One thing that I’ve become increasingly aware of throughout my life is the importance of having a particular drink or at least genre to choose from when planning your significant events. There are the classics: Champagne for New Years and weddings, Mimosas on Easter, Mint Juleps for the Kentucky Derby, Guinness on St. Patrick’s Day, and beer during football games, baseball games, any games for that matter. Those were the standard drinks in my family. They followed loosely by most people I know. I’ve noticed a phenomenon recently, though, in which the food blogs and magazines that I follow and receive newsletters from get increasingly frantic about creating a signature drink and meal for every holiday.
I feel like food blogs are succumbing not just to cutesy marketing techniques, but also to the already well established holiday creep and freak out that big box stores have been perfecting for years. The headlines don’t just say “here’s a nice drink to have when it’s chilly.” Instead, it’s “BEAT THE FRIGID COLD AND KEEP YOUR VALENTINE’S LOVE WITH THIS OUTRAGEOUS COCKTAIL.” I remember getting emails in October with subject lines asking me if I’d finished planning my menu for Thanksgiving yet, because I was running out of time! As ridiculous as it is, I still find myself clicking through the links, trying to gauge whether this recipe really is the best thing I’ll ever serve at my next Halloween party. So far, I haven’t been convinced, but maybe I’m not quite the hostess that they seem to be looking for.
It’s not just food blogs, though, that have created this obsession with appropriate themed drinks. Liquor companies have jumped in full steam as well, with plenty of flavored vodkas and bourbons to pour at any occasion. Vodka companies especially have worked to create that one of kind flavor that will be essential at the next party—from Whipped Cream flavored Smirnoff to Alaska Distillery’s Smoked Salmon vodka to last year’s release of Lucky Player’s vodka that apparently tastes like King Cake. These are all spirits just begging for the daring bartender or home mixologist to create the next drink for the occasion or season. In fact, here are a few that seem to have managed it with class!
For me, being more of a basics drinker, it’s frankly discouraging when I do click on the house on fire links and find that the recipe for the perfect holiday cocktail is full of glazed jelly donut vodkas or a drink that looks like it will taste more like candy than a cocktail. Hence my delight when Abigail Gullo prepared a pre-holiday lecture all about holiday drinks for a crowd that showcased interesting, delicioius and crowd-scalable drinks that were both unique and perfectly appropriate for the winter season. Some were based in history, like the Mary Rockett Milk Punch, which features curdled milk and was the basis for one of Ben Franklin’s favorite drinks, while others were invented by Abigail while she was searching for the perfect punch for a crowd recipe. Above all, though, Abigail insisted that the secret to having a good party (and the ultimate goal in having a party) is to try and manage everything so you are not stressed, and especially that you don’t impart stress to your guests. So make everything simpler if you need to, or do it ahead of time, and make sure that you feel good about what you’re serving. That was advice I could take to heart in my next party planning adventure because the key thing about enjoying your drinks, no matter the occasion, is to feel good about what you’re drinking.
With Mardi Gras well on its way in New Orleans, I think I need to direct everyone to one of my all time favorite discussions of what to drink during the festival: this report on Nola.com a few years ago. A few of the city’s great bartenders lent their ideas and criticisms of creating flask cocktails to carry around with you. Of chief concern was to create a concoction that would still taste good as it gets warm, and and that is wouldn’t become watered down. This seems to be a wonderful idea for all those planning on going on to the parades—your own beverage that tastes good, doesn’t need ice (but if someone has a cooler and you catch a cup, things could get more delicious!) and you don’t even have to share!
In any case, I think that drinking in accordance to the holiday or season is a very good way to go about celebrating said occasion, but I don’t really think that every single day needs a signature drink. Especially not if it’s full of “flavor” or boasts an all caps tagline. But if you remember what it is you’re celebrating, and plan accordingly to enjoy it, you’ll be off to a great start.
Mary Rockett Milk Punch
- 24 oz sugar
- 96 oz Pierre Ferrand Cognac
- 3 Tbsp fresh grated nutmeg
- 120 oz boiling water
- 9 lemons, juiced
- 48 oz whole milk
- Peychaud’s Bitters
- Lemon twist for garnish
In a large bowl, muddle the lemon peels and sugar, let stand for 2 hours.
In a separate container, stir together the cognac and nutmeg, let stand for 1 hour. Pour the boiling water over the sugar and then add the cognac mixture and lemon juice. Stir until the sguar dissovles.
Add the milk to a small saucepan over medium-low heat and bring to a simmer (at least 190 F, but do not allow to boil).
Pour the milk into the cognac mixture and let stand for 30 minutes without stirring—milk will begin to curdle.
Strain through a jelly-strainer bag into bottles or a large bowl, discarding solids, and store in the refrigerator.
To serve: add 4 ounces of the strained liquid to a double Old Fashioned glass filled with ice. Stir in a dash of Peychaud’s Bitters and garnish with a lemon twist.