Festive cocktails can be one of the most memorable aspects of the holiday season. Welcoming your guests to your holiday party with a sparkling cranberry cocktail or a warm toddy garnished with a cinnamon stick sets the mood for the evening’s festivities, and could maybe even earn you a moment under the mistletoe. Holiday parties are on pause this year while most people practice safe social distancing, but holiday cocktails don’t have to be on pause. A new book called Very Merry Cocktails is full of ways to capture holiday cheer in a glass.
“I am always a fan of a signature cocktail. A lot of the flavors in these drinks are built off of nostalgic smells and tastes; cinnamon, vanilla, spruce (rosemary), cranberry, and others,” says Dena Rayess, a recipe developer on the book and food and lifestyle editor at Chronicle Books. “They evoke the sometimes intangible feeling of the holidays in a fun and celebratory way. Taking the time to make a big batch of drinks that fill the whole house with those flavors can really boost the mood.”
Very Merry Cocktails includes cocktails for every mood: There’s non alcoholic cider, a martini, hot drinks for cozier nights in, and Champagne cocktails when you’re feeling especially celebratory. It’s inclusive of all the different ways that people celebrate the holidays. And as an added bonus, many of the libations in the book include international ingredients pulled from places as wide ranging as Mexico, Belgium, and Sweden. So if you want to incorporate global elements of holiday celebrations (English wassailing or Scandinavian glögg parties, for example) into your pared down parties, a peek inside Very Merry Cocktails proves it’s easy to give your celebrations an international twist — even if you’re only hosting a few loved ones this year.
“[A signature holiday cocktail] is a low investment way to add an extra special layer to your day, which can be filled with a lot of cooking, cleaning, and corralling,” Rayess says.
In the spirit of filling your home with the holiday spirit, no matter where or how you celebrate, here are 7 festive cocktails with ingredients from around the world.
This Swedish take on mulled wine is an essential element of holiday celebrations in this Scandinavian country. Swedes hold so-called glögg parties throughout the Advent season, and enjoy the spiced beverage so much that it’s traditionally served in small glasses to prevent over indulgence. What makes glögg stand out is that blanched almonds and raisins serve as the garnish. Scandinavia’s caraway-flavored aquavit spikes this punch, adding to its earthy, spiced flavor.
What’s in it: 32 oz red wine, 32 oz aquavit, peel of 1 orange, 4 cloves, 2 cardamom pods, 8 sugar cubes, blanched whole almonds, and raisins for garnish (makes 10 to 12 drinks)
This frothy cocktail is ideal for a New Year’s toast. The snowball’s citrus tang is balanced out by creamy Advocaat, a traditional Dutch alcoholic beverage similar to eggnog. Advocaat is a mixture of eggs, sugar, and brandy with the consistency of a thin custard. Sparkling lemonade adds a fizzy surprise.
What’s in it: 2 oz Advocaat, 2 oz sparkling lemonade, 1 oz lime juice, lemon twist for garnish
Though the drink is wildly popular in the US, Irish coffee actually originates in Ireland — it’s not the invention of entrepreneurial Irish-Americans. Joe Sheridan, a bartender working near an airport in Limerick, invented the drink in 1943 to warm up stranded travelers. Though the beverage has no special connection to Christmas or the holidays in general, it’s a brilliant choice for bringing back the warmth to your cheeks and fingertips on those frigid winter nights when the snow is falling outside your door.
What’s in it: 2 tsp demerara sugar, 1 ½ Irish whiskey, 6 to 8 oz hot coffee, whipped cream for topping
This sparkling cocktail gets its fizz from Champagne and lambic beer, a fermented alcoholic legion that originated in the Pajottenland region of Belgium. Lambic beer is famously sour and funky; it’s fermented outside with wild yeast in open containers. Some lambics also tend to have a sweet, fruity flavor because certain versions of the beer are brewed with fruits like raspberries (look for framboise on the label) or peaches (pêche). This cocktail gets another hint of rich raspberry from Chamord, a raspberry liqueur produced in France’s Loire Valley.
What’s in it: 3 oz Champagne, 2 oz lambic beer, 1 oz Chambord or raspberry liqueur
Mexican hot chocolate
This non-alcoholic drink has been around since at least 500 BCE, when Mayan people drank cacao beans ground up into a paste and mixed it with water and chili peppers. Today, Mexican hot chocolate is perhaps most well-known for its spicy flavor and thick texture. Discs of so-called Mexican hot chocolate — flavored with some combination of chilis, honey, and vanilla — are now widely available at grocery stores. The segments are meant to be chopped up and combined with hot milk until melted.
What’s in it: 8 oz whole milk, 2 wedges of Mexican hot chocolate, marshmallows and whipped cream for garnish optional
The star of this cocktail is Lillet, a French aperitif that must be produced in Podensac to earn the name. It’s made with fortified and aromatized wine (similar to vermouth) using Bordeaux grapes and flavored with citrus liqueurs. The addition of Champagne to Lillet gives this easy cocktail a celebratory attitude, so even if you’re celebrating on your own this year you can still feel festive.
What’s in it: 1 oz Lillet, 4 oz Champagne, orange twist for garnish
Wassail refers to two different aspects of English culture: The first is the Wassail parade, an occasion for revelers to stomp through orchards in elaborate costumes to scare evil spirits out of the apple trees. The other is wassail the beverage, a hot mulled cider (or sometimes an ale) mixed with honey and spices. Wassailing parties and parades happen throughout the holiday season in the United Kingdom and even in the apple growing regions of northeastern New York. The parties usually involve a big bonfire and the banging of pots and pans near the trees, a ritual that harkens back to a time when such celebrations were meant to encourage a bountiful apple harvest the following autumn.
What’s in it: 1 cinnamon stick, 1 clove, 6 whole allspice berries, 48 oz apple cider, 16 oz cranberry juice, ¾ oz simple syrup, 4 oz Calvados, 4 oz barandy, 1 Pippin or Granny Smith apple (cored and sliced) for garnish (makes 8 drinks)