The hot port at River Gods
Seen through the right lens, Christmas looks like a season of devilish malevolence — a time of gloomy cold, bad movies, gift anxiety and consumer hoards, inane music repeated indefinitely, and family, hour after hour, day after chatty day. All of this moves parallel to a forced sense of glee that runs so deep through the holiday season that drinking becomes less of an option and more of a Christmas tradition, like sitting in those Sharper Image massage chairs you’re never going to buy.
Instead of firing up a computer and googling “Christmas drinks,” I decided to grab a friend and do some lips-to-glass research: five bars — three upscale cocktailing, and two of the proletariat — to find what Boston’s bartenders have to offer for holiday-suited drinks. The guidelines were simple: two drinks at each bar that “make you think of Christmas.” They could be shots, mixed, beer, or wine, and could evoke the holidays any way imaginable. The only rule: no eggnog. Too easy.
1) Untitled Apple Pie Drink
2 oz. Laird’s Apple Brandy
1/2 oz. St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram
1/2 oz. lemon juice
1/2 oz. honey syrup
Shake, strain into martini glass, and dust with nutmeg.
This drink is like a more alcoholic version of mulled apple cider, especially useful for those with an aversion to bourbon. Inexpensive and uncomplicated for the do-it-yourself industrialists, the allspice, apple, honey, and nutmeg flavors work fairly obviously together, and the lemon cuts the sweetness to make the drink good for before or after Christmas dinner.
Bartender’s explanation “It’s got that baked-apple-pie thing.”
My companion’s reaction “Drinking this makes me wish it was snowing outside.”
2) Untitled Smokey Bourbon Drink
1/8 oz. Famous Grouse Scotch
2 oz. Old Fitzgerald Bourbon
1/2 oz. Punt e Mes
1/2 oz. Bénédictine
Pour 1/8 oz. Famous Grouse Scotch into a martini glass, and empty while spinning the glass so the Scotch coats the inside. Shake other ingredients and strain into the glass.
Punt e Mes is an Italian red vermouth, which combines with the bourbon to make a Manhattan base. The Bénédictine (a sweet liqueur with a recipe kept secret since 1510 by proud French monks) sweetens and deepens, and the Scotch rinse adds a lingering smokiness that makes sitting by a fire superfluous. This drink deserves a name. With a hint of smoke, a thorough smoothness, and an inner warmth that keeps going, it was the leading favorite of the night.
Bartender’s explanation “It’s got a smoky warmth that’s good for cold weather.”
My companion’s reaction “I want to take this drink home and fuck it.”
No. 9 Park, Boston
1-3/4 oz. Fighting Cock Kentucky Bourbon
1-3/4 oz. Rothman & Winter Orchard
1/2 oz. Gammeldansk Danish Bitters
Shake, strain into rocks glass.
Though it uses equal parts bourbon and apricot liqueur, the strength of the Fighting Cock (106 proof) makes bourbon the primary flavor. The apricot serves equally to soften it and add a surprisingly subtle fruitiness. Instead of tasting like fire, it tastes like warmth — great for soothing frayed Christmas nerves .
Bartender’s explanation “It’s a winter drink — warm, comforting.”
My companion’s reaction “This makes me think of oatmeal cookies and I have no idea why.”