A Christmas Cocktail

The sleeping bag is coming along, but very slowly. I keep getting distracted by a lot of things. Soap making. Fixing leaky faucets. Getting a Christmas tree and then making a wreath out of the excess boughs…. Yes, it is the Holiday season and this will make it particularly difficult to finish the sleeping bag in time for the annual winter campout. What, with the twelve drinking days of Christmas starting tomorrow and multiple holiday parties on the horizon it will be a struggle to get any sewing done, but I’m convinced it can be done.

So, speaking of holiday parties, the neighbors had two last night. One was directly across the hall and the other just around the corner. We just stopped in for a couple of drinks; we didn’t really know anyone, although we met some nice people. Mostly it was just good people watching. For the first party we brought a bottle of sparkling wine that was in the fridge, which turned out to be a huge hit. Before I had even delivered it to the hostess I had people asking me to open it. When it was finally opened, glasses appeared, ready to be filled. I’m not to sure of how the bottle ended up in our fridge to begin with, but it was wine from Carneros, the southern part of Napa and it was pretty good. Either way the people at the party definitely liked and it was gone quickly. At the other party they had a couple of bartenders and an assortment of bottles, punches, and other libations. When I asked the bartender if I could get a Manhattan, he answered “no, but you can make it yourself,” thrusting a cocktail shaker and a bottle of Hudson bourbon at me.1 “No worries,” I thought, “it’s probably better that I do it,” and I mixed up a couple of Manhattans, one for me and one for the miss, and gave a taste to the bartender. Tasting it, he nodded approvingly and we cheered.

But what I really want to talk about it the cocktail I made before going to either party, the one I made whilst getting ready. I had been sort of inspired a bit before Thanksgiving by Michael over at A Dash of Bitters on this post Raising a Glass in Thanks. I to wanted to make a holiday cocktail. What with the recent Christmas tree, wreath, and the impending holiday parties, I thought that now would be a great time to start experimenting on one. I wanted some that really captured the holidays in a glass. Something spicy, but also with a touch of sweetness. And I wanted to use some Carpano Antica vermouth2, which I had recently discovered about a month ago and have decided it is the best thing ever. I’m not actually a huge vermouth fan, but this stuff is one a whole other level. It is sort of like when I finally had good gin and was reborn a gin aficionado, only even better. Anyways, I was convinced that the Antica would do superbly in my holiday-themed cocktail. I looked over my assortment of other liquors trying to think of what else would round out the formula that I was requiring. As soon as I saw it, I immediately decided it would need some Nocino della Christina in it. Nocino is a walnut liqueur that I absolutely love. I figured it would add just the right amount of sweetness and the necessary depth of complexity to the cocktail that I was looking for. I then pick up the Calvados for the base liquor and, remembering an article I read by Gary Regan about Christina, I also grabbed my bottle of Regan’s orange bitters and some Creole Shrubb. Here is what I mixed up:

christmas cocktail

  • 1 oz Calvados brandy
  • .75 oz Carpano Antica vermouth
  • .5 oz Nocino della Christina walnut liqueur
  • .25 oz Clement Creole Shrubb orange liqueur
  • Generous dashes of Regan’s orange bitters

The Carpano is the only one that is that you specifically need to make this. It is a must. Nothing else will do. Do not even think of attempting to make this with Martini & Rossi vermouth. Other than that, I used Calvados Prestige from France, but I’m interested in trying this with a different brandy, possibly a Cognac, although the spicy-appleness of the calvados does impart something quite nice. I also imagine any nocino will do here, but the only one available to me is Christina. It’s local to me and very, very good, so I recommend it. The Clement could definitely be played around with. I am not an expert by any means on orange liqueurs, but I do like Clement and it is different. I’d like to try it with Prunier Liqueur d’Orange and I’m sure Grand Marnier could work, but probably not as well. There isn’t a lot of orange liqueur in there, so it probably doesn’t matter that much which one you choose; I limited it because I wanted to control the sweetness of the cocktail and just add a hint of orange as a highlight.

Once you have everything, combine all the ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with orange zest. I think I’ll name the drink “Lit Up,” but you can call it whatever you want.

So, I thought it would be a process to develop this beverage. But I’m so pleased with my first attempt that I think it’s good enough as is. I might play around with it a little, but certainly the basic elements I wanted are all there. It’s spicy deliciousness. And very complex. Certainly a holiday beverage. Now I just have to figure out how I am going to get all the ingredients back with me to Vermont so I can enjoy the cocktail with family and friends on Christmas. But then I also have a sleeping bag to finish. Like I said, I keep getting distracted.

1 He may have also mumbled something about Hudson bourbon being the “best bourbon ever made” while he handed it to me. I can’t really argue with that.
2 Carpano vermouth was what I used to make the Manhattan at the do-it-yourself bar. In fact, the Carpano and the Hudson were the reasons I wanted a Manhattan at all.

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