Holiday party planning is typically all about the food -- what to make, how to make it, whether to stick with the classics or try something new.
What you're drinking, consequently, can end up as an afterthought. This year, don't neglect the libations. Holiday food and fall flavors yield excellent cocktail (and mocktail) combinations. Get your wheels turning below with ideas and recipes from local bar managers and beverage directors.
Adam Chick, lead mixologist at Quattro at the Four Seasons Silicon Valley, likes to make what he calls the "Poinsettia," a cocktail made with pomegranate tea as its base. Brew up some tea, add some fresh pomegranate juice and fall ingredients like apple slices, cinnamon and clove. Then, "hit it with some brandy to spike it up."
For those who aren't consuming alcohol, the Poinsettia still works without the booze. "Omit the brandy and you can have a refreshing cooler maybe while you're entertaining guests or starting turkey in the morning," Chick said.
How to make a Poinsettia
1 1/2 ounces of Applejack brandy
5 ounces of pomegranate tea (1 tablespoon of tea, three red apple slices, one cinnamon stick and two cloves)
1 ounce of pomegranate juice
Steep the tea with aromatics for two minutes. Pour the brandy into a tall glass, and add the steeped tea and pomegranate juice. Then garnish with a red apple slice.
Another suggestion from Chick: a winter spin on the Manhattan, a cocktail typically made with whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters. Chick combines simple syrup (sugar and water) with nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon and allspice and mixes that with whiskey and bitters for a winter version of the classic cocktail.
Chick recommends rye whiskey, "because rye is dry and spicy and it really complements the sweetness of the syrup." Add ice and garnish with an orange twist and star anise, he recommends. (Added benefit: The Manhattan can be enjoyed "after dinner as well because it has the strength to bring you back up to (an) enjoyable level to tolerate your family and in-laws," Chick joked.)
Palo Alto's Pizzeria Delfina's fall cocktail menu features what they call the "Abella," in homage to the ancient Roman town of Avella in Campania, Italy, which was famous for its "luxurious apples," said beverage director Sally Kim. The drink is made with rye whiskey, apple brandy, lemon juice, ginger honey, apple butter and bitters.
How to make the Abella
1 ounce of Rittenhouse Rye
1/2 ounce of apple brandy
3/4 ounce of lemon juice
1/2 ounce of ginger honey
a teaspoon of apple butter
a dash of angostura bitters
Put all ingredients into a shaker with three ice cubes and shake for 30 seconds. Strain and pour into a Nick and Nora glass, and garnish with a dehydrated lemon chip and clove. The garnishes should just float on top.
Bored with red wine? How about red wine sangria instead, made with ingredients like pomegranate grenadine, orange juice, fernet and Cocchi Americano, an Italian aperitif wine.
How to make a red wine sangria
1 bottle of Vallevo Montepulciano d'Abruzzo (red wine)
5 ounces of R. Jelinek Fernet
6 1/4 ounces of Cocchi Torino
1 ounce of pomegranate grenadine
5 ounces of orange juice
1/4 ounce of St. Elizabeth AllSpice Dram
Put all liquids into a pitcher and stir. Refrigerate to chill. Pour the mixture into a rocks glass with one large ice cube. Stud the center of an orange wheel with one or two cloves and set on top of ice cube.
"Once the drink is poured and the orange wheel soaks up the sangria, it turns into a pretty purple color and tastes delicious once the sangria is gone," Kim said.
Can making cocktails be a family affair? Seems impossible, but Shawn Rezazadeh, bartender at Madera at the Rosewood Sand Hill in Menlo Park, said it can be. For the restaurant's "Apple Orchard" cocktail, which really sounds more like dessert than a drink, start by taking the core out of an apple. Save the core to use to muddle the cocktail ingredients.
Take fall-friendly ingredients like brown sugar, raisins, pecans and cinnamon, and stuff them inside the apple and bake it for a mid-day treat or dessert that guests of all ages can enjoy.
"It almost tastes like an apple pie," Rezazadeh said. "It's something to do with the family, with the kids."
How to make the Apple Orchard cocktail
1/4 teaspoon of brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
two apple wedges
1 1/2 ounces of apple brandy (Calvados is recommended)
1/4 ounce of lemon juice
1/4 ounce of simple syrup
Combine all ingredients into a metal shaker. Muddle until thoroughly mixed. Add ice and shake vigorously. Pour mixture through a mesh strainer into a rocks glass with one large ice cube. Garnish with a cinnamon stick and an apple slice.
How to make spiced and baked apples
Four medium apples
1/4 cup of brown sugar
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/4 cup of chopped pecans
1/4 cup of raisins
3 tablespoons of butter
3/4 cup of boiling water
Mix together brown sugar, cinnamon, pecans and raisins. Core four apples and stuff them with the spice mixture. Place the apples on a baking pan at least an inch apart and pour boiling water into the bottom of the pan, surrounding the apples. Bake the apples at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Let cool for at least one hour. Cut each apple along the stuffed core into quarters.
Brandon Clements, barman at Mayfield Bakery & Cafe in Palo Alto, likes to serve a spin on the classic holiday eggnog, dubbed the "Colleen Bawn." The drink dates back to the early 1900s when the drink appeared in a now vintage cocktail recipe book, "The Flowing Bowl: What and When To Drink."
How to make a Colleen Bawn
1 teaspoon of sugar
1 whole egg
3/4 ounce of Bulleit rye whiskey
3/4 ounce of chartreuse
3/4 ounce of Benedictine
In a mixing glass, combine the sugar and whole egg; shake for about 10 seconds until frothy. Add the Bulleit rye whiskey, chartreuse and Benedictine; fill with ice and shake vigorously for 20 seconds. Double-strain into a chilled coupe glass. Using a microplane, grate cinnamon and nutmeg over the drink to garnish.
If you're a non-drinker, try a pomegranate gingerade (Pro tip: Drink after dinner, as ginger aids with digestion).
How to make a pomegranate gingerade
1 ounce of pomegranate syrup (for house-made grenadine: use equal parts of POM juice and super-fine sugar)
1 ounce of simple syrup
2 ounces of freshly squeezed lemon juice
ginger beer (or ginger ale)
Combine the pomegranate syrup, simple syrup and lemon juice in a tall glass and add the ginger beer. Fill with ice and sprinkle with a few pomegranate seeds. Garnish with a lemon wheel.
Read more holiday stories in the Holiday Guide for Everything