Local libation lovers whip up cocktails with a holiday twist

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published December 4, 2013

 Nick Britsky, a bartender and drink blogger, prepares a block of ice for a party at his home Nov. 23.

Nick Britsky, a bartender and drink blogger, prepares a block of ice for a party at his home Nov. 23.

Photo by Brian Sevald

Seasonal Sips Recipe Card

Christina Oswald’s Homemade Bailey’s
• 1 cup Irish whiskey
• 1 pint half and half
• 1 can sweetened condensed milk
• 1 teaspoon baking cocoa
• 1 teaspoon instant coffee (choose the fine, powdered kind)
• 1 capful of almond extract
Blend all the ingredients and enjoy!

Nick’s Holiday Toddy
• 1.5 ounces rye
• 1/2 ounce orange juice
• 4 ounces hot water
• 1/4 ounce spiced dark syrup, made by combining 2 cups brown sugar to 1 cup water and infusing with holiday spices of your choice, like cloves, cinnamon, all spice and star anise.
Stir it up and take a swig!

Nonalcolholic Reindeer Punch
• 4 cups pomegranate juice
• 2 cups ginger ale
• 2 cups mint
• 1/2 cup pear nectar
Combine ingredients and sip away! Nick says you can make your own ginger ale by mixing up sliced ginger root, simple syrup and club soda to taste.

Christina’s Apple Ginger Snap
1 parts fresh apple cider
2 parts ginger beer
1 part honey whiskey
Combine over ice and enjoy.

Nick’s Harvest Festival Punch
6 ounces roasted pear & apple puree – 2 apples and 2 pears, sliced and roasted at 350° for an hour, then pureed in a food processor or blender
2 ounces Allspice Dram Liqueur
2 bottles of Prosecco
6 ounces cognac
3 ounces lemon juice
Ice, or a festive ice block, made by freezing some ice with cranberries and mint leaves in a round plastic storage container overnight. If you have a ring mold, it will look like a holly wreath!

Combine all ingredients and enjoy!

Christina’s Holiday Cranberry Mojito
16 ounces fresh cranberries, washed and dried
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
20 fresh mint leaves
4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
8 ounces rum
12-14 ounces club soda

Create a cranberry simple syrup by heating cranberries in a sauce pot over medium heat with sugar and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer and cook for about 10 minutes to create a syrup. Just before the cranberries start to burst, remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool completely. Pour the cooled syrup through a strainer and mash the cranberries to extract the syrup.

Then, add about five fresh mint leaves, one tablespoon of the fresh lime juice or a lime wedge to the bottom of the glass. Mash the mint in the glass with a muddler or the back of a wooden spoon.

Add the ice, about four ounces of the cranberry simple syrup and two ounces of rum to each glass. Top off with club soda and garnish with fresh cranberries and mint.

Christina’s Pumpkin Pie Martini
2 parts RumChata
1 part vanilla vodka
1 part pumpkin syrup or 3 tablespoons pumpkin pie filling
Crushed graham cracker
Cinnamon and whipped cream, optional

Rim martini glass with graham cracker. Shake RumChata, vanilla vodka, and pumpkin with ice and strain into a martini glass, then top with whipped cream and sprinkle with cinnamon. Yum!

Christina’s Peppermint Martini
Peppermint candy canes
Vanilla frosting
2 ounces half and half
2 ounces white crème de cacao
2 ounces vanilla vodka
2 ounces half-and-half
1/4 Teaspoon peppermint extract

Glass rim: Crush candy canes in plastic bag with a rolling pin or other heavy object. Lightly frost the rim with vanilla frosting, then dip frosted glass into crushed candy canes.

Drink: Add white crème de cacao, half-and-half, vanilla vodka and peppermint extract; shake with ice until well mixed and chilled. Strain into martini glasses. Sip away.

