Celebration Cocktails

Celebration Cocktails

Holidays and celebrations are often associated with distinctive drinks. What would Christmas be without eggnog, or St. Patrick's Day without that distinctive drink called “anything within arm's reach?” Some musing on this theme led to this article, in which I attempt to take a journey through the year, punctuated by appropriate cocktails.

New Year's Day: I never overdo it on New Year's Eve; one needs to drive, often under icy conditions and up and down hills where I live, and at parties the bubbly is often of uncertain provenance. My hangover-free New Year's Day is hence the occasion for that first fine wine of the year, to set the tone. You want a good bottle that gives you a real glow as you set those rosy resolutions.

First up in our year of holidays is the celebration of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the man who gave us the words “I have a dream” with such eloquence. The Dream Cocktail is the natural choice for this day. In an ice-filled glass pour an ounce and a half of brandy and a half ounce each of Cointreau (or triple sec) and anisette. Stir and strain into a chilled glass.

Australia Day comes late in January, and considering the two centuries of fine relations we've had with our antipodean cousins, we ought to share their occasion. For a Barrier Reef, we use a cocktail shaker, adding an ounce of gin, a half ounce of Cointreau, a dash of bitters, a dash of blue Curaçao and a scoop of vanilla ice cream, shaking and pouring into a chilled highball glass. If you think this too cold a drink for January, consider that it is high summer Down Under; close your eyes and imagine.

Groundhog Day-February 2: If the groundhog does not see his shadow and spring seems imminent, we celebrate with the first dry martini of the year. If the groundhog sees his shadow, we'd better get used to six more weeks of winter and prepare a Hot Toddy. This requires two ounces of whiskey, rum or brandy mixed with a teaspoon of honey or sugar. You fill the glass with hot water, stir, garnish with lemon and throw in a few cloves and a cinnamon stick. Now go to your television, turn on the Australian Open tennis tournament, and watch 'em sweat under that summer sun.

Since we've mentioned the Aussies already, it's time we gave the neighboring Kiwis their due, especially considering all those fine New Zealand wines we have been enjoying of late. New Zealand's National Day is Waitangi Day, the 6th of February. We will enjoy a Daiquiri Kiwi on this day: an ounce each of rum, lemon juice, Cointreau, and Midori with a half ounce of sugar syrup, blended with half a kiwi fruit and ice and strained into a martini glass. Use the other half of the kiwi to cut garnishes.

Valentine's Day-February 14: Champagne (and don't stint) is ideal for this very special day, but why not try a cocktail called Cupid's Potion? Fill a highball glass with ice, pour in an ounce and a half of amaretto, a half ounce triple sec, a dash of grenadine then fill with equal parts orange juice and sour mix. Shake them together.

The ideal drink for Presidents Day (if we actually can take time off from shopping to commemorate Abe and George at all) is the Presidente. To an ice-filled glass add an ounce and a half of rum, a half ounce each of dry vermouth and Curaçao, a dash of grenadine and shake, straining into a chilled glass. The garnish is a lemon twist. If we really want to be cynical about presidents, however, why not try a Watergate Coffee: an ounce each of Kahlua and Cointreau topped with black coffee and whipped cream.

The Ides of March: Those Julius Caesar fans among us will want to commemorate Julie's unfortunate final day in 44 BC. The Bloody Caesar (popular in Canada) will accomplish this. One of the many spinoffs of the Bloody Mary, this drink rounds up the usual subjects (if only Caesar had thought to do this) but adds clam juice in equal parts to the tomato juice.

Mardi Gras: The dates for “Fat Tuesday” vary according to the commencement of Lent, but the drink of preference is obvious, the New Orleans Sazerac. A proper Sazerac involves some care. You start by coating the inside of the destination glass with a Pastis like Pernot, Ricard or better yet, some real (and recently legalized) Absinthe. This requires pouring in and then pouring out a full shot of the Pastis; its final destination is your affair alone. You fill another glass with ice, add two ounces of bourbon, a teaspoon of sugar, and a dash of Peychaud's bitters, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Strain into the coated glass and garnish with a lemon twist.

