By Elyse Glickman
Heat up your holiday gatherings with surprising, seductive, and not necessarily traditional heated cocktails, mixing favorite premium spirits with nostalgic aromas, texture and presentation.
Savvy mixologists have always found cold weather and calendar holidays to be a great equation that equals cozy crowds at their venues. More than ever, with cocooning still on the rise and the temperatures falling, “comfort” and “joy” are unifying themes that coax people from all walks of life to commune at favorite bars and restaurants with friends and family—especially in times when socializing and sensory delights make life that much more meaningful.
The annual extended celebration that starts with Thanksgiving and goes through early January naturally extends to cocktails (often with brandy or rum) that warm people up—literally and socially. However, smart bartenders will take some entertaining liberties with holiday traditions. Sure, they will put out plenty of food, as well as have on hand heated eggnog, hot toddies, Irish coffee, and other familiar favorites. But as the global village continues to expand, so does the definition of “traditional,” especially when it comes to a new breed of heated cocktails that combine a wide variety of spirits and favorite food ingredients. So whether your bar’s setting is Norman Rockwell homey, Rat Pack retro-cool, or futuristic, there are toasty and tasty recipes that will offer revelers new ways to warm up to heated cocktails, now and into 2011.
A good example is Amarula, Brandy & Cream. Warm cocktails are a way to keep the spirit going, and for some, it’s that spirit that ensures the holiday cocktails will remain on the bar. More and more, new ingredients are being added to traditional holiday drinks to spice them up. Your mom and dad certainly didn’t have Amarula to put into their coffee, nor was there the access to the top ingredients and creativity we enjoy now.”
Even with the promise of a heartwarming experience, Timothy McCaffery, veteran mixologist and founder of Lime Tree Cove Cocktail Spices, knows from his time behind the bar that heated drinks can be a bit of a hard sell to those used to frosty and fruity concoctions. He advises making hot drinks appeal to the cold drink crowd by positioning cocktails appropriately using attractive pictures and descriptions in menus.
Furthermore, to sell these types of beverages beyond the holiday season, an establishment or bartender needs to promote new iterations of the cocktails to match the current season or theme. Adjustments will need to be made accordingly, for example, when transitioning from Thanksgiving to Christmas/Hanukah to Valentine’s Day.
“We offer a program to bars and restaurants that provides new cocktail recipes on a recurring basis, as well as the marketing materials to accompany these cocktails,” McCaffery points out. “Success is based in the final cocktail product, because if it looks like your dad’s Irish coffee and has the same ingredients, it probably is your dad’s Irish coffee. To distinguish these cