Spirits of the Season—Crafting The Perfect Holiday Beverage

December 2015 View more

Christmas cranberry cocktail with ice, decorated with fir branchAlmost every holiday party host can sympathize with the universally maligned miser Ebenezer Scrooge in at least one respect—no matter how much you think you have things together at this time of year, you’re not really set until you’ve dealt with the spirits. Granted, Scrooge’s particular dealings were more on the save-your-mortal-soul level, whereas the average party host is likely working with decidedly lower stakes in trying to slake a collective thirst. Still, it’s likely he was well-versed in both incarnations.

Take, for example, when the ex-curmudgeon and self-imposed social outcast paid a post-transformation visit to the festive gathering of his estranged nephew Fred. Surely he didn’t show up empty-handed—Dickens may have failed to specifically note it in the text, but his reformed pariah undoubtedly saw fit to arrive with a tasty rum punch to share. After all, Scrooge may have been a little out of practice, but old man Fezziwig wasn’t the only London businessman who knew that not every Christmas spirit has to be a soul-searching downer.

Of course, picking the perfect beverage isn’t just a question of social propriety – it’s about giving the holidays their rightful due. In this day and age, the beverage industry has gone out of its way to make everything faster, easier and pre-packaged in the name of either convenience or perceived consumer laziness. Don’t want to keep fresh limes on hand? Here’s a beer that’s infused with artificial lime flavoring. Can’t be bothered to plug in the blender? Try a pre-mixed margarita in a can.

It’s all fine, and the world isn’t going to come crashing down if that mojito came out of one bottle instead of being hand crafted from its individual ingredients, but the holidays deserve a little something more, don’t they? It’s not necessarily a matter of going all hyper-artisanal and distilling one’s own gin or growing one’s own elements for homemade bitters, but a proper holiday gathering should be a step or two above cracking open a 12-pack and calling it a night.

So take it from good old Scrooge—the spirits of Christmas are not to be trifled with or ignored. Then take it from these Naperville bars and restaurants when it comes to crafting just the right libation to let your holiday guests know how much you care.

Holiday Punch

SugarToad Restaurant and Zorba Lounge at Hotel Arista

2 cups New Orleans cajun-spiced rum
½ cup Frangelico
3 quarts eggnog
1 pint eggnog ice cream

Add all ingredients to a large punch bowl and serve immediately.

Lead Bartender Tim Gustilo says people tend to seek out sweeter drink choices during the holidays—with everything from hot mulled wine to spiked coffee drawing notice—which is why he and his crew tend to break out the baking spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, allspice) at this time of year. But for a party, he likes to stick to tradition with this quick, straightforward holiday bowl. “If you’re going to build a true holiday drink, it’s got to have eggnog, because nothing says ‘the holidays’ more than eggnog,” said Gustilo. “I can’t speak for everyone’s home, but growing up we always had eggnog in the refrigerator during the holidays.”

Buffalo Cider

Hugo’s Frog Bar and Fish House

2 oz Buffalo Trace bourbon
½ oz Breckenridge bitters
1½ oz brown sugar cinnamon cider reduction*
*(1 quart apple cider, 1 cup brown sugar and 2 tablespoons of cinnamon simmered together for 25 to 30 minutes)

Hugo’s generally offers a wide variety of eggnog and gingerbread-infused cocktails around the holidays, but general manager Anthony Losurdo believes it’s the combined warmth of the bourbon and the spice of the bitters and cinnamon that help make this drink an ideal buffer against a cold winter’s night.

Candy Chata Cocktail


1½ oz vanilla vodka
1 oz Rumchata
½ oz peppermint schnapps
Chocolate peppermint rim

Nothing epitomizes the holiday season quite like a candy cane, and nothing tastes more like a candy cane in a glass than this sweet concoction from bartender Nikki Pankner. New Tango owner Jaime Campos says it’s just one of several special cocktails the restaurant will be featuring on its revamped drink slate this winter, and calls it “the perfect blend to warm up anyone for the holidays.”

Gingersnap Eggnog Martini

Rosebud Italian Specialties

1 oz. Canton ginger liqueur
½ oz Godiva white chocolate liqueur
½ oz Disaronno amaretto
2 oz eggnog

Cinnamon Sugar Rim and a pinch  of cinnamon sugar on top middle of the cocktail
In a mixing glass combine all ingredients and dry shake 30 seconds hard, add ice and shake again very hard till frothy.

The Naperville outlet of the Rosebud empire will be serving up a variety of special holiday drinks this month including last year’s big hit, an Eggnog Martini made with Canton ginger liqueur, Godiva white chocolate, amaretto Disaronno and eggnog, with a cinnamon sugar rim. But general manager Lisa Zullo says this cider, named for the original Rosebud location on Taylor Street, stands out as a warm and welcoming antidote for cold winter nights.

NMAG1215_SpiritofSeasons_Sullivan's Drink 1 horz_800px

Photo by Bari Baskin

Apple Cinnamon Mule

Sullivan’s Steakhouse

¾ oz apple bourbon
¾ oz spiced bourbon
Ginger beer
Lime wedge
Mint leaf

Fill a 12-ounce copper mule mug with ice. Break one mint leaf and drop into mug. Pour in apple bourbon and spiced bourbon, then top with ginger beer. Squeeze fresh lime wedge and drop into mug.

Sullivan’s general manager Randy Deguzman believes this mule is a great choice for the holidays because the apple and spices convey the warmth of the season, while the fresh lime and mint help keep things refreshing. “Bourbons and brown liquors are hot right now, and this is a perfect way to transition to the cold winter ahead,” said Deguzman.