- By Arianna Auber American-Statesman Staff
December is a month of traditions.
While we’re still finishing off the Thanksgiving turkey, we’re already hanging sparkly lights from our rooftops, decking our halls with Christmas trees and wreaths of holly, and hanging stockings in front of fireplaces we hope will soon roar with warming fires.
We’re also probably drinking copious amounts of hot cocoa, eggnog and other seasonally beckoning drinks — spiked or not. That’s why, as much as cocktail bars and restaurants these days like to feature original cocktails on their menus, they return to tradition during December, too.
They don’t all make the same recipe for these drinks, of course. In fact, one Hill Country winery and two Austin restaurants, among many others, have gotten creative with their boozy holiday fare.
Friends & toddies
Typically, the drinks known as hot toddies feature a spirit mixed with water, spices, honey and herbs, served hot — but Chris Moore, bar manager at Italian restaurant Cantine, wanted to serve his steaming potion with beer in addition to liquor.
“I was nervous mixing beer and rum together,” he said. “I wasn’t sure if people would actually like the combination.”
Beer isn’t exactly a common ingredient in cocktails — why would it be, when it’s so good on its own — but it does contribute flavor nuances that can help the drink stand out. For Friends & Alements, named as a tribute to East Austin’s soon-to-open Friends & Allies Brewing, Moore used the brewery’s Noisy Cricket Session IPA, a low-alcohol brew packed with tropical notes.
He combined 64 ounces of Noisy Cricket with 16 ounces of Good Flow Honey, eight golden crisp apples, two star anise seeds, five cardamom pods, two cinnamon sticks and five Madagascar cloves and brought the mixture to a boil. From there, it’s simmered for 30 minutes. “Then strain it, add overproof rum and that’s it,” Moore said.
The result satisfies the sweet tooth that always seems to kick in during the holidays while balancing fruity and herbal notes to keep that sweetness from becoming cloying.
Friends & Alements joins a vodka cocktail called Poinsettia on Cantine’s seasonal menu.
Spice up your wine
On the road to Fredericksburg, Pedernales Cellars has made a name for itself specializing in the Spanish grape tempranillo. But during the holidays, the winery is known for a very different sort of wine: glögg, a traditional Swedish dessert wine served warm. Bottles of it become available at the end of October and stay on hand through the end of December.
“At Pedernales, we’re aiming high in terms of quality, and we take our wine production very seriously; that’s what Pedernales is all about,” head winemaker Dave Kuhlken said. “So this is the one instance when we do something more playful, more fun, do something just for grins. And people love it.”
For the glögg recipe, he uses primarily tempranillo and fortifies the wine with brandy before adding in spices like clove, nutmeg and cinnamon in an additional brandy infusion. He recommends warming it up before you take a sip, keeping it around coffee temperature — the alcohol in the fortification will evaporate before the rest of it if it gets too hot.
Homemade mulled wine is a popular drink to make this time of year, which means many people have strong opinions about the taste. Pedernales’ president Fredrik Osterberg, married to Kuhlken’s sister Julie, is one of them and suggests garnishing the glass with raisins and almonds, a traditional addition. He and Kuhlken said the glögg tastes like “Christmas in a bottle.”
“In a big glass or a cup, add the raisins and almonds. Just a spoonful,” Osterberg said. “Then pour the glögg over them. Then drink it by the fireside; that’s a very important step.”
In addition to being sold at Pedernales Cellars, the Stonewall Glögg can be found at both locations of sister winery Armadillo’s Leap, also owned by the Osterberg-Kuhlken clan. All wineries are festively decorated for the holiday season.
Six bartenders, six weeks, six eggnogs
French-focused Péché likes to get in the holiday spirit by offering different kinds of wintry cocktails each year, like hot buttered rum. This time around, the bar is going all out with eggnog.
The bartenders at the downtown spot don’t want to call Péché’s “6 Weeks of Eggnog” program a competition among them, but bar manager Shaun Meglen did say it started as a playful way to see “who can make the most creative and complicated eggnog that people will enjoy the most.”
Talk about complicated.
The first eggnog — a new one is on special each week, and Péché is now midway through — featured James E. Pepper bourbon, Art in the Age gingersnap liqueur, cinnamon syrup, a whole egg and cream, nutmeg, vanilla bitters and brûléed fig foam. As Meglen’s creation, it “goes for a baked cookie feel,” which is precisely what you’ll think of when you take a sip.
Subsequent ones have included a Caribbean-style eggnog that contained dark rum, a spice-infused rum, Péché’s house-made falernum, cinnamon syrup, a whole egg and heavy cream, and an absinthe rinse (because Péché is an absinthe bar, after all). These riffs intentionally stray from traditional recipes, but Meglen likes to remind awed customers that the bartenders are still following a fundamental formula.
“One thing we’re having fun with is making these eggnogs and telling people how easy it is,” he said. “You just need heavy cream, some kind of booze, a whole egg and a sweetener. We’re going to do one with tequila, another with brandy and sherry, probably another with rye.”
The “6 Weeks of Eggnog” special continues through the New Year.