Make mine a glass of originality - The Buffalo News

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Make mine a glass of originality

The first time you hear Bing Crosby croon his way through “White Christmas,” it can coax a smile. By the 17th time, your ears may have gone numb out of self-preservation. The same goes for holiday drinks. How many rounds of eggnog, Tom and Jerrys, hot toddies and other too-familiar libations can we take before palate fatigue sets in? With that in mind, we asked several mixologists from across the country to create a cocktail to match the tastes and spirit of the holidays. From sweet potatoes to swizzles, hot Cynar to Amaros, here are fresh ways to toast the season.

Dan Greenbaum, who has mixed drinks at the Beagle in New York City’s East Village and now works at Attaboy on the Lower East Side, is a deft hand with a bottle of sherry. This dark mixture pairs sweet Pedro Ximénez sherry with two kinds of rum and a sizable dose of Angostura bitters, which adds spice elements. “I wanted to incorporate what I see as holiday flavors without making a hot, punchlike drink, because I never want to actually drink more than half a glass of one of those,” Greenbaum said. The cocktail comes on like a rich rum old-fashioned, the forthright flavors of the rum, sherry and bitters intertwined in a fruitcakelike medley of clove, allspice, nuts, molasses and dried fruits. It’s a nightcap, to be sure, made to accompany whatever dessert is served at your holiday feast. Have one, then settle in for a long winter’s nap.

Act of Faith

Time: 1 minute

Yield: 1 drink

1 1/2 ounces Jamaican rum, preferably Appleton Reserve

1/2 ounce PX sherry

1/2 ounce blackstrap rum, such as Cruzan or Gosling’s

1/4 ounce Angostura bitters

Orange twist, for garnish

In a rocks glass, combine all liquid ingredients and add 1 large ice cube. Stir until chilled, about 30 seconds; garnish with orange twist.


Lynn House, most recently of the Chicago restaurant Blackbird, drew on her Southern background for this rich cocktail. “One of my greatest memories as a child was making pies with my grandmother for the holidays,” she said. “She, like every other good Southern woman, always went over the top. There would be apple, pecan, pumpkin and, of course, sweet potato pies.” To her beloved sweet potatoes, House adds rum, maple syrup, cream and cinnamon. “Adding the whole egg to the cocktail turns it into a flip, which is a very traditional holiday drink,” she said. The result is creamy and comforting, with an almost puddinglike texture. It’s a dessert drink, with probably as many calories as those pies House’s grandmother made. But, as she points out, “This is the one time of the year that we should just spoil ourselves and the ones we love.”

Sweet Potato Dreams

Time: 10 minutes

Yield: 1 drink

1 (8-ounce) can diced sweet potatoes in light syrup

2 ounces spiced rum

1 egg

1/2 ounce maple syrup, preferably grade B Whipped cream, slightly sweetened

1 cinnamon stick, or pinch ground cinnamon, for garnish

1. Empty the can of sweet potatoes, including syrup, into a blender. Purée.

2. In a cocktail shaker, combine 2 heaping teaspoons of the purée with the rum, egg and maple syrup. Shake vigorously without ice. Half-fill shaker with ice and shake again. Strain mixture into a cocktail glass or coupe. Top with a dollop of whipped cream. Grate cinnamon stick over the top, or dust with ground cinnamon.


This drink, simple and direct, is intended as “a cold version of a type of mulled wine, from Nordic or Germanic tradition,” said Mike Ryan, head bartender at Sable Kitchen and Bar in Chicago. “My mother is German – Bavarian, specifically – and around the holidays, the air in our home was always redolent with the scent of baking spices,” he said. “Things like pfeffernüsse, snickerdoodles, etc., have always signaled that extended moment of festive warmth.” In Ryan’s interpretation, the red wine lends a nice roundness, the rye gives strength, and the Drambuie provides sweetness and spice while pulling the drink into Rusty Nail territory. It’s a natural before-dinner sipper. For a garnish, Ryan suggests “a thoughtful, interesting present for your loved one, wrapped in gaudy paper festooned with snowmen and tied with a green and red ribbon.”

