More Than Eggnog for the Holidays

Feliz Navidad gets its hue from Curacao.

With the holidays upon us, it is time to dust off that punch bowl, dig out your finest glasses, and create some memorable “adult beverage” cheer. And of course some drinks for toddlers, teens, and teetotalers.

You are probably familiar with the usual suspects: eggnog, hot toddies, and mulled cider. But have you ever heard of, much less tried, caudle, posset, smoking bishop, or bumbo? Don’t worry, you’re not missing anything.

Caudle is a mixture of warm ale or wine with bread, eggs, sugar, and spices. Posset is wine curdled with milk, and it has been popular in Britain since medieval times. Smoking bishop is a variation on mulled wine with port, Seville oranges, sugar, and cloves. And bumbo is a drink made with rum, sugar, nutmeg, and citrus juice. It was very popular with pirates in the Caribbean long ago and also was used to bribe voters in colonial times. This was known as “swilling the planters with bumbo.” George Washington is said to have gone through 160 gallons of bumbo campaigning for the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1758. (For a mere 391 votes?) That’s a lotta bumbo!

While punches are popular party fare at holiday time, I tend to avoid them. Not knowing how much alcohol I’m imbibing, or what kinds, just makes me a little nervous. If I’m making a punch myself, I tend to stay on the less sweet side, with higher quality booze — and less of it. Instead of eggnog, I offer a lighter milk punch, made popular in New Orleans and composed of not much more than milk, sugar, nutmeg, and bourbon. Some recipes use some cream but why add more calories at this time of year?

Hot buttered rum and mulled cider are delicious and traditional and have many variations. I like to make the base for hot buttered rum drinks, pack it into little ramekins, and give them as gifts. Same for mulled cider. Just toss some cinnamon sticks, dried orange peel, and cloves into a little cheesecloth sachet — instant cheer.

Cafe brulot is a drink that is good hot or cold, perfect for the holiday season. It is another New Orleans invention, a mixture of brandy, fruit peels, and spices added to hot or cold coffee and served after dinner. Or breakfast, in Louisiana.

If you’re going for simplicity, just serve kir royales, a dash of Chambord, a raspberry liqueur, in a glass of Champagne. And just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider tropical drinks. After all, this is the best season for citrus fruit.

Try making Feliz Navidad, basically a margarita with blue Curacao topped with sparkling wine. The Windex blue of this drink is comical!

For children and non-drinking friends and family you could just serve sodas or cider, but why not make them feel special with a decadent homemade cocoa or cider that has been steeped with orange slices and cinnamon sticks.

One of America’s foremost mixologists, Todd Thrasher, makes his own cranberry juice. I am going to try it this year, to be mixed with club soda. I’m also going to serve his hilariously named cocktail “Metal Surrenders When Oak Trees Meet Fenders,” which comes from an Avett Brothers lyric.

If you are going to make eggnog from scratch there are a number of things to keep in mind. Traditionally it contains raw eggs, but you may want to consider either leaving them out or cooking them briefly as in a creme anglaise to destroy potential bacteria. You could use pasteurized eggs, or, living dangerously, just make it the old school way. Homemade eggnog is an amazingly delicious treat, but I have to admit that I don’t have a problem with store bought.

So, to paraphrase a line from Ernest Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” enjoy this season of “opaque, tongue-numbing, brain-warming, idea-changing, liquid alchemy,” but don’t end up like the title of Todd Thrasher’s cocktail. Celebrate responsibly.

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Recipes

Let’s start with something light and refreshing. Here is Todd Thrasher’s recipe for homemade cranberry juice. This will keep for three days refrigerated.

 

Todd Thrasher’s Cranberry Juice

Makes approx. 6 cups.

 

6 bags fresh cranberries

11/2 cups sugar

6 cups water

 

Purée ingredients in a blender or food processor or Vitamix. Strain through fine mesh sieve. He doesn’t recommend it, but I would line the sieve with cheesecloth for better clarity. Chill.

 

Feliz Navidad

Makes one.

 

1 oz. blue curacao

1 oz. tequila

1 oz. fresh lime juice

4 oz. sparkling wine

 

Mix first three ingredients, pour into champagne glass, top with sparkling wine. Garnish with orange slice.

 

Milk Punch

Makes four servings.

 

5 oz. bourbon

2 oz. dark rum

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 Tbsp. sugar

8 oz. milk or half and half

dash of freshly grated nutmeg for topping

 

Shake first five ingredients with ice until sugar is dissolved. Pour into small glasses, top with nutmeg.

 

Hot Buttered Rum Base

This recipe should yield enough for 10 to 12 drinks if you listen to Emeril Lagasse, or only four drinks if you listen to Rachel Ray or Martha Stewart. That’s a lot of butter for four drinks, so I’m going with Emeril.

 

1 stick unsalted butter

2 cups brown sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg

pinch of ground cloves

pinch salt

Mush this all together and pack into little ramekins for gifts or for yourself.

 

To make hot buttered rum, put between 1 and 2 tablespoons of the base into mug. Add boiling water about half way. Add as much rum as you wish, I’d say one to two ounces. Stir and serve.

The base mixture should last up to two months refrigerated.

 

Lemons can be substituted for limes in Feliz Navidad.
Sag Harbor rum is great hot and buttered.