As New Year’s Eve approaches, so do the New Year’s parties. If you’re tired of the tired old BYOB fare (six packs, coolers and the same wine you have with dinner each night), consider adding some spirits to your holiday repertoire. Whether you’re throwing a party or simply attending, bringing your own beverages or offering one as a gift to a gracious host, we offer for your consideration three holiday spirits, though not of the Dickensian variety.
When it comes to the holiday season, brown spirits tend to top the best-seller lists according to Ryan Powell, portfolio ambassador for Corby Distilleries. Whisky, in particular, is one of the more popular spirits for its taste, history and mixing capabilities. For those who may not be whisky aficionados, Powell offered some tips for picking out the right bottle for yourself or as a gift for your host.
“Do your research,” Powell said. “Don’t just look at the bottle because sometimes you’ll get bottles that don’t look that pretty but have an amazing liquid inside. It should be all about taste.”
With hints of vanilla, toffee, cinnamon and oak and with a variety of ages to choose from, Powell suggests not going for “something that’s too polarizing a flavour-.Try to go for something that appeals to a larger pallet – a nice, wide, round flavour profile. Entry or base level(s) of whisky will tend to appeal to a wider variety of palates. And that becomes your introductory product.”
And if the person hosting your New Year’s Eve party happens to be a whisky-lover who knows a lot more about the spirit than you, fear not. Powell has a few gift suggestions that are sure to go over great.
“The Glenlivet 15-year-old French oak reserve – that is a wicked gift,” Powell said. “(Also) just the effort that goes into producing a high-rye-based whisky like (Wiser’s Legacy), if you bought that as a gift and gave it to somebody, they’d probably think it’s worth more than what you paid for it.”
Pear & Cinnamon Sour
Recipe: 1.5 oz Wiser’s Legacy
1.5 oz Fresh Pear Juice
.75 oz Cinnamon Syrup
1 Egg White
Dash of Fee Brothers Black Walnut Bitters
Hard ice cubes
Garnish: Freshly grated nutmeg
Method: Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker, dry shake for about one minute. Then add ice to shaker and shake until well blended and fine strain into an Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.
1 oz Wiser’s Legacy
1 oz Martell cognac
1 oz Carpano Antica Formula Sweet Vermouth
spoon of Benedictine
2 dashes of Peychaud’s bitters
2 dashes of Angostura bitters
Garnish: lemon zest
Method: Stir all the ingredients over ice and strain into ice filled Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with lemon zest.
Whiskey recipes courtesy of Dave Mitton
Scotch may simply be Scottish whiskey, but the various regions of the country where it’s made have long and storied histories all their own. Scottish distilleries employ very distinct methods of production that border on the superstitious, according to Grant’s Blend Scotch Whisky malt specialist Sam Lupovich, and those who help prepare the Scotch on your liquor store’s shelves have gone through extensive training to ensure it’s done right.
“It’s said that it takes longer to study to become a malt master than it does to become a doctor,” Lupovich said.
Upon closer inspection, it’s no wonder why Scotch is such a popular holiday spirit. For one, on those cold evenings, like New Years tends to be, it works just as well, and tastes much better, than a warm blanket.
“The one thing that scotch does is when you’re tasting it you feel that good burn inside you,” Lupovich said. “It makes you feel warm and it’s sort of a drink that you can cuddle up with by the fireplace or share a glass with someone.”
In addition, Beth-Anne Perry, of William Grant & Sons, says that, during the holidays, the right Scotch is all about accentuating the flavours of the season.
“If you think about the holidays you think about everything that has to do with richness, Christmas fruit cake,” Perry said, ”and all of the years spent in cask will actually give you that depth of flavour that goes with the holidays.”
When choosing a Scotch, steer clear of the idea that older equals better, or that the best sellers are the best quality, Lupovich said. With so many factors to consider, like age, flavour, finish and the region it comes from, finding the right Scotch is a very personal, subjective process.
“Typically, if you like sweeter drinks you’d tend toward a sherry cask finish. If you like something that’s a bit oakier, you’d go for the bourbon casks,” Lupovich advised. “If you’re looking for a dessert scotch, you’d probably tend toward a single malt and sip it slowly. If you’re looking for something you can serve for everyone to make as part of a punch as a festive drink, you can tend toward the blend and save yourself some money.”
