Hands down, this is my favorite time of year: “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” spiced cookies, figgy pudding—and, of course, the drinks.
Holiday drinks are, by design, meant to be communal. At least, in my family they always were. I can remember my early childhood, running around my grandparents’ house like a little—O.K., tall and lanky—madman, hyper and in charge. That is, until the luscious green goodness came out in the punch bowl. It was the only time of the year that I would see my mother’s father drink anything other than scotch or beer. That punch bowl would be full of Grasshoppers, the minty chocolate of a liquid Andes mint. I’d hear words like “toddy,” “hot buttered,” and “wassail.” At the time, I didn’t have a clue as to what any of these meant. All I knew is that I could sneak a taste of that yummy stuff when the coast was clear.
These days, we tend to take these communal beverages and break the recipes down to more manageable sizes. There’s nothing wrong with doing this—it’s more economical and it allows for experimentation with the spirit bases.
Drinks this time of year include eggnog, hot buttered rum, and wassail (an olde English hot punch, usually served with mulled ale or wine). There are plenty to choose from, but the following are two of my favorites.
Spiced Christmas Cranberry Punch
Two days ahead of time, freeze a huge ice block in your freezer, one half at a time. In between the days of freezing, layer orange slices for visual effect.
One day prior to entertaining, combine 1 gallon cranberry juice and 1 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice and mulling spices (the Spice Diva can build a jar for you) in a pot on the stove top. Let the juice heat to a slow roll and continue the roll for about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the heat, allowing the liquid to cool, and sweeten to taste with either superfine sugar or honey.
The day of the event, combine the mulled punch, ice block, and extra spices in a punch bowl. Add more frozen orange wheels, mint leaves, and mulling spices. Add your favorite white spirit in your cup 1.5 ounces at a time (like a nice floral gin such as Bombay Sapphire East or Plymouth).
Hot Buttered Rum
2 oz. rum (I prefer a funky Jamaican rum such as Appleton Estate 12-year-old or a spiced variation like Olde New Orleans)
3 tsp. of sugar (substitute honey if you prefer a sweeter tipple)
1/2 tsp. Allspice
1/2 tsp. cloves
1 tbsp. butter
Add to a warm glass, in this order, sugar or honey and 1 1/2 ounces hot water, stir to incorporate. Add all spices and rum. Top with hot water, leaving room to stir. Add butter and stir until completely dissolved and incorporated. Garnish with a wide orange peel, freshly grated nutmeg, and the cinnamon stick.
If you’re preparing this for a party, just incorporate 1 stick of butter (room temperature), 1/2 cup brown sugar, a pinch of salt, 1/2 tsp. each of allspice, clove, and nutmeg, and the rind of half an orange. Form into a log with wax paper and freeze. Your guests can slice off the butter and add it to the water and spirit. You should still provide the garnishes of cinnamon sticks and orange peels.—Nick Crutchfield