Make spirits bright at your holiday party with low-alcohol drinks

12:00 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017 Austin360 Eats
American-Statesman Staff
The liqueurs of local booze company Texacello, such as Paula’s Texas Grapefruit and Martine Honeysuckle Liqueur, are low in alcohol and thus perfect for making drinks for holiday parties. Arianna Auber / American-Statesman

When hosting a holiday party, you worry about all sorts of things: Will your various friends get along? Have you provided enough food? Is everyone entertained and happy? And that’s just for starters.

One of the things you don’t want on your mind? Whether your guests have become a little too tipsy.

Oh, sure, getting a ride home is easier than ever thanks to ride-hailing services, but there’s a way to help make sure your guests are less likely to have a hangover the next day — serve up drinks low on alcohol. Beer and wine are obvious choices, but you don’t have to rule out cocktails. Instead of spirits, they can contain lower-proof options like liqueurs, amari and fortified wines and nonalcoholic components like tea and coffee. And don’t forget beer and wine as bases in mixed drinks, too.

Among the bottles to include on your holiday bar cart are the liqueurs from Texacello, a Dripping Springs distillery that produces the likes of Paula’s Texas Grapefruit, Lemon and Orange as well as the new Martine Honeysuckle Liqueur.

The head of the company behind Texacello — one of the state’s oldest booze makers, now owned by the Austin-based Empresario Brands — says he has noticed a shift toward lower-alcohol drinks, particularly in constantly on-the-go Austin. Gary Kelleher, the mastermind behind Martine in particular, is all too happy to be making some of the liqueurs that star in these cocktails.

“I would say the culture, especially in Austin, is going in that direction of low alcohol because we all have so many places we have to go, so many events,” he says. “As much as everybody loves punches and as big as punches were not long ago, they tend to be high ABV in general. You can’t drink that much punch, and it can shorten the life of the party. So, instead, there are things in the marketplace aside from cocktails, like ciders and some of the ready-to-drink stuff, that are lower ABV.”

MORE:Taking it easy on the alcohol a movement in beer, cocktails

Paula’s Texas Orange, the first of the Texacello liqueurs, was originally created to be an accompaniment in the quintessential Texas drink: the margarita. But each of the liqueurs is endlessly versatile and can just as easily be the dominant ingredient in a recipe. They pair well with wine, tea, fruit juice — you name it. The low-alcohol Roman Holiday, featuring Paula’s Texas Grapefruit and Campari, is a notable example because of how nicely sweet grapefruit softens Campari’s normally bitter blow.

Kelleher also recommends the Sparkling Martine Cocktail, and not just because of its simplicity. Sparkling wine combines with Martine and a couple of drops of Angostura bitters for a breezy, bubbly cocktail to kick off a night of holiday merrymaking. Because of the bubbles, it’s a fun drink to start with, he says. And Martine, made from the nectar of the intensely fragrant honeysuckle plant, is disarmingly easy to down. Fortunately, it’s light on the alcohol even for a liqueur.

Martine is “20 ABV, so it’s on the lower end of liqueurs. Martine is something that can add a lot of dimension and flavor without adding a really big punch of alcohol. So that’s absolutely something I was thinking of and playing with early on,” Kelleher says.

MORE:Austin distillery creates unusual product, a sweet honeysuckle liqueur

He’s not the only one keeping an eye on the low-proof trend. At this point, it’s reached a national level, and there’s now an entire recipe book on the subject, the jaunty “Day Drinking: 50 Cocktails for a Mellow Buzz” by Kat Odell ($15.95, Workman Publishing). As the name of her book suggests, taking it easy on the alcohol is a smart move during weekend afternoons when we’ve got a full day of activities planned, but many of the recipes are adaptable for nighttime imbibing, too.

Every holiday party should have some kind of punch, and “Day Drinking” author Kat Odell suggests glühwein, a hot spiced wine that you can make in a large batch. Contributed by Nicole Franzen

Such is the case with glühwein, the German version of hot spiced wine and a popular wintertime tradition. I’ve always had it pre-made — the Texas winery Pedernales Cellars produces bottles of the Swedish variation, glögg, each year — but I just might try making it myself with the recipe in “Day Drinking,” provided by a San Francisco bartender. Consider it your stand-in for an otherwise boozy punch, as this glühwein can serve up to 40 people.

And, as Odell writes, “It tastes like the holidays in a glass.”

“During the winter, and especially when organizing holiday gatherings, mulled wine is my go-to,” she writes. “Not only is hot spiced wine incredibly easy to make — you’re basically dumping a bunch of ingredients into a pot and cooking — but the outcome of the drink always tastes far more complex than the effect that went into making it.”

The glühwein is perfect for making ahead of time, so that you’ve got at least one cocktail already taken care of before the party begins. You can leave it in a slow cooker to keep it warm, and your guests can serve themselves.

But Kelleher recommends making other drinks as the party progresses.

“You can make a trayful of a cocktail at a time,” he says. “It’s a great way to entertain. For me, it is a lot more fun to go to a party and not have it essentially be an open bar. To have something that is featured, and the host or hostess says, ‘Here, try this.’ It’s a new experience, and everyone is enjoying the same thing. I think it can help regulate how much guests are drinking, too.”

After serving a bubbly potion like the Sparkling Martine Cocktail as the welcome drink, move onto another not-too-boozy option like the Roman Holiday. A third offering could be your large-batch glühwein, or perhaps a sangria you can serve in pitchers around the room if you don’t want to deal with the heat. Just make sure the drinks you’re making during the fiesta are fairly simple, Kelleher says. You don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen during all the fun.

To that end, prepare ahead of time, pulling out all the tools you’ll need to mix cocktails. These can also be pared down, Odell writes: “Unlike food (which, come on, I love too!), where you need at least a set of pots and pans and basic utensils for the process, you can pretty much mix up a drink with a cup and a spoon.”

It’s also not a bad idea to have alternatives to cocktails on hand during the party — nonalcoholic drinks, of course, but also a bunch of beers on ice to keep your wide range of guests content.

“Whenever I get a group of folks together these days, it doesn’t make sense to not have a bunch of great local beers on hand. Because there are folks who just don’t want the other things being served,” Kelleher says. “As long as you always have another option there, to me, that’s a great fallback position. It’s very rarely the case that you’re going to get a group of people together that between the cocktail and the beer, everybody isn’t happy.”

American-Statesman Staff
In the Roman Holiday cocktail, sweet grapefruit softens the bitter blow of Campari. Arianna Auber / American-Statesman