During the holiday season, we’re reminded of family, ritual, and tradition. But the rules are less rigid than they appear. Even a holiday classic like eggnog has its roots in Britain, but is more likely to be made with cognac and rum in the northern United States and bourbon in the South. There are versions in Mexico (rompope), Trinidad (ponche de crème), and even Germany, where it’s mixed with beer.
The best mixologists understand that tradition provides structure upon which to build. These seasonal cocktails have their roots in the past, but embrace something new along the way, whether picking things up from different regions or adapting summer recipes to winter weather. The holidays, in a sense, remind us of our shared history.
If you want to mix up something other than eggnog this year, here are eight ideas from bartenders and drinking cultures around the world, from Peruvian pisco punch to Puerto Rican coquito:
Especially popular in northern England, the Snowball is made from a Dutch alcoholic beverage called advocaat and British “lemonade” to create a beverage reminiscent of eggnog and lemony Creamsicle. Purists make the egg, sugar and brandy-based advocaat themselves. These days, British ex-pats aren’t forced to substitute sugary 7UP as tart lemon sodas like Fentiman’s Victorian Lemonade are more widely available. Then again, you could mix your own.
2. Cold Breaker
Tania Garofalo is a mixologist at Ribalta, which serves pizza and Neapolitan food in New York and Atlanta. She makes the Cold Breaker, inspired by her Italian roots, with Birra Moretti L’Autentica (a pale lager), orange and ginger marmalade, fresh lime juice and Casamigos tequila. The bright, citrus flavor from preserves recalls warmer climes and has the added bonus of vitamin C.
3. Winter Pisco Punch
At Coquette in New Orleans, bartender Christopher Brian puts a seasonal spin on Pisco Punch, a San Franciscan drink, made with Peru’s traditional spirit. Brian forgoes pineapple, using local Satsuma mandarins and persimmons. The punch incorporates citrus and sweet notes with satsuma and lemon juice, persimmon puree, benne seed oil (an ancestor of sesame), dry white wine vermouth, La Caravedo Pisco Torentel, cold chamomile tea, Angostura bitters and fresh nutmeg.
Although it can trace its roots to posset and eggnog, the coconut-based alcoholic beverage Coquito represents much more than a holiday drink. “The ingredients represent colonialism and imperialism as well as Caribbean culture,” says Debbie Quiñones, the Coquito Contessa. “It comes from love, a deep respect of family, a sense of resiliency of the Puerto Rican community, and it’s tied to European roots.” She has hosted the Coquito Masters contest for 15 years to build an informed coquito audience and to develop the economic infrastructure of the community. Recipes are closely held family secrets, but it’s a good idea to start here and here. A current trend is fusion-flavored coquitos, with pistachio, mango or other tropical fruits added to the mix.
5. Winter Caipirinha
For a winter version of Brazil’s national cocktail — the caipirinha — bartaco makes a version with muddled limes, sugar, Cuca Fresca Cachaça and fresh pomegranate juice. Pomegranate, one of the world’s first cultivated fruits in Persia, is also important for Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year). Find a recipe for the sweet and lip-puckering tart cocktail here.
Punch originated in India (the word is adopted from the Sanskrit meaning “five”: spirits, water, lemon juice, sugar and tea or spices) and was brought to England by the Dutch East India Company. The Rose Club at the Plaza, a building once owned by the president-elect, serves a Traditional Brandy Punch. Bartender Laura Royer makes it with Hennessy Cognac, black tea, citrus fruits and Angostura and Regan’s bitters. It’s intended for sharing, served in an opulent etched glass bowl with matching glasses for 6-8 people. [Photo courtesy of the Rose Club.]
Ashklon Arak, an anise-flavored, distilled alcoholic drink that originated in Lebanon, forms the backbone of a twist on a traditional Middle Eastern lemonade at Mezetto in New York. This alcoholic version of Limonana — which is usually made from lemon juice and spearmint — has lime juice, mint, honey and arak, perfect for a Mediterranean twist this holiday season.
8. Squash Pending
Not limited by the cider focus of the eponymous restaurant and bar Wassail, Dan Pucci ventured into the kitchen for the inspiration to create Squash Pending, a butternut squash cocktail. He makes a squash syrup from roasted butternut squash, cloves, and cinnamon that is pureed with demerara sugar. The syrup is mixed with El Dorado 12 rum and lemon juice, then served in a V-glass garnished with a clove-studded orange peel and lit on fire. “It gets an herbal sweetness from the rum, clove and squash. And it’s boozier, thicker and refreshing.” Find the full recipe below.
Squash Pending by Dan Pucci
- 1.5 ounce El Dorado 12 rum
- 1 ounce squash syrup
- 25 ounce lemon
Combine ingredients and shake over ice, then garnish with a clove studded orange peel, lit on fire.
To make squash syrup:
- 2 butternut squash, peeled
- 1/8 cup cloves
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 cup brown or demerara sugar
- 2 cup water
Cover squash in sugar and spice with ample water on the bottom of a roasting dish. Roast on high for 1 hour until soft. Wait to cool, strain the spices and blend the squash with the remaining water.