Bottoms Up

As students lament that oddly interminable period between Thanksgiving and winter break – “oddly” because these weeks also go by way too fast as papers that were due weeks in the future suddenly appear on your calendar with a flashy “turn in tomorrow” label – we must think of some sources of seasonal joy to assuage our annual anxieties. Anxieties about finals, anxieties about lack of partners for mistletoe shenanigans, anxieties about global warming descending on the Purple Valley are all reason enough to turn to a delicious holiday cocktail. Not that we advocate drinking in response to stress, but here are some options should you decide a mixed drink would restore that missing twinkle to your eye.

With this in mind, and with the Sufjan Stevens Songs for Christmas album playing in the background – specifically, the song entitled “Did I Make You Cry on Christmas Day? (Well You Deserved It!)” – I went about preparing two cocktails for an intimate group of friends.

The first was a variation on the Amaretto-Cranberry Kiss, in which we combined two parts cranberry juice, one part Izze sparkling clementine juice, one part Grey Goose vodka and one part amaretto liquor. The drink’s biggest triumph was its ability to actually make vodka taste good to someone who is traditionally a gin-lover; the other ingredients worked not so much to mask the vodka taste as to convert its signature burn into a subtle, enjoyable flavor.

The combination of cranberry and almond from the amaretto, of course, was reminiscent of a delicious holiday bar cookie, although the drink’s second most impressive quality was that it was not too sweet. The combination of fruit juice and liquor could have easily  yielded a cocktail straight from Candyland. But the drink managed to retain an easy balance of slight sweetness and bitterness on the tongue, a success I would attribute to the Izze tangerine juice. Though orange juice is a classic mixer that often finds itself in bright holiday punches, the lovely Izze nectar provides a less sticky and less sickeningly saccharine substitute. For your own holiday cocktail purposes,  I would recommend tangerine or blood orange juice in lieu of the standard orange any day.

Our next holiday drink was the special invention of my friend and me, though it was rooted in the family of champagne cocktails that shamelessly pepper the Epicurious and Food Network websites between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. We bestowed our creation with the brazenly contrived name “Mistletoe Blush.” Its proportions were much less exact than our Amaretto-Cranberry Kisses, not only because we were on our second round of cocktails for the night, but also because sometimes festivity calls for a little less fastidiousness. Mistletoe Blush consists of Andre champagne (the plain variety), a generous splash of pineapple juice and a less generous splash of grenadine. Pineapples, of course, are traditional symbols of welcome and hospitality; there is no better way to welcome the most wonderful time of the year than to pair their sweet juice with champagne, that timeless beverage that instantly transports us – er, perhaps just me – to the classic tear-jerking New Year’s Eve closing scene of When Harry Met Sally.

The result was a beautiful cocktail that I would insist you serve in a clear plastic cup – no, Solo cups do not count as festive just because they are often red – to experience the incandescent glow from the combination of sparkly champagne, yellow pineapple and red grenadine. At the time, I noted that the drink reminded me of something Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer would serve in honor of his glowing appendage, though in retrospect, it suffices to say the drink had a charming, celebratory appearance.

The pineapple tang was surprisingly strong, overshadowing any of that signature Andre taste. The champagne’s main contribution to the drink was its fizzy quality, and the only aftertaste of the drink – in contrast to our Amaretto-Cranberry experience – was a nondescript sugariness, which was not necessarily a bad thing. The drink was still light enough to encourage sipping at whatever pace we chose, and it would probably serve its audience well at a standing party with champagne flutes and chocolate-cherry holiday trifle.

The other boon of our Mistletoe Blush was its versatility. One friend enjoyed it with an additional shot of Grey Goose, which increased its potency without sacrificing the pleasantness of the experience; the bubbles of the champagne hold up well against spontaneous liquor additives. The only tweak I would warn against is increasing the grenadine content. Though it may be tempting to just dump in the alluring red liquid that delighted you in countless Shirley Temples during your more innocent days (and I admit, the holidays are a time for nostalgia), you had best refrain. You wouldn’t put more than a few drips of food coloring in your cookie frosting, and the same principle applies to the high-fructose corn syrup fake-fest that is grenadine.

As the cocktail-drinking period waned, I reflected on a question posed several hours prior. “So what, exactly, makes a holiday drink?” my friend had asked me earlier on Saturday evening.  At the time, I told her that festive coloration, as well as features like nutty overtones, peppermint additives and high sugar content all signified a holiday drink.

But I came to a different, perhaps painfully fluffy, conclusion by the end of the evening. That is, the holidays are a time for sharing, and one of the best ways to do so is to create something that will please your friends – and something people can easily tailor to their particular tastes. And if you’re willing to share, that presupposes that wonderful company surrounds you. That’s what makes a holiday drink: something you enjoy drinking with a group of your favorite people on a chilly winter’s evening.