Spiced Up Cocktails

By Christopher Crown- As the winter holidays roll around, children put out milk and cookies for Santa, and adults can look forward to a different winter indulgence: spiced cocktails. Whether you choose these recipes to impress your co-workers at the Christmas party or you just want to enjoy one by the fire on a cold night, make the most of these seasonal drink specialties.

COCKTAILS WITH A KICK — Embrace centuries of holiday tradition and add some zest to your holiday booze this year. photo courtesy of Bernadette Wurzinger.

The inclusion of famous winter spices — such as anise, cinnamon, clove and nutmeg — in holiday food is steeped in history. Beyond the warming appeal of these sharp, intense flavors, many of our ancestors were mixing them up in traditional holiday foods and drinks for medicinal reasons.

In a 2016 article for Today’s Dietician magazine online, Dr. Densie Webb cites that whether we know it or not, we’ve been using spiced holiday foods to combat the health problems we usually encounter during the dark, cold months.

All of the previously mentioned spices “are rich in natural plant compounds that have been studied for their health-promoting and disease-preventing properties.” With the antioxidant properties in allspice, the antidepressant chemicals in star anise and the antimicrobial characteristics of larger doses of cinnamon, you can imbibe in some delicious holiday cocktails while taking care of your health and well-being.

*Hot Spiced Wine

Although spiked eggnog will always be a hit, Food & Wine online contributor John Besh offers a hot spiced wine that is sure to please your holiday guests. Although this drink has a wine base, don’t be fooled; the brandy backbone will sure pack a punch of flavor, and it can be altered for a more or less boozy drink.

Serves: 12

Total time: 15 minutes

2 bottles light-bodied red wine (such as pinot noir or grenache)

1 1/4 cups sugar

Zest of 1 orange

Zest of 1 lemon

3 black peppercorns, crushed

2 cardamom pods, crushed

1 3-inch cinnamon stick, crushed

1 clove, crushed

1/2 cup kirsch (cherry brandy)

In a large saucepan, combine the wine, the sugar and the orange and lemon zests. Put all the spices in a tea ball, and add it to the saucepan. Bring the wine to a very slow simmer over moderate heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove the pan from the heat. Discard the tea ball. And stir in the kirsch (Schladerer or Leroux brands work well). Ladle the spiced wine into a heatproof glass and serve. Or make it one day ahead and store it at room temperature overnight, reheating it just before serving. The citrus and spices will warm you up inside, and your senses.

*Holiday Spice Honey Syrup

If wine’s not your thing and you’re looking for something a bit stronger on a cold winter’s night, International Association of Culinary Professionals member Stacy Bryce of the Wicked Good Kitchen website recommends whipping up a batch of spiced simple syrup. This can be added to your favorite hot and cold drinks, and is a great ingredient to add that holiday feel to whatever liquor you keep around!

Serves: 20 to 40

Total time: 20 minutes

1 cup filtered/purified or distilled water

1 cup pure organic honey

1 cup organic granulated pure cane sugar

6 cloves, whole

6 star anise pods

6 allspice berries, whole

3 black peppercorns, whole

2 cinnamon sticks

In a small saucepan, combine water, sugar and honey. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently until the sugar is dissolved, or about eight minutes. Add the cloves, star anise pods, allspice berries, peppercorns and cinnamon sticks, and bring the pot to a boil. Reduce heat to between low and medium-low, and simmer for five minutes.

Using a sieve lined with a small square of cheesecloth, strain the syrup into a large heatproof glass liquid measuring cup. Before using it in recipes, set it aside to cool completely and cover it with a small square of wax paper. Keep leftover syrup stored in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator.

*Holiday Spice Bourbon Cocktail

Add Bryce’s spiced honey syrup to darker spirits, such as bourbon, to make a rich and flavorful cocktail perfect for Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.

Servings: 2

3 ounces fine-quality bourbon

1 ounce fine-quality tart cherry liqueur

1/2 ounce holiday spice honey syrup, or more to taste

1/2 ounce cranberry juice or fresh pomegranate juice, or more to taste

1/4 ounce fine-quality orange liqueur

A few dashes bitters

Ice cubes

Sprig of rosemary

Fresh orange peel curl

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the cocktail ingredients and shake vigorously, about 20 seconds. Strain into glass filled with ice and garnishes as desired.

From wine to liquor, winter spices can lift your spirits in more ways than one. Although you might be losing the original health-focused intent of these traditional holiday additions, live a little; ’tis the season.

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