Seasonal libations can help take off the winter chill
CAPITAL REGION Santa Claus has simple tastes when it comes to staying toasty on those long, chilly evenings on the job,
All it takes is a toasty mug of mulled cider finished with a dollop of homemade whipped cream and a cinnamon stick to put the jolly back in ol’ Saint Nick. Even without booze, he said the clove-spiced elixir is enough to warm the belly on even the coldest nights.
“It’s good stuff,” said Santa, who also known as Fred Clark of Saratoga Springs. “It’s on the level.”
And when it comes to cider, Clark said there’s only one place to go: The Charlton Tavern. The winter warmer is a popular seller at the centuries-old establishment, which also serves hot cider with a splash of spiced rum for those preferring a bit of a kick in their drink.
“We’ve got an adult version and a version for everybody,” said owner Mike Maloney, who watches the popularity of cider explode once the holidays near.
In Saratoga Springs, Peter Wager gets a little more complex with his seasonal cocktails at the Springwater Inn. The longtime bartender with a culinary degree from Schenectady County Community College whips up everything from a homemade eggnog to a hot buttered rum to keep holiday revelers merry.
“Anything that’s seasonal is very popular and tends to sell a lot,” he said. “People are looking for comfort and family recipes.”
The hot buttered rum is a classic sugar-and-spice recipe that dances across the taste buds. Wager starts the concoction by spiking five cloves into a lemon rind and then adding it to a hot tea glass with a heaping tablespoon of brown sugar and a cinnamon stick.
He fills the glass partway with hot water, then adds a hefty shot of dark rum. The final step is to top the glass with a tablespoon of butter, which melts to make the mixture hearty.
But Wager’s favorite is homemade eggnog, a drink that takes a bit more preparation.
He starts by separating a dozen eggs and then whipping the whites until they form soft peaks. He then blends the egg yolks with a cup of sugar, a quart of heavy cream and a quart of milk. The liquor in this drink is not for the weak-willed, he warns, pouring a quart of bourbon and a half-pint of rum into the mix.
The egg whites are gently folded into the liquid, which is then covered and refrigerated for three days. Amazingly, the resulting drink has very little bite from the alcohol.
“You can’t even taste the liquor,” he said. “It is absolutely amazing.”
Of course, the Springwater also sells a fair amount of more mainstream cocktails aimed at offering tipplers a taste of holiday flavors. One of the more popular ones is the peppermint patty, which is a simple mix of Godiva chocolate liqueur and peppermint-flavored Schnapps.
Wager also likes to incorporate seasonal fruits into less hearty cocktails. For instance, he muddles fresh cranberries with simple syrup and then adds a couple of shots of chilled cranberry vodka.
“People love to see you working with fresh fruit and fresh juices,” he said.
At Albany’s Blue 82, owners Mike Ripley and Jason Hayes ring in the holidays by turning out a whole menu of craft martinis for the season. The menu is a tradition for the upscale bar and is usually featured the day after Thanksgiving.
Ripley said the emphasis is on heavier drinks. Many of them include an element of chocolate and mint flavors.
“As soon as it get cold out, the heavier chocolate-mint-type drinks become more prevalent,” he said.
Featured on this year’s menu is the frostini, a chilled cocktail of vanilla vodka, coffee liqueur, peppermint Schnapps and Bailey’s Irish cream. On the lighter side, there’s the pineapple holly, which features peach and raspberry liqueur, vodka and pineapple juice.
Of course, not all holiday drinks involve multiple steps and several different ingredients. Sometimes the best seasonal taste is the one poured straight from the bottle into a tumbler.
Ripley said bourbon and whisky sales tend to spike when the holidays near. His personal winter favorite is a bourbon by Knob Creek served neat —poured into a glass with no ice or mixers.
Of course, the best cocktail of all is one served with smile. Ripley said there’s nothing better than escaping the hustle and bustle of the holiday season by ducking into a friendly establishment.
“There’s no better feeling than to sneak out of the madness and into an establishment to relax in front of good spirts and a bartender with a smile,” he said.