A Busy Bar’s Guide to Complicated Holiday Drinks

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I wrote about holiday cocktails for Tales of the Cocktail. If you need to make eggnog, Tom & Jerrys or other high-maintenance cocktails for a crowd, this article has tips for you from bartenders around the country.

Holiday cocktails often call for delicate ingredients and labor-intensive techniques. But whipping, frothing and boiling a cup of cheer on the spot isn’t possible when you’re deep in the weeds. So what’s a bartender to do during this season of bigger crowds and complicated drinks? In a word: Batch.

DIY Chocolate Liqueur

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Delicately sweet with a hint of bitterness, a homemade chocolate liqueur (aka creme de cacao) is like an expensive dark chocolate bar in your drink instead of like a jigger of Nestle Quik. Give it as a Christmas gift or use it in holiday cocktails!

DIY Chocolate Liqueur
1 1/3 cup vodka
2/3 cup cacao nibs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a sealable glass jar, steep the cacao nibs in the vodka for 8 days. Bring the sugar and water to a boil. Once cooled, add this syrup and vanilla extract to the jar. Leave steeping for one more day. Strain and filter into a bottle or jar for storage.

The recipe I created and posted here was first published on Serious Eats in my DIY vs. Buy column.

Hot Toddy Recipes

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It’s getting cold! So it’s time to get cozy with a hot toddy. Here are some fun variations on the basic hot toddy to warm you up from now through winter.

Gingerbread Hot Toddy ~ This warming cocktail tastes like real gingerbread. The gingerbread syrup would make a great latte too.

Honey-Bourbon Toddy ~ Honey, bourbon and cinnamon are the perfect ingredients to sip by the fire this fall.

Chit-Cha Toddy ~ Oolong tea joins forces with rye whiskey and ginger liqueur to keep the cold (or a cold) away.

Cider and Tequila Hot Toddy ~ This fruity twist on the toddy is great for people who don’t like whiskey (or who do and also like tequila).

Pumpkin Toddy ~ Pumpkin and maple syrup along with apple brandy and rye make a seasonal hot cocktail you can’t resist.

Meet the Vermouth Sleuths

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Vermouth was a crucial building block of the American bar scene. Early versions of the Manhattan and martini were made with twice as much vermouth as either whiskey or gin. But World War II cut off access to imports and squelched demand for European brands. More than 50 years later, the classic cocktail revival inspired bartenders to seek out high quality European vermouth once again. And when they couldn’t find it, bartenders turned to Haus Alpenz.

I wrote about the Vermouth sleuths at Haus Alpenz over at Tales of the Cocktail

Grape Cocktails

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The Concord Crush from Will Cook for Friends

Grapes usually make their way into our cocktails through wine, Pisco, vodka or other grape-based alcohols. But the fruit itself is full of flavor. And it’s grape season. Take that grape and smash it, juice it or infuse with it!

Here are a few grape cocktails to try.

Napa Valley Mojito ~ Grapes and sparkling wine are the perfect pair in this brunch cocktail (that you can drink any time).

Green Grape Pisco Sour ~ The Pisco Sour is rich, light and airy all at the same time. Adding grapes adds more flavor while keeping the luxurious feel.

Grapes of Wrath ~ Concord grapes, mezcal and sherry take the lead — with help from Barolo Chinato, a spiced fortified red wine that enhances the drink’s graped-up flavor.

Concord Crush ~ A grapey Gimlet with a splash of elderflower liqueur. Ooh, la la!

Grape Negroni ~ Grape-infused vermouth is an ingenious way to add the flavor of Concord grapes to this Negroni-inspired cocktail.