Can you believe it’s already the end of the year? This holiday season, I’m excited to spend time with my family and friends as we eat, drink, and ring in the new year. When I get together with loved ones, you’ll usually find me in the kitchen tinkering with recipes, both food and drink. There’s something special about a festive, delicious cocktail that can elevate and balance the heavy holiday meals common during this time.

During the last few days of the year, I usually crave classic winter ingredients – think cranberries, cinnamon, vanilla, coffee, and cream. Below are a few of my favorite libations to enjoy in the wintery months – from bubbly to creamy, there’s something for everyone. They’re simple yet elegant, and sure to impress, whether in your bar or at your dinner table.

As a humble request, please use your best judgement this holiday season when enjoying cocktails. Utilize a ride share service or have a designated driver. Drink well and enjoy responsibly!

Cheers!

Cranberry Spritz

I always love serving a bit of bubbly at the end of December – the effervescence tends to put a smile on everyone’s face. This refreshing twist on a classic spritz incorporates a small amount of cranberry syrup to give the cocktail a holiday twist. Peychaud’s Apertivo is an American liqueur that offers a lighter flavor than its’ Italian counterparts.

In a wine glass filled with ice:

.5 oz. Monin Cranberry Syrup

1.5 oz. Peychaud’s Apertivo

3 oz. Zonin Prosecco

Splash of club soda

Garnish with an orange wedge and a few cranberries

*For a non-alcoholic version, replace the Peychaud’s with the newly-released Giffard Apertif Syrup and omit the Prosecco. It makes for a lovely offering for those wishing to skip the booze.

Rum Punch

Whenever I’m asked about serving cocktails in a group setting, I tend to recommend a punch. They can be made in batches, easily served, and refilled as needed – perfect for larger groups! The old refrain “One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, four of weak” is a fun mnemonic that will help guide you to a delicious and foolproof recipe. Using this guideline and tinkering with the different flavor variations will always make for a wonderfully dynamic and layered libation. Here is just one of the countless combinations that I think will work for you.

One part lemon juice

Two parts Monin Cinnamon Syrup

Three parts Flor de Cana 7yr rum

Four parts black tea (or whichever flavored tea you prefer)

Combine all ingredients in a punch bowl and whisk thoroughly

Serve over ice with a lemon wedge garnish

White Russian

I’ll never forget the first time my cousin Joey introduced me to the White Russian cocktail. We were at a family party in Long Beach and afterward, he dragged me to his favorite local dive bar. The two of us enjoyed the simple mix of coffee liqueur, cream, and vodka that made for the perfect end to the evening. This variation uses St. George Nola Coffee Liqueur, which has a considerably lower amount of sugar than that other stuff you’ll find on the shelves.

 In a double-old fashioned glass:

1 oz. St. George Nola Coffee Liqueur

.25 oz. simple syrup

1 oz. Koskenkorva vodka

.75 oz. heavy cream

Optional: garnish with freshly-grated cinnamon

Champagne Cocktail

When ringing in the new year, having an abundance of sparkling wine on hand is never a bad idea. Corks popping, bubbly pouring, and glasses clinking are hallmark sounds of a great New Year’s Eve party. If you’re twisting my arm, I’m partial to sipping some ice-cold Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs, especially since it’s from California. However, if I’m in the mood for something different, the Champagne cocktail is my go-to. It’s a wonderful option for those looking to branch out from the traditional choice.

In a chilled Champagne flute:

Place a sugar cube in the bottom of the glass and add 3-4 dashes of Angostura bitters.

Fill slowly with well-chilled Korbel Brut California Champagne

Garnish with a lemon peel

Eggnog

Whenever I would bartend and use an egg-white in a cocktail, it would usually make for a “sizzling fajita” effect. A guest would watch the process, then see the result and desire the same experience. These other guests were looking to jump on the bandwagon and enjoy the same cocktail to join in the revelry. Using a whole egg, on the other hand, is usually polarizing – people are either wary of the raw yolk, or excited to experience something new.

Enjoying eggnog is certainly synonymous with the end of December holidays, usually from a mug in the shape of Santa Claus or a moose. This recipe is a classic combination of sugar, cream, and egg with the variant touch of vanilla liqueur. I hope that you find the same effect as above, so that when you serve these decadent drinks, you’ll find yourself serving one after another. 

In a mixing tin:

.75 oz. Bounty dark rum

.75 oz. Maison Rouge VS Cognac

.25 oz. Giffard Vanilla liqueur

.75 oz. simple syrup

.75 oz. heavy cream

1 egg

Shake very, very hard WITOUT ice for about 60 seconds to emulsify the egg and incorporate all the elements.

Add ice and shake for 8-10 seconds to chill and dilute

Double strain through a mesh strainer into a chilled coupe glass or mug

Garnish with freshly-grated nutmeg

About the Author

Willem Van Leuven is a Craft & Luxury Spirits Specialist for Young’s Market Company in San Diego, California. His passion for craft spirits stems from over 18 years of hospitality experience working in bars and restaurants throughout Southern California. He was previously the president of the San Diego chapter of the United States Bartender’s Guild and continues to be active in the San Diego cocktail community. When he’s not talking about libations, you can find him enjoying them both stateside and abroad, often in Mexico.