Seattle Bartenders Talk Holiday Drinks

Seattle bartenders offer sage wisdom on the toughest question of the season: "What'll it be?"
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Top row, left to right: James MacWilliams, Adam Fortuna, Ariana Vitale (photo by Taryn Penner-Elledge); Bottom row, L to R: Joshua Fejeran, Austin Dean (photo by Jackie Donnelly), Jesse Cyr

Winter is here, the holiday parties are in full swing and the biggest question is: "What are you drinking?" Really, what's best this time of year when you're making a night of it out on the town, and what should you be serving at home?

In my mind, the best suggestions and ideas will come direct from the drink makers, so I asked six of our local shakers and stirrers three questions about holiday drinks. Their answers are below. Cheers!

James MacWilliams, Canlis 
What do you think makes a good winter holiday drink? I do love a good Tom and Jerry this time of year but have been looking for alternative hot drinks without coffee or tea. I have been looking at old cup and punch recipes and substituting hot water or steamed milk for champagne, sparkling water or ice. On the menu now I have a hot Crimean Cup A La Wyndham. Cognac, maraschino, curaçao, orange and hot water. It gets some fresh grated cinnamon on top. It's very aromatic and exotic to me, like Christmas in Tahiti.

What will you be drinking over the holiday season? Can you say Feliz Navidad? For some reason, maybe the escape from the weather or maybe I'm rebelling against the season (Christmas displays up before Halloween!) but I crave Margaritas and Pacifico in December. Well, not just December but even more so. I am roasting tomatoes right now for my weekly salsa ration. Full disclosure: I eat five bags of tortilla chips each week. I don't usually make salsa at 9 a.m. because it's best warm, still fresh from the oven and washed down with a fresh simple Margarita, but I’m out and will be ready for some after work tonight. ArteNom has been my go to tequila lately. Distinctive estate tequilas that showcase producers and micro-regions of the spirit.

What’s your suggestion for the perfect drink to serve at a holiday party? Painkiller, a specialty of the Soggy Dollar Bar BVI (British Virgin Islands). The holidays are a pain, so get rid of it. Rum, orange, pineapple and coconut topped with grated nutmeg. It's white so won't stain the floor if the party gets wild, strong and delicious to be sure the party gets wild, and the fresh grated nutmeg is a nice touch if any guest says it's not a holiday drink. The nutmeg is kind of like wearing green socks on St. Patrick's day, just enough participation to not get pinched.

Adam Fortuna, Foreign National
What do you think makes a good winter holiday drink? Depending on who you are, this answer could be many things. The response I'm sure you'll get most often will be something brown and spirituous. It's a celebratory time of year and as weather gets colder, I’d combine two things, Cognac and Champagne, and make a delicious French 75. Pretentious caveat: Gotta be real Champagne.

What will you be drinking over the holiday season? Champagne, Champagne, maybe some Scotch, and then more Champagne. I love the Aberlour A'bunadh which is a Speyside cask-strength Scotch with a heavy sherry presence.

What’s your suggestion for the perfect drink to serve at a holiday party? Perfect holiday drink: punch. Or the French 75 from question 1.

Ariana Vitale, Vestal
What do you think makes a good winter holiday drink? There are two routes you can go for your winter cocktail: the warm you from the inside beverage to take the edge off that biting cold, or complete escapism! Sometimes I just want to be transported to a beach on an island and pretend that the cold just isn't happening. Cold or hot cocktails, baking spices are always a good addition during the holidays.  

What will you be drinking over the holiday season? I'm sure a little of everything! Champagne, punches, flips, toddies and of course, Daiquiris. One of my favorites is a Daiquiri–the version will vary depending on what kind of rum is used but my favorite combo is with equal parts Smith & Cross and El Dorado 8 yr (1 ounce each), 3/4 ounce lime juice and 1/2 ounce of simple syrup (2:1, using Demerara sugar).

What’s your suggestion for the perfect drink to serve at a holiday party? Punch is always a good way to go for parties. Pre-batched and self-served is pretty. It's also really easy to refill. For a hot punch, let it stew in a crockpot. Be sure to add a satchel of allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove.