When it comes to cocktails Perry assured that “the world is your oyster when it comes to mixing because you can mix anything,” suggesting sherry casks work best for holiday mélanges.
“You end up having, in the actual nose and taste of the cocktail notes of rich, dried fruit, Christmas fruit cake, really beautiful notes of smoke and peat which really brings to your memory the image of that fireplace,” Perry said.
“When you’re hosting parties it’s a great way to incorporate Scotch and make it drinkable for other people who may not usually reach for (it),” Lupovich added.
And, as an added bonus, it turns out Scotch may also be beneficial for your health – a booster shot of sorts for grown ups.
“There’s so much eau-de-vie in the distillation that it actually does have a medicinal effect on you,” Lupovich said. “It definitely helps to balance the immune system and when your body’s going through that change with the seasons this sort of helps you keep your immune system in check and helps to fight off those flu symptoms.”
Grant’s Holiday Sherry Cup
1 ½ oz. Grant’s Sherry Cask
½ oz. Port Wine
½ oz. Pineapple Juice
½ oz. Maple Syrup
Pour ingredients together and shake well. Serve in rock glass over ice and include an orange spiral for garnish.
1 oz. Grapefruit Juice
1 1/2 oz. Scotch
Serve frappe style (over shaved ice) in a champagne flute.
Vodka may not be the top-selling holiday spirit, but it’s certainly one of the most highly regarded.
“If you talk to someone about the category ‘super premium’ people immediately think of vodka,” Ryan Powell of Corby Distilleries said, “because people actually use the term with vodka. So the actual words ‘super premium’ become more prevalently used with vodka.”
Like all sprits, however, not all vodkas are created equal. There are generally three categories: well/back bar vodkas, premium vodkas, and super premium vodkas. The first is standard bar fare and the second is where you start seeing some heritage and quality production. The super-premium is a much more specialized, “elegant” and “pure” spirit. But before you start worrying about the classifications, you need to know the back-story.
“I’m looking for something that comes from a great region and has heritage and roots in where vodka comes from,” Powell said. “Therefore you’re looking at any sort of Eastern-style vodkas – the big three are Poland, Russia and Sweden.”
Once you’ve settled on what part of the globe you’d like your vodka to hail from, you may want to look at something a little higher end to ring in the New Year.
“When you’re looking at premium vodkas it’s very versatile, just because of its taste profile,” Powell said. “It definitely has character but there’s an element of neutrality there where you can really build in a ton of flavour into your vodka-based cocktails.”
Of course, if you prefer your spirits straight, super premium vodkas, “have great character and they have an elegance to them” according to Powell.
“So yes, you can make cocktails, but you want to make sure that it’s a cocktail that still retains the elegance of that spirit. With (some super premium vodkas) I’d either just drink it on the rocks or make a nice, elegant martini with it.”
Vodka 1 ½ oz
Dry vermouth ½ oz
Chill a martini glass. Fill a martini pitcher with ice. Add the gin, and the vermouth and stir for no more than 30 seconds. Pour into the chilled glass. Garnish with an olive.
Variation: to make a traditional Martini use 3 parts gin and 1 part dry vermouth. To make a Perfect Martini use ¼ oz dry vermouth, ¼ oz sweet red vermouth and 1 ¼ gin. To make a Sweet Martini use 1 ½ oz gin, ½ oz sweet vermouth and garnish with a cherry. To make Vodka Martini use 1 ½ oz vodka, ½ oz dry vermouth and garnish with olive. To make a Martini Dry use 5 parts gin, 1 part dry vermouth and garnish with a cocktail onion, olives, or a twist. To make a Gibson use 1 ½ oz gin, ½ oz dry vermouth and garnish with a cocktail onion.
2 oz Stolichnaya® vodka
6 1/2 oz Perrier® lemon soda water
1 oz fresh lemon juice
Pour the Stolichnaya (Stoli) vodka into a highball glass over 5 ice cubes. Fill with Lemon Perrier, and add the juice extracted from half a lemon. Stir and serve
For Fru-Fru version, add 4 oz tangerine juice and 3 oz cranberry juice to above recipe. Pour the Stolichnaya (Stoli) vodka, Lemon Perrier, tangerine juice and cranberry juice into a highball glass over 5 ice cubes. Add the juice extracted from half a lemon. Stir and serve.