I love my family. As far as families go, my family is pretty good. My family is mostly comprised of well-adjusted, polite, mostly-sane individuals. I actually look forward to Thanksgiving (30 attended this year) and Christmas.
But that doesn’t mean that these gatherings are completely free of drama. This year, I was the first to cry. My youngest aunt has a newborn baby and I was trying to feed it. It is worth noting that I am not very maternal. I like kids. I like watching them and I think they’re cute. I LOVE buying things for them. I am shit at interacting with them (unless I’m giving them presents, which allows for a solid two minutes of pleasant conversation and hugs until they’re distracted by something else).
Recently I’ve been feeling the slightest bit baby cray, so I decided to try and feed this baby, and it starts crying. But I’m trying to force this magical moment where I feed a this baby and we bond and a family member says something like “That’s a good look on you,” and I can pretend to be annoyed by it even though I’m starting to seriously consider having a baby. So when the baby keeps crying and gets whisked away to another aunt, I feel the tears coming on and I think to myself, “What the eff is this noise?”
I see my poor aunt realize that I am upset and I feel bad for making her feel bad about making me feel bad but I just wanted ONE POSITIVE INTERACTION WITH A BABY and I start bawling. Another aunt (there are a lot in attendance) takes one look at me and says “hormonal” and I get my period the next day so she totally knew.
The baby’s mother makes me a cranberry margarita and the baby’s father gives me a double shot of tequila that has “Drink for Happiness” written in Sharpie on the plastic cup and then everything is fine. I got this during the gift swap so everything is double fine.
My point is that no matter how nice and wonderful your family is, you may need a drink at some point during the holiday season. Because even though no one did anything offensive in the above scenario, I still had a little meltdown and needed an adult beverage. Even if you don’t have a meltdown, answering questions about your job/marital status/womb is just a little easier with a cocktail in hand.
Or maybe you just want to get festively drunk.
Whatever the reason, here are six cocktail recipes to help you cope (tested by my mouth, obviously): two for large groups, two for those who like their beverages only slightly seasonal, and two for those who want a Christmas party in their mouth.
1. Serious Mulled Wine with Cranberries
In a large saucepan, combine three cups of Cherry Cranberry Juice and some aromatics (meaning delightful smelling, not benzene-related). I like to use cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, maybe one or two star anise pods. Squeeze in two clementines and one lemon. Add some sliced citrus fruit of any variety you desire (though grapefruit might get weird). Bring all of this to a simmer and let it go for ten or fifteen minutes. Your house should start smelling lovely. Grab two bottles of cheap red wine and pour those in. If you need to (and I do) add a cup of orange liqueur. Add a cup of fresh cranberries. Bring back to a simmer and serve warm.
2. Faux Apple Cider
Look. You can mash apples and stuff if you want to get authentic homemade apple cider, but this recipe has been served by me at many a party with much success.
About an hour before your function or gathering, get your crockpot (or soup pot) out and pour a large container of 100%, unfiltered apple juice in. Set your heat on high. Cut up two lemons and one orange and add the slices in. Squeeze in a lemon and an orange (or two tangerines). Add in a few cinnamon sticks, grate in some nutmeg (about a teaspoon), and sprinkle in four or five whole cloves. Once your guests start arriving, pour in two cups of brandy and a cup of Cointreau. Lower your heat setting and serve.
If you want to be fancy, you can serve in mugs with orange peels, but I’m not that fancy.
Cocktails with Just a Hint of Holiday
3. Italian Rudolph
A riff on the Italian Greyhound (my favorite summertime cocktail), this drink gets its holiday flavor from citrus (orange or tangerines instead of the usual grapefruit) and fresh cranberries. Get a lowball and muddle some cranberries in the bottom. In a shaker filled with ice, add the juice of two clementines or one orange, two ounces of HENDRICK’S GIN (the best gin), and a teaspoon of Campari. Shake and strain into an iced-filled low ball. Top with fresh cranberries and citrus peel for garnish. The “Rudolph” in the name comes from the fact that cranberries look like severed Rudolph noses. SO FESTIVE.
4. Maple Old Fashioned
It’s rare these days to see the word “maple” not immediately followed by “bacon,” but this old fashioned is bacon free. Though this is a simple drink with simple ingredients, you can play around with it to suite your tastes. If you’re like me you’ll want this to mostly taste of bourbon with just a hint of maple, but even if you don’t like bourbon (heathen) it’s still possible for you to enjoy this cocktail.
Squeeze a quarter of a lemon into a low ball. If you want more citrus and less bourbon flavor, you could squeeze in half a tangerine or clementine. Add anywhere from a teaspoon to a tablespoon of pure maple syrup. I use a teaspoon, but I tried it with a tablespoon and it was not unpleasant (just very sweet). Shake in a dash of Angostura bitters and throw an orange slice in and slightly muddle it (press down once on each quadrant of the slice with your muddler). Add two ounces of bourbon (Maker’s Mark is a decent everyday option) and stir. Add some ice, top with seltzer and GENTLY stir to incorporate. Top with a cherry. If you’re classy, use these. If you’re me, go for the violently red option.
Cocktail Equivalents of the Tacky Christmas Sweater
5. The Gingerbread House
This is a sweet drink that is good for people who don't like sweet drinks. Sean liked it, which means nothing to you but is a really big deal because he loathes anything is his alcohol besides burning.
The secret to this drink is in the syrup. This is how you do it.
- A good hunk of ginger (1.5 inches, approximately), grated
- A cinnamon stick
- Five or so whole cloves
- A cup of water
- A cup of sugar
Combine everything but the sugar and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and let everything mix and a mingle for at least fifteen minutes, as you want to extract as much ginger as you can, because ginger is one of the best flavors God has given us.
Add in your sugar and stir until dissolved. Strain into a mason jar (or other quaint receptacle) and let cool.
You now have an extremely impressive gingerbread syrup.
Once you have that, the assembly is a snap (gingersnap? Nope, shut up Claire).
In a shaker full of ice, combine: Two tablespoons of your amazing syrup, 2 ounces of vodka, and one ounce of Kahlua. Strain into a martini glass. If you want to be a delightfully twee, rim the edges of the glass with crushed gingerbread cookies by wetting them with a bit of syrup and then rolling it in crumbs.
A NOTE ON MARTINI GLASSES: I take a bit of umbrage with this particular piece of glassware. The modern martini glass is nothing but a saucer on a stick. They are annoying to drink from. If you care about things like this, consider this set. These are smaller than the modern style (which is what I bought when I first turned twenty-one in an effort to seem worldly) and have more depth and less surface area. As a result, they are much easier to drink from.
6. Peppermint Shtick
I love chocolate and peppermint. My husband loathes it. He's just so wrong about so many things.
Anyway, I'm not really into dessert drinks, but I had a bunch of chocolate peppermint canes and thought "these could be a syrup," so I melted three of them down into a cup of water with about five mints leaves and made them into a syrup.
Once that was cool, I muddled more mint leaves (like six) in some vodka, added an ounce of the syrup, half an ounce of Kahlua, and an ounce of milk.
Shake (in an ice-filled shaker). Strain. Imbibe. Decorate with crushed candy canes and your prettiest mint leave.
If none of these work for you, I'm sorry. Maybe just do shots with your cousin? That won't get weird.