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Holiday Drinking

December 19, 2014

Let’s talk about the reason for the season. And let’s go back. Let’s go way, way, way back. All winter solstice holidays are effectively the same. You know why? Well, take a long hard look at the season itself. It’s dark. It’s cold. It’s depressing.

So, let’s gather with people who we trust, light some lights, and eat a festive meal.

Huzzah! Problem solved. Except for the part that more often than not, those people who you trust tend to be the exact people who make you crazy. They’re not going to kill you, so that’s good. But they’ll probably drive you to drink.

The FLB has been oddly silent on the subject of cocktails lately. But there are a few things that have been percolating recently, which may all come together in today’s post. Then again, maybe they won’t.

But let’s start with family.

My sister wanted to know what bottles of booze to buy for a holiday party so that her guests could have some lovely cocktails, with a bit of variety. But she also wanted to keep the bottle count low so it wouldn’t be overwhelming for partygoers.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get back to her in time. If I haven’t mentioned, there’s a bit of a backlog.

Ultimately, the answer is to buy what you like. There’s an old saying to beware of activities that require you to buy new clothes, or something like that. Anyhow, I think the same wisdom holds true for cocktails.

Here in the Fussy household, we always keep a bottle of gin and a bottle of whiskey in the liquor cabinet regardless of the season. Really, that’s all you need.

My friends in LA wrote the 12 Bottle Bar. I can whittle that down to three. In part that’s because I don’t count bitters and vermouth as bottles. If I can buy bitters in a grocery store they aren’t booze. That’s the law. Who am I to argue with the law?

These days the negroni feels a bit overplayed, but it’s still a great freaking drink. It’s easy to make, and even though it’s cold outside, there’s a darkness, bitterness, and complexity to this cocktail that speaks to the season. Some people may tell you it’s a 1:1:1 mix of gin, campari and sweet vermouth. My cocktail guru of blessed memory, Michael Jackson, insists it’s two parts gin. I’m in his camp.

Switch out the gin for whiskey and you’ve mighty close to a slightly darker drink called the New Pal. If you went crazy and got a bottle of dry vermouth too, you’ve got a martini. With bitters and appropriate garnish, you’ve got a Manhattan. Muddle some sugar cubes and you’ve got an old fashioned.

For those looking for a long drink, some seltzer will get you Campari and soda. A half lime added to the seltzer will give you a rickey (either gin or whiskey). If someone in your social circle actually wants a rickey in winter, that’s on you. But if that’s the kind of crowd you run with, a little lemon and some simple syrup transforms that long gin drink into a Tom Collins.

And then there are the classic two ingredient drinks. Gin & It, which is short for Italian vermouth, can be served at room temperature. So can pink gin, which is the bracing mixture of gin and aromatic bitters.

We can’t forget the Americano, which is simply sweet vermouth, campari and soda.

So here’s my classic cocktail party recommendation:
-Two base spirits: gin and whiskey
-Two vermouths: sweet and dry
-Two bitters: orange and aromatic
-One herbal liqueur: Campari or amaro
-A few bottles of seltzer
-A bowl of mixed fresh citrus
-Plenty of freshly made ice from good tasting water

Don’t fear amaro. I’m a little bit up in arms right now about the article Modern Farmer just did on the stuff. I would never advise anyone to go out and drink Fernet Branca as an introduction to bitter Italian herbal liqueurs. Fernet is something you take. Some people enjoy the experience much like some people enjoy taking the polar bear plunge. Ramazzotti is my go to amaro, and it’s an entirely different experience. It’s more bittersweet and adds a ton of depth to cocktails. Plus, as opposed to the current formulation of Campari, Ramazzotti isn’t artificially colored. Man, I hate what they did to that classic red liqueur.

Oh, and I also mentioned ice. That’s not a throwaway line. Ice is very serious stuff. I’ll leave you with a great video of what’s possible with cocktail ice. I’m not saying that you should try any of this at home. But it’s important to keep in mind. Respect your ingredients, and in cocktails ice is most certainly an ingredient.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 19, 2014 11:16 am

    Cool!!! Thanks for sharing – this was wonderful.

  2. Annie permalink
    December 19, 2014 1:21 pm

    Thanks! [I was wondering if I’d make the blog!] Party was a hit, but you were missed.

  3. EPT permalink
    December 20, 2014 6:22 pm

    I think I would want to add a Rum, such as Mount Gay and a Vodka, Titos if you want neutral, Ciroc if you want something a little more interesting. With these additions I think you have it covered.

  4. Jack C permalink
    December 28, 2014 5:01 pm

    The Negroni with whiskey in place of gin is the Boulevardier. Swap out the sweet (red) vermouth for dry (white) vermouth and you’ve got the Old Pal. The New Pal takes the Boulevardier and adds dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters (an anise-flavored bitter) and another absinthe/anise liqueur (either absinthe or Herbsaint – Pernod or pastis may work as well). So the New Pal isn’t quite the same as a Negroni with whiskey.

    Signed,
    A Fussy Little Drinker

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