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Warming spices, velvety froth and a little boozy sweetness. Isn’t that what winter sipping is all about? The much-needed rain and crisp weather helps us retreat indoors, where a roaring fire or oven-baked treats warm us and ready our palates for a cocktail or three.
This season, mixologists around the Bay Area are getting into the holiday spirit by infusing their syrups with seasonal herbs and spices, experimenting with richer sugar and fat components and indulging in lavish garnishes. As Ian Elizondo, lead bartender at San Francisco’s Tratto, says: “Remember, you drink with the eyes first.”
So he tops the trattoria’s Cioccolata Caldo con Amaro, which gets its richness from a mixture of three parts chocolate and two parts half-and-half, with Italian doughnuts. Yes, really.
“Whipped cream or toasted marshmallows work too,” he says. “It’s the holidays, treat yourself.”
But you don’t want to go overboard with everything, especially when it comes to punchbowls of cocktails. “When making a punch, always bear in mind the old Barbadian rhyme ‘one of sour, two of sweet, three parts strong and four of weak,’” he says. “Dilution is key in mixing a cocktail, so make sure there is enough water in a punch bowl. No one wants to be that drunk uncle at the dinner table.”
Don’t do punches? Stick with a light, silky egg-white cocktail, like Michael Mina’s A Star Anise … Is Born. Lead bartender Anthony Attanasio developed the after-dinner drink, which is made with Amrut Indian whiskey, Sandeman Port, Amaro Nonino and spiced orange syrup, just for the holidays. He also makes an apple-centric fall version.
“Amaro Nonino helps aid in digesting the meal, and the egg white adds a frothy meringue-like consistency that helps elongate the orange and spice flavors,” Attanasio says. Vegan? A tip from Elizondo: Use an ounce of aquafaba, the reserved water that legumes have been cooked in, to replace an egg white in any cocktail.
We asked him and other mixologists to share their best holiday drink recipes. Here they are:
Cioccolata Caldo con Amaro
Makes 1 drink
4 ounces rich hot chocolate (3 parts chocolate to 2 parts half-and-half)
1 ounce Amaro Montenegro
½ ounce Orangecello
Directions: Steam the half-and-half until hot (a steam wand will work if you don’t have an espresso machine). Stir in the chocolate syrup to make a rich hot chocolate. Preheat the mug, then pour in the hot chocolate and stir in the amaro and Orangecello. (If it’s a large mug, double the recipe). Top with garnish; we use Italian doughnuts, but whipped cream or toasted marshmallows work, too.
— Ian Elizondo, bartender, Tratto, San Francisco
A Star Anise … Is Born
Makes one drink
1½ ounces Amrut Indian whiskey
¼ ounce Amaro Nonino
¼ ounce Sandeman Port
¾ ounce Spiced Orange Syrup (simple syrup infused with orange peel, orange segments, star anise, cinnamon, clove and nutmeg)
½ ounce fresh lemon juice
1 egg white
Directions: Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake without ice for 20 seconds. This is to create aeration in the egg white and begin to break down the proteins. Add ice and shake until thoroughly chilled and properly diluted. Strain through a fine mesh strainer and garnish. We garnish with angostura bitter drops, port drops, dehydrated orange, shaved cinnamon and viola flowers.
— Anthony Attanasio, lead bartender, Michael Mina, San Francisco
Makes 1 drink
1 ounce Hennessy VSOP
1 ounce George Dickel Rye
1 ounce Carpano Antica Vermouth
¼ ounce Benedictine
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 dashes Peychauds bitters
Lemon twist for garnish
Directions: Add all liquid ingredients to a mixing glass, adding the bitters last. Add ice and stir. Strain into a rocks glass with a large ice cube, and express a lemon twist over the cocktail.
— Olivia Aguilar, lounge manager, Madera, Menlo Park
Grape & Grain
Makes four 6-ounce drinks
16 black grapes
4 half slices of orange
4 teaspoons sugar
8 dashes Angostura bitters
Ice, for serving
12 ounces bourbon
12 ounces seltzer
Directions: Divide four grapes, an orange slice, 1 teaspoon sugar and 2 dashes bitters in each of four rocks glasses. Muddle the ingredients together. Fill the glasses with ice. Add 3 ounces bourbon to each glass and stir well. Top off each glass with seltzer and serve.
— From “The Artisanal Kitchen’s Holiday Cocktails” by Nick Mautone (Artisan, $13)
Party plan: 4 delicious holiday and winter cocktail recipes