmallows and white chocolate sprinkles.

Eggnog, the usual suspect for holiday tippling, is traditionally made ahead of time in large batches for gatherings and large groups. But Bratislava Glisic, one of the principal bartenders at Employees Only in New York, makes his eggnog single-serve by shaking up two ounces of heavy whipping cream, four demitasse spoons of super fine sugar, one bar spoon of vanilla extract, a whole egg and an ounce of Dominican Aged rum. He says he shakes the drink longer than most to “break the eggs up.”

He then double strains the drink through a Hawthorne strainer to catch any bits of ice and make the drink smooth and creamy. The single-serve eggnog is finished with freshly ground cinnamon and nutmeg.

Glisic said his eggnog is similar to drinks that fall under the classic mixed-drink category of flips, which are prepared by combining spirit, egg, sugar and spice. While the eggnog is not on the regular menu, it can be whipped up easily on request since the bar serves cocktails that feature egg whites like Pisco Sours.

While peppermint and eggnog may put some in the holiday mood, many restaurants and bars that feature seasonal or artisanal cocktails promote drinks with other flavors that are holiday-friendly, like spices, winter fruit, or brown spirits.

Todd Thrasher, the brains behind the cocktails at Northern Virginia institutions like Restaurant Eve and PX, is known for his seasonal drinks that rely heavily on house-made ingredients for flavor. For example, a drink called The Butter ‘Nut’ Craig gets a full dose of scents and flavors made for cold weather sipping with bourbon, butternut squash-infused yellow Chartreuse and cranberry anise foam.

Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, the 60-plus-unit steakhouse chain owned by OSI Restaurant Partners, also decided to offer a twist on the traditional with its holiday cocktail, the Merry Maker’s, which features bourbon.

“At Fleming’s, we decided to create a contemporary whiskey cocktail for the holidays. Something that is as cozy as a hot toddy, but drinks like a cool and sophisticated martini,” said Marian Jansen op de Haar, director of wine for Fleming’s.

“Bitters and vermouth are the most common ingredients in American whiskey cocktails. However, we gave ours a French flair by adding Chambord, a smooth raspberry liqueur, rather than vermouth. Then to offset the sweetness, we added traditional holiday juices of cranberry, citrus and pomegranate for their tartness, instead of bitters. It’s a great combination that looks and tastes as festive as the holiday season.”

At The Bar Downstairs, a lower-level bar at Hyatt’s Andaz 5th Avenue in New York, the Velvet Spice has been on the menu since the bar opened in September with a drink menu crafted by Alchemy Consulting. While not specifically a holiday cocktail, the name and flavor profile easily makes it a contender for holiday drinking, according to bartender Fernando Sousa.

“It has Punt e Mes [an Italian vermouth], which has coffee flavor and a bitter finish…with the Sailor Jerry spiced rum that brings out the all the spice and almond and clove flavors. Those are the holiday notes,” Sousa said.

Sousa said another rum-based Andaz cocktail, the Cellar Door, also is promoted as a holiday drink thanks to the inclusion of Pimm’s No. 1, a liqueur that has a spicy citrus note. The drink is finished with a spray of all-spice dram from an atomizer.

“We’ve been selling more and more,” Sousa added, “and maybe that’s a tribute to us being busier. But I definitely think the weather has something to do with those cocktails selling more. You can almost picture yourself enjoying a Velvet Spice by a fire.”

Contact Sonya Moore at [email protected]