Joshua Fejeran, FlintCreek Cattle Co. 
What do you think makes a good winter holiday drink? Anything that helps you deal with the family, tequila maybe! Seriously, though, anything big and hearty, spirit driven, good for the cold and rainy Seattle weather.

What will you be drinking over the holiday season? I tend to drink a lot of whiskey and Scotch over the holidays. I also love Mezcal in the winter. Great flavor profile, strong. Mezcal evokes Mexico and the sun and helps you survive through the dark Seattle nights.

What’s your suggestion for the perfect drink to serve at a holiday party? Mezcal Old Fashioned. Classic, simple, easy to craft. Just use 2 ounces Mezcal of your choice. Del Maguey Vida is always a good cheaper option. Then, 1/2 ounce Ancho Reyes liqueur. 1/4 ounce simple syrup. 1 dash each of Angostura and orange bitters. Served over a big ice cube. Happy Holidays!

Austin Dean, Chan
What do you think makes a good winter holiday drink? This is more individually-based, but nostalgia makes for the best holiday drink. Hot cocoa, growing up with my family, always pulls me right back into the holiday season. More generally, you can capture the holidays with dark or spiced liquors (think bourbon/rum/mezcal), paired with warm and piney spices (think clove/cinnamon/rosemary).

What will you be drinking over the holiday season? This year I'm really digging the hot toddy. I've never really given it the chance it deserves. Easy to make and you can adjust on the fly. I'm looking forward to finding some new variations this season.

What’s your suggestion for the perfect drink to serve at a holiday party? There are two that I tend to lean towards: 1. Spiked eggnog always works. It's a perfect opportunity to finish that bottle of Fireball! 2. Holiday punch. Take your favorite fruits and spices (I use apples, cranberries, lemons, allspice, ginger and cinnamon), cranberry juice and chilled apple cider, add a few shots of whiskey, and then top it off with a bottle of bubbles before serving.

Jesse Cyr, Rob Roy
What do you think makes a good winter holiday drink? I think the flavors that people usually associate with winter and the holidays are baking spices, nuts and cream. Any combination of those is going to make a great cocktail for this time of year. For people making cocktails at home, the easiest way to get these flavors is by using some readily available products. Allspice Dram is perfect, in small amounts, to give you those holiday spices everyone is so familiar with. Amontillado or Oloroso sherry are great additions to cocktails for a nutty, but not overpowering, flavor. Nux Alpina Nocino is a super tasty walnut liqueur that I love using with brandy and whiskey drinks. And of course, nothing beats heavy whipping cream in some eggnog. Want to think outside the box? Try using Bols Yogurt liqueur to add some creaminess. The possibilities are endless.

What will you be drinking over the holiday season? I usually drink a lot of wine during the holidays since it's easy to pair with dinner. But for cocktails, I like to keep it really simple. My wife loves to have me make her a hot toddy. I think hot apple cider is incredibly delicious to use instead of water in a toddy. Old Fashioned variations are something I really like to do this time of year, too. Switching out your sweetener with honey, maple syrup or demerara sugar is a quick upgrade. But using a wide variety of bitters can completely change the cocktail. I love using my own apple bitters. They're a great fall/winter flavor. Scrappy's Chocolate bitters or Fee Brother's Black Walnut bitters also make an excellent addition to a holiday Old Fashioned. 

What’s your suggestion for the perfect drink to serve at a holiday party? If you're having a party, whether it's six people or 60, the last thing you're going to want to do is make everyone a cocktail. You'll be in the kitchen all night and won't be able to mingle and enjoy the company of your friends and family. Don't put that stress on yourself. The best thing to make is something your guests can just go grab themselves. Eggnog is a perfect example of a self-serve cocktail, plus it's the epitome of holiday party drinking. But with the eggs and cream, it might not be perfect for every guest. I recommend doing a punch instead. Something with some citrus, maybe gin based. A good way to make it more holiday-esque is to make the sweetener something fun like a cranberry simple syrup. That way you'll keep with the winter theme and still make it approachable for your guests to enjoy. And don't forget the bubbles. Nothing says holiday celebration like topping off that punch with champagne! 

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