I have already alluded to St. Patrick's Day, which is invariably associated in the popular imagination with the consumption of alcoholic beverages. So many cocktails have Irish themes that is difficult to know where to begin. I have hence decided to pay tribute to the Irish monks who were so instrumental in keeping civilization going during the dark ages. To make an Irish Monk, fill a glass with ice, add an ounce Irish Whiskey, an ounce of Frangelico, and stir.

April Fool's Day: A standard Bloody Mary will do here, but you tell your friends it is a Virgin Mary and you make sure they drink several before you let on. Confiscate their car keys as you see fit.

In the United States, April 15th is the most somber day of the year. There is indeed a cocktail called the Income Tax, however, for those of you who need solace after that forlorn trip to the post office. In a glass filled with ice add an ounce of gin then dashes of sweet vermouth, dry vermouth, orange juice, and bitters. Shake and strain into a chilled glass. Repeat as needed.

For those of you who feel a strong need to reaffirm your loyalty to the concept of a United States of America after your April 15 blood donation, you only need wait until April 19 for Patriot's Day. Celebrated as an official holiday in the New England states, Patriot's Day commemorates the battles of Lexington and Concord outside of Boston in 1775 that began the American Revolution. The Liberty Cocktail is ideal for this one. In an ice-filled glass, add an ounce and a half of apple brandy, three-quarters of an ounce of rum, a quarter teaspoon sugar syrup, stir and strain into a chilled glass.

On Easter, by all means indulge in the chocolate bunny, but before you march off dressed to the nines on your Easter Parade, try a Fifth Avenue, a floater drink. The bottom layer is three quarters of an ounce of crème de cacao. You float the same quantity of apricot brandy on top, then top with a half ounce of milk for absolute wholesomeness.

Cinco de Mayo: Here you have a choice, depending on your commitment to this cross-cultural celebration: Mexican beer or one of the many guises of the Margarita.

Mother's Day: What better than a Mother Love? Over ice stir an ounce and a half of Canadian whiskey with a half ounce of peppermint schnapps. Mom will love this one.

Memorial Day: We need something military to honor the heroes who have sacrificed so much to give us the freedom to make silly cocktails (as well as freedom of speech, the press, religion and all that). How about a W.W. II? You fill a glass with ice and add an ounce each of vodka, triple sec and Midori melon liqueur, throw in a dash of lime juice, fill with pineapple juice, and shake. If you still think the Russians are a threat (and I do), try a W.W. III (which I have just invented): pour equal parts vodka and bourbon into a glass, then go to some remote but unstable area of the world and ignite.

D-Day: We always commemorate the 6th of June, so how about preparing a Victory. In an ice-filled glass, add an ounce and a half of Pernod, three-quarters of an ounce of grenadine, shake and top with club soda. You could of course throw all taste to the wind and opt for a Dead Nazi, equal parts Jägermeister and peppermint schnapps.

Flag Day-June 14: The only drink for this day is—no prizes for guessing—the Betsy Ross. Over ice add an ounce each of vodka, amaretto and sour mix. Shake and strain into a chilled glass.

Father's Day: For a Big Daddy, fill a tall glass with ice and add a half ounce each of vodka, rum, tequila and whisky. Top with lemon-lime soda and garnish with lime. Make sure Mom is around in case Pop cannot finish this.

Canada Day-July 1: The choice is clear for this holiday, the Maple Leaf: over ice, an ounce of Canadian whiskey, a quarter ounce lemon juice, a teaspoon of maple syrup, shake and strain into a chilled glass.

Independence Day: The Fourth of July is a floater, but if you make it with care you ought to generate some fireworks. Three quarters of an ounce each of grenadine for the bottom, blue Curaçao for the middle, light rum, vodka or milk for the top. That's red, white and blue if you haven't yet figured.