The Giving Tree

Time: 10 minutes

Yield: 1 drink

1 ounce red wine (a cabernet, zinfandel or similarly bold red)

1 ounce Drambuie

1 ounce rye whiskey

2 dashes Fee Brothers Old Fashioned Aromatic Bitters (or 3 dashes Angostura bitters)

1. Chill a cocktail coupe by filling with ice or placing in freezer for 5 minutes.

2. In a large glass, combine all ingredients and half-fill with ice. Stir until chilled, about 30 seconds, and strain into the iceless coupe.


As the name of his drink may suggest, Maksym Pazuniak, who has tended bar at Cure in New Orleans and the Counting Room in New York, is a devotee of challenging tastes. Bitter Coffee, a hot, creamy concoction, takes as its base Cynar, the bittersweet Italian liqueur that incorporates flavors of artichoke and rhubarb. A few minutes of easy whisking over a stove yields a full-flavored mugful in which the maple-vanilla roundness of the drink is snapped to attention by the edgy Amaro and steaming coffee. Pazuniak calls the cocktail “an unholy combination of a Cynar flip, a Tom and Jerry, and Irish coffee,” and added, “The combination of coffee, bitterness and fat makes it a good post-holiday-dinner drink.” It wouldn’t be out of place at Christmas Day breakfast, either. Pazuniak said the recipe could easily be scaled up to serve a group.

Bitter Coffee

Time: 10 minutes

Yield: 1 drink

1/2 ounces Cynar

1/2 ounce dark rum

1/2 ounce maple syrup, preferably grade B

1 egg yolk

5 drops vanilla extract

3 ounces hot, strong coffee

1 whole nutmeg, or pinch ground nutmeg, for garnish

1. Fill a small saucepan halfway with water. Over medium heat, bring to a gentle boil.

2. In a heat-safe bowl about the same diameter as the saucepan, whisk together the Cynar, rum, maple syrup, egg yolk and vanilla. Place bowl on top of the saucepan, as water continues boiling, and whisk mixture for another 2 to 3 minutes, just long enough to warm it and thicken it slightly.

3. Pour mixture into an Irish coffee mug and top with coffee while stirring. Grate whole nutmeg or sprinkle ground nutmeg on top.


Tonia Guffey, the head bartender at Dram in New York City has a talent for marrying disparate ingredients and a borderline-obsessive interest in Fernet Branca, the bitter Italian Amaro. Those two tendencies come together in this pleasingly complex cocktail, which she said was “inspired by those chocolate oranges you get from your mom for Christmas every year and you kind of hate and love them, the ones with the hard chocolate shell you have to break open.” Despite the heavy pour of Fernet, this is a surprisingly balanced and approachable drink, its bitterness tamed by sweet holiday flavors: orange, cocoa and cinnamon. As with most of her cocktails, the name is a music reference – in this case, a song about winter by the band Further Seems Forever. “I’m a big music geek,” she said, “and it really helps me when I’m developing drinks to sort of tune out and try to create a kind of flavor symphony.”

Snowbirds and Townies

Time: 15 minutes

Yield: 1 drink

1 cup sugar

2 or 3 cinnamon sticks

1 1/2 ounces Fernet Branca

3/4 ounce fresh orange juice

1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice

1/2 ounce Crème de Cacao, preferably Tempus Fugit

1/4 ounce Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao

1. Chill a cocktail coupe by filling with ice or putting in freezer for 5 minutes.

2. While glass chills, make cinnamon syrup: In a small saucepan over low heat, warm the sugar in 1 cup water and add cinnamon sticks, stirring mixture for about 5 minutes. Remove cinnamon sticks. Set mixture aside to cool.

3. In a cocktail shaker, combine Fernet Branca, orange and lemon juices, Crème de Cacao and Curaçao with 1/2 ounce of the cinnamon syrup. (Remaining syrup can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.) Fill rest of shaker with ice. Shake, then strain mixture into the chilled iceless coupe.

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