Festive occasions should be celebrated with festive drinks. The upcoming holidays provide the perfect opportunity for a host to show off her or his bartending skills with drinks that warm the body as well as the soul.
“When I think of the holidays, my mind goes to two things, rum and bourbon,” said bartender Chris Romero. Romero has been behind the bar at McKay’s Public House in Bar Harbor for 10 years.
Romero has some suggestions for drinks to serve at your holiday party, libations that include seasonal spins on classic cocktails.
The cold weather, Romero said, calls for drinks that are “sweet and hearty.”
Hot chocolate is a cold-weather favorite. Romero has put some extra heat in the beverage with a drink he calls Fireside Cocoa.
Start with three parts hot chocolate, add one part Jim Beam Kentucky Fire bourbon, toss in some marshmallows and stir with a cinnamon stick.
Another traditional winter drink is mulled cider. Start by making a pot of mulled cider. Heat the cider and spices — cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves are commonly used — to boiling and then simmer for 10 minutes or so. By itself, the mulled cider is a treat. Romero, however, adds an alcoholic twist with a drink called the Snowy Fence.
The Snowy Fence calls for one cup mulled cider, two ounces of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey whiskey, a whole fresh-squeezed lime and one-half ounce Orleans bitter. Orleans bitter is a cider with red currant and bitters manufactured in Vermont.
Hot-buttered rum has been called “comfort food in a mug.” The drink predates the founding of our country. Romero has updated this classic and has a tip for whipping up a mug-full for those surprise guests.
“You can make a batch and keep it in the fridge,” he said. “You just have to add hot water.”
Romero uses spiced rum; he recommends either Captain Morgan’s or Gosling’s. Heat three-quarters cup of rum; add one stick of butter, one-quarter tablespoon honey, one-half teaspoon ground cinnamon, one-quarter teaspoon nutmeg, one-eighth teaspoon ground cloves and a pinch of salt. Whip this together and let chill.
Romero said he pours the mixture into ice cube trays and stores the trays in the refrigerator. To serve, put one “cube” in a mug and add hot water.
Holiday celebrations often call for sparkling beverages. Romero has a drink he calls a Mistletoe Sparkler that is sure to be the highlight of any toast.
Start with Champagne flute of your favorite prosecco. Add splashes of the aperitif Aperol and pomegranate juice. Garnish with an orange twist.
Of course, not everyone will want a mixed drink. Romero too has suggestions on pleasing those who prefer beer or wine.
Porters and stouts are top on Romero’s list of beers for the holidays.
“I’ve been big on the coffee porter,” he said. Funky Bow Brewery’s Midnight Special Coffee Porter is his top choice. It’s a Maine-made beer; the brewery is in Lyman. Lake Trout Stout from another Maine brewery, Sebago Brewing Co., gets his nod. The company makes a specialty version, where the stout is aged in charred oak bourbon barrels.
There are a number of good hard ciders on the market as well, Romero said. He recommends the craft ciders made by Bantam of Somerville, Mass. Their Rojo especially is good, he said.
“It’s a classy cider aged with tart cherries and peppercorns,” he said.
For wine, you can’t go wrong with a Napa Valley zinfandel or a Gigondas, Romero said. Gigondas is a red wine from the Rhone Valley in France, a region known for producing great wines.
“Typically, when you go to a Gigondas it’s surefire,” Romero said.
Romero also has an idea for a homemade holiday gift that starts with starts with an empty flask or bottle. Use your imagination, he urges; the bottle can be something meaningful to the person who will receive the gift or of an unusual design. Pour in spirits — he typically uses rum or bourbon — add spices, here again cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves are commonly used, and let steep.
“I usually set it somewhere and forget it,” he said. The longer the better, but a week is long enough for the flavors to mingle. Make your own personalized label and you have a gift any host would be happy to receive.
However you decide to celebrate the holidays, Romero has some advice.
“Don’t overthink it,” he said. Sit back and have a good time.