Christina’s Raspberry Truffle Martini
2 parts raspberry vodka
1 part white crème de cacao
1 part raspberry liquor

Add raspberry vodka and white crème de cacao to shaker with ice, then pour into a martini glass. Leave room at the top of the glass so you can pour the raspberry liquor down the side of the inside of the glass to sink the liquor to the bottom of the glass – tasty and pretty.

When it comes to holiday entertaining, food and festive décor are a must. But nothing makes spirits bright quite like … well, spirits.

That is, spirits, beer, wine and other adult libations, of course. Nick Britsky, of Royal Oak, knows that rule very well. He’s been tending bar since he was in college, and now he works part-time at The Oakland Art Novelty Co. in Ferndale and blogs about beverages on his website, NickDrinks.com. Naturally, Britsky’s holiday guests have high expectations for his cocktail spread this season.

Among the items he’ll have on his menu are liquors that lend themselves to the comforting signature flavors of winter. Britsky said baking spices like cinnamon, clove and anise are all tastes that evoke a holiday feeling, and the key is finding new and exciting ways to present those traditional favorites.

“I make this variation of a hot toddy, which usually uses lemon and honey flavors. But I use a rich brown sugar simple syrup, which plays up the cinnamon in there. And instead of lemon, I use orange,” he said. “Those flavors really just remind me of pies and Mom’s cooking; and the hot (temperature), too, brings it all together.”

This time of year, Britsky loves having bourbon on hand for guests, since he said it’s easy on the pallet, easy to mix for cocktails and has a classic, all-American flavor. He said scotch is also a good choice right now, since it’s smoky, strong and delivers a warming sensation that’s oh-so comforting when it’s cold outside.

“I think getting a good spirit is a really good place to start,” he said. “Then, get some craft beers and some wine, so there’s something for everybody. You can enlist the help of professionals for that. Go to Papa Joe’s or wherever and ask them for help choosing something you don’t know about.”

One drink trend that Britsky said is becoming increasingly popular is punch. With fresh, creative ingredients, these concoctions are far from the tired recipes we’ve seen too many times before.

“(Punch) has always been very Martha Stewart or very kiddie, like Shirley Temples,” he said, explaining that fresh juices and quirky ingredients, like roasted fruit and fresh herbs, can really make a difference and bring a punch to a new level.

Britsky added that Champagne and sparkling wine drinks are also becoming more prevalent with savvy sippers.

“It’s a little quiet right now, but there are a number of good sparkling wines on the market. You can get  local sparkling wines for $20,” he said, adding that punches and wine-based cocktails, as opposed to liquors, are great for parties because guests can enjoy more servings without being irresponsible. 

According to bartender Christina Oswald, there are a few simple tips and tricks that can help holiday hosts get the maximum amount of cheer with a minimum amount of effort when preparing themed cocktails.

Oswald, by day, is the health and wellness program coordinator at The Community House in Birmingham. She recently hosted a holiday cocktail workshop to share those secrets with a packed house of eager students. She demonstrated how to make creative drinks for the season, like a pumpkin pie martini and a holiday cranberry mojito.

Among her favorite cocktail shortcuts: flavored extracts.

“You only use peppermint schnapps once in a blue moon, so you’ve got this big bottle sitting in your cabinet for years that you only take down at Christmas. Or getting flavored vodka for every drink is expensive,” said Oswald. “You can get the same thing from a tiny drop of extract.”

Oswald said it’s more economical to buy small bottles of flavor extract as opposed to flavored liquors or drink mixes. Or, if you’ve got some on hand, flavored coffee syrups and creamers will do the trick, as well, for certain cocktails. You can mix them in the drink itself or meld them into other ingredients to be added, like the simple syrup, if it’s called for.

Prepping ahead of time is another one of Oswald’s trade secrets. She’s a big fan of presenting garnished drinks and getting glasses or other add-ons ready hours or even the night before the main event.

“For my peppermint martini recipe, I rim the glass with vanilla frosting and then dip it into crushed candy canes. And that can absolutely be done the night before, if you’ve got room in your fridge to store the glasses,” she said. “Sometimes, the visual aspects of a drink make it taste so much better.”