cocktails for the most wonderful time of the year

It’s time. At least in my head. The start of December heralds the start of the holiday season to me–and let me be clear: I’m not talking about a specific religious, cultural or consumer celebration, I’m talking about the sum of the parts. The mishmash of many reasons to celebrate, many traditions and a general acceptance that we’re all going to eat and drink way too much, dress in our finest, deck out our homes and be festive–that’s what I relish. I do all of those in fairly equal measure and I cook and entertain (or contribute food and hosting help) even more in December than most other months, but yet, what I’ve never committed to is serving up a good house cocktail. I’m always well-prepared with wine, beer, standard (good) liquors but other wonderful hosts are much better at greeting me at their door with a special tipple to start things off right. I’m changing all of that this season. Here are my picks for house-made holiday cocktails this year:

My mom and aunt hardly drink but they never turn down what they call a beer “shandy”. Their version is beer mixed with ginger beer, ginger-ale or often just orange juice. When I saw this more refined beer cocktail, I made it with them in mind. They came to stay with me last weekend and perhaps the idea of settling in loosened them up enough to have two (unheard of), or, more likely, it was so good they went back for more. The Sidewalker (pictured above) is made with brandy, apple cider, maple and wheat beer. Yum.

Did you know that a REAL rum punch was made with arrack?! Wait, do you even know what arrack is? I only know about it because my parents eyes always go wide at the mention and they warm me not to touch the coconut-sap distilled liquor. I think that back home (Sri Lanka) they saw too many people topple over after a touch too much of this potent stuff. However, I’m excited enough to make what’s considered to be authentic rum punch to have my first arrack experience. Wish me luck, Mom and Dad…

I can gulp down gin martinis faster than I’m proud of–not because they’re that smooth, but because I love them. That’s why you shouldn’t serve it to me when I come over. Everyone wants their guests to feel warm and fuzzy, not pickled before 8pm. You should serve me this spin on a classic gin martini, which uses bitters instead of vermouth. I like to think that even people who enjoy bitters, like I do, are forced to sip and savour, making this the perfect drink to serve to guests for a slow and easy entry into an long, fun night.

And since you’ll already have bitters on hand, and hopefully some bubbly, what better time to whip up a classic Champagne cocktail? There’s still no other drink that says special than a flute of bubbly and the bubbles go on forever in this one. Salute!