For a third year, Rob Roy is doing a cocktail advent calendar. The concept is simple, with a different festive libation being offered each night and rewards being offered to guests who hit milestone numbers for days attended, but one of the things that strikes me as I look at the list being offered is the sheer number of classic holiday drinks. Being from the east coast, a few of these aren't as familiar to me as to you westerners, specifically the ubiquitous Spanish Coffee--a fantastic libation that seems to be synonymous with cold weather here in the Pacific northwest--but many are widely popular across the US. I just had my first Spanish Coffee, and let me tell you they are incredible! Peep the calendar and some thoughts below, and if you are of the Twittering sort, you should note that Imbibe Magazine is tweeting the Rob Roy Advent Calendar cocktail each day.
Now: Upon looking at an array of seasonal cocktails such as this, you might wonder to yourself just what it is that makes a drink particularly wintery. Let's take a look not only at the Rob Roy advent calendar but at our friends around the country and see what shakes out:
Temperature: Many drinks were traditionally heated with a hot poker, much like the one food scientist and aspiring comedian Dave Arnold uses at Booker + Dax in NYC:
You can also serve drinks at room temperature. Tepid cocktails can be delightful--we had one at Amor Y Amargo called "Black Rock Chiller", and I think Sother Teague really nailed the aggressive herbal bitterness here. If you would like to taste a delicious cocktail from the AyA gang, head in to Rob Roy on Monday December 9th for the Alpine Afternoon!
Black Rock Chiller
Equal Parts Suze, Branca Menta, and Reposado Tequila
Build in glass and serve at room temperature without dilution, garnish, or ice
Today in my new digs at Canon I am serving a room temperature cocktail sans dilution called the Oaxacan Scaffa, and since I started there it has been my favorite cocktail on the menu--though I don't often recommend it as such since, like the BRC at AyA, it is certainly for the adventurous drinker. The cocktail is a blend of Mezcal, Punt E Mes, and Maraschino liqueur, aged for nine month in ex bourbon barrels.
In the case of the advent calendar at Rob Roy, the Spanish Coffee, Old Grand Dad's Furnace, Vin Brulé, Old Port Chai, Curbside Cider, Holiday Grog, Truffed T&J, Hot Ponche de Fruitas, Minty Hot Chocolate, Rudesheim Coffee, Hot Sipping Caramel, and even the Christmas Eve special Chartreuse Blazer are all served warm!
Spices: What exactly are those things we refer to as winter spice, holiday spice, or baking spice? They often contain clove, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla, anise, allspice, mace, and ginger. In many holiday punches you might see these simply added to the mix as-is (adding a cinnamon stick into your hot cider, e.g), but in the implications of the modern american cocktail bar, people are probably either making a syrup out of their spice blend or infusing their spices directly into a syrup. I prefer the former to the latter since sugar and water seem to do a fine job of extracting the oils of these intense spices, but to each his own.
To find out more about spices being used in punch, one needs to look no further than David Wondrich's epic tome Punch: The Delights (And Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl. (In my last post I affectionately referred to as Camper English of alcademics.com as Uncle Camper, so what would that make David Wondrich? Imbibe is the first cocktail book I (and I'm sure many of you) ever sunk my teeth into, so I suppose David would be our Headmaster. Sorry Dave!) First, he points out that using whole spice, specifically whole nutmeg, is absolutely essential:
"...anyone who would spice his or her Punch with ground nutmeg out of a jar would make fettucine Alfredo with the "parmesan" that comes in a can. (I know that because I have, to my present chagrin, done both.) Whole nutmegs used to be of such value that wars were fought over them. Now they are cheap. There's no excuse."
Whole spices where possible, right? He mentions another important point: oftentimes spices will dry out a drink and it can be important to use a bit of extra sweetener to right the balance. Charles H Baker Jr, in his epic and delightfully readable Jigger, Beaker, & Glass, says that small bars can get away with "only clove and nutmeg; very small bars, cloves only." So it looks like there is one vote for clove and one vote for nutmeg as the important spices, but I think we can all agree (especially if you are as fond of tiki bars as I) that cinnamon is probably necessary as well.
In the Rob Roy advent calendar we see nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, allspice, tea, chai, vanilla, and even salt & pepper. Wintery indeed!
Dairy. Like it or hate it, Eggnog is a huge part of American holiday traditions. Per Wikipedia, there are a few different schools of thought on the etymology of 'eggnog', but we can trace it back far enough back to know that Americans were drinking it with rum and the British aristocracy was drinking it with brandy, and in both cases the spirit was being combined together with dairy, either eggs or milk or in many cases, both. Surely one of the reasons eggnog is so popular today is the fact that we don't tend to make it from scratch--my family growing up always bought cartons of it at the store, and I think my brother was the only one who really enjoyed it. I was good for one glass and that was it--and this wasn't the hard stuff either, as my family didnt drink. I have to say that eggnog does seem a good deal more appealing to me if there is booze in the mix, and even more so if that booze is dark beer, and even more so if the whole concoction is barrel aged.
Suffice to say, Monday December 16th you will see me at Rob Roy enjoying a glass of Barrel Aged Beer Nog! In fact, since I am already going to partake, I may as well join in the greatest idea of all time and partake in the Nog Fiends Nog Crawl, at Rob Roy, Sun Liquor Distillery, and Barrio--and that will be my calories for that week.
It hadn't occured to me until recently how much I look up to all these modern cocktail and spirits writers: David Wondrich, Camper English, Darcy O'Neil, and the sardonicly irreverent Jeffrey Morgenthaler, who I largely credit with my interest in cocktails. One of my favorites even before I met him, even before I moved to the same town as he, has always been Paul Clarke, and this Sunday December 8th Swig Well is honored to have him for the third year in a row doing his class "Holiday Cocktails That Don't Suck." (Tickets here!) This year, Paul will be doing a slightly augmented version of his eggnog, incorporating rum, cognac, and the Sicilian Amaro Averna. His recipe is adapted from Jeffrey's, which you can find on his site.
20 large eggs
1 lb sugar*
5 tsp freshly-grated nutmeg
15 oz brandy
15 oz rum
10 oz Averna
60 oz whole milk
40 oz heavy cream
*For large batches, I always sweeten to taste. Rum, brandy, and amaro are all sweet things, and only you know what is just sweet enough for your palate. Plus once you get into making large batches things don't always translate in a linear fashion...
Beat eggs in blender for one minute on medium speed. Slowly add sugar and blend for one additional minute. With blender still running, add nutmeg, brandy, rum, Averna, milk and cream until combined. Chill thoroughly to allow flavors to combine and serve in chilled wine glasses or champagne coupes, grating additional nutmeg on top immediately before serving.
Happy Holidays from the Swig Well gang, and a special thank you to our sponsors for Holiday Cocktails That Don't Suck: Averna Amaro, Rhum JM, Cognac Ferrand, Maker's Mark Bourbon, and Bols Genever! (Seriously folks... Hot Genever Punch is going to change your life.)