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There’s a reason they call it the most wonderful time of year, namely that it’s the only time not named summer you can pretty much drink daily and not feel guilty. As much as the holiday season is for celebrating the majesty of snow, Santa, organic mandarin oranges, and Mastercard bills that take until next November to finally pay off, it’s also all about liquor.
Stop and think for a second about how your favourite characters in your most-loved Xmas films are always up for a drink or four, starting with Bing Crosby knocking back the Hot Buttered Rum in White Christmas, George Bailey going double-bourbon in It’s a Wonderful Life, and Clark Griswold shotgunning the eggnog in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
And let’s not forget hall-of-famers like Bad Santa’s one-man trainwreck Willie T. Soke, beer-pong aficionados Harold Lee and Kumar Patel in A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas, and, well, everyone in Office Party.
Let’s start with this assumption: because it makes everything more tolerable (shopping, shoveling the walkway, changing the fucking hot water tank which just fucking crapped out on fucking Christmas fucking eve), you’re going to be drinking these holidays. Not only that, but drinking a lot.
Nothing wrong that. Except that, as every truly dedicated Liquor Nerd knows, there’s a smart way to go about your imbibing. Any rookie can top off four fingers of Barcardi white with a spritz of Coke for colouring. But that’s not trying hard enough. And, assuming you don’t live in a house of full-bore party animals, it’s going to get you the stink eye from your roommate, spouse, kids, or walkies-starved German Affenpinscher.
So instead, this Christmas, you’re going to try harder by upping your cocktail game. The following winter-inspired cocktails require a bit of prep in some cases, but nothing that you can’t do between viewings of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the endlessly-depressing A Charlie Brown Christmas. The great thing about putting in a bit of extra work? That would be sending a message that, above all, your holiday drinking is an artisanal-style hobby, as opposed to, you know, a problem. Not, of course, that you need to make an excuse when Christmas only comes once a year.
The wood makes it good
While revered on the West Coast for centuries, Western Red Cedar trees take something of a backseat to the Noble Fir, Douglas Fir, and Grand Fir at Christmas time. (On a more positive note, they don’t end up dead in a woodchipper on December 29). If you’ve been to Wolf in the Fog in Tofino you know that cedar also makes for an intriguing cocktail ingredient, the award-winning restaurant’s Cedar Sour built around wood-chip infused rye. Waiting on a hand-planer for Christmas? There’s a quicker way to get a cedar kick—simply hit the nearest tree, snap off a few branches, boil with a cup of water to make a tea, and strain adding an equal amount white (or demerara) sugar. Voila, you’ve got a cedar simple syrup. We’re going full Canadian here with ever-reliable Great White North staple Crown Royal, wild West Coast Tofino Distillery Old Growth Cedar Gin, a splash of pure maple syrup, and a dash of Angostura bitters.
1.5 oz. Crown Royal
.5 oz Tofino Distillery Old Growth Cedar Gin
3/4 oz. cedar syrup
1/4 oz. maple syrup
1 oz fresh lemon juice
1 egg white
two dashes Angostura bitters
Pour all ingredients into a shaker and dry shake for 20 seconds. Add ice, shake again for 20 seconds, and strain into a glass over an extra-large ice cube. And remember, that cedar tree would boil your limbs alive if it could.
All Hail Avalon
Sometimes the hardest part of having an addiction is to admit you’ve got one. After that, it’s surprisingly easy to move forward. On that front, long-time Straight readers might recall 2015 as the year your 39th-favourite Liquor Nerd finally came clean with a story called “An Avalon Dairy Egg Nog addict rages sadly out of control”. While scary, it also felt good to make confessions like “My biggest fear this time of year isn’t that Santa didn’t get my list or that my Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer-brand defibrillator won’t work when I have my inevitable heart attack; it’s that the local co-op will run out of Avalon Dairy Egg Nog.” Since then, there’s been progress. Truth be told, I mostly go the DIY ‘nog route at Christmas these days, with an Alton Brown recipe not only fool proof, but calling for three different kinds of liquor, which comes in extra handy when Uncle Leonard starts railing on about global warming being a communist hoax every Christmas dinner. Still, if you’re going to stick with a tradition, there are few more wonderful than picking up a glass jar of Avalon and then having at ’er.
Avalon Egg Nog
1.5 oz. Wayward Distillery Drunken Hive Rum
3/4 oz. St-Rémy Signature brandy
1/2 oz Kahlua
4 oz Avalon dairy eggnog
1 oz whole milk
Pour all ingredients into a shaker, shake, and strain over fresh ice into a glass. Dust with cinnamon and nutmeg. Try not to think about your arteries.
Experimental Cocktail Club
Okay, confession time—it started with a modified simple syrup built around 1/2 cup of whole cranberries, two tablespoons of hibiscus tea flowers, a dried pasillo chile, a dried chipotle, and 1.5 cups of water. (Boil all together except for the chipotle to make a tea, add 3/4 cup of white sugar, 3/4 cups of demerara sugar, and let the dried chipotle have a bath in the liquid while it cools. Presto, you’ve got a simple syrup the colour of Rudolph’s [broken] nose.) Except what to do with it? Vodka was overpowered by the syrup, Tequila and lime led to something like a margarita, and a modified French 75 tasted more like someone went, weirdly, overboard with the Smith Brothers cherry-flavoured cough drops. So, what’s something smoothes everything out? Hello butter, my old friend. Cue a Mexican—and seasonal, thanks to the cranberries—spin on a hot buttered rum, with the warning that you want to drink this one fast because the syrup starts to take over once things cool down.
Ron con Mantequilla Caliente
2 oz Mount Gay rum
1 walnut-sized scoop of butter
1 oz cranberry-hibiscus syrup (see above)
2.5 oz of water
1/4 oz fresh lime juice
1 cinnamon stick
Melt the butter with the syrup in a small saucepan. Add the water, lime juice, cinnamon stick and whisk. Pour into a class with 2 oz Mount Gay rum and stir. Try not to think about what the butter is going to your arteries, at least until January. (It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and the last thing you need is exercise, abstinence, and your judgemental family ruining it. And if that doesn't work, ask yourself what Willie T. Soke would do....)