Bastille Day-July 14: Before you start to think that a “Bloody” might work, there is a better cocktail to represent this fine day in history. To make a Guillotine, over ice, add three quarters of an ounce each of vodka, tequila and mentholated schnapps. Shake and strain into a glass, and voilà, you get that splendid light-headed feeling.

No one works much on Labor Day, but to commemorate the American worker what could be more appropriate than a Hard Hat? Over ice pour two ounces of rum, a dash of lime juice, a teaspoon of sugar, and fill up with club soda.

Columbus Day presents something of a quandary: make the drink Italian to celebrate Chris's homeland, or make it Spanish to commemorate the people who gave him the three ships. Why not both? For an Italian Stallion mix an ounce and a half of scotch with half an ounce of Galliano. For a Spanish Fly mix equal amounts of tequila and amaretto over ice. Set sail and discover a new world.

Halloween presents a number of possibilities for aptly named drinks, but I am choosing the Black Cat. In an ice-filed glass pour an ounce each of vodka and cherry liqueur, then fill with equal parts of cranberry juice and cola. Please leave the glass on the table when you go to answer the door, however.

Election Day is the perfect occasion to enjoy a Politician Cocktail. This is essentially a White Russian followed by a Jägermeister shot: “Starts off clean, ends up dirty.” For the White Russian, fill a glass with ice, add an ounce of vodka and an ounce Kahlua, fill with milk or cream, shake and pour into a fresh glass.

Thanksgiving's drink is the Turkey Shoot, a floater. The bottom is three quarters of an ounce of bourbon. On top of this float a quarter ounce of white crème de menthe.

The 30th Day of November is the birthday of one of the greatest defenders of our right to drink ever to have raised a glass. Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill also raised his voice in the cause of all our other freedoms. Churchill was a great fan of Pol Roger Champagne and the family that produced it; when Winston died in 1965 the house placed black ribbons around the labels of all the champagne it sold in the UK. In 1984 Pol Roger released its Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill. A few hundred dollars will get you that special bottle. Find that special someone with whom to share it, but make them pay half.

December 7th, 1941 may indeed be, as FDR told us, “a date which will live in infamy,” but, as we always commemorate this day, it also has an appropriate cocktail. To make a Pearl Harbor, into an ice-filled glass pour an ounce each of vodka and Midori melon liqueur, fill with pineapple juice, shake and garnish with pineapple slices, then settle in to watch From Here to Eternity.

Just five days later, we celebrate the 12th of December. Some of you readers already know why some of us do this; you others will have to do research. Here's a hint, however: the beverage is Jack Daniel's and you drink it with two cubes of ice.

We move on, of course, to Christmas, during which eggnog is the obvious choice. But this is a pain to prepare and the commercial versions are forgettable. The Virgin Mary might apply thematically, but it lacks the requisite kick. The Three Wise Men may fill the bill, however. Here we ask the sage advice of Mr. Johnnie Walker, Mr. Jim Beam and Señor Facundo Bacardi in equal amounts. If you want the drink to be strictly secular and seasonal, however, you might try a Jack Frost: equal amounts of Jack Daniel's and peppermint schnapps. I also like the Snowball: equal proportions of brandy, peppermint schnapps, and white crème de cacao. Ho, Ho, Ho.

Our year ends with New Year's Eve and once again with the admonition “Drink responsibly.” Champagne never does it for me on New Year's Eve; the drink is more a 5pm aperitif in my book. I like the idea of a quiet New Year's Eve with that special lady. For that purpose, I suggest the Velvet Dress: an ounce of brandy mixed with half an ounce each of cocoa liqueur and triple sec, then filled out with heavy cream. Drink it before midnight so it doesn't count against your diet for the coming year.

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There is always a reason to celebrate or commemorate.

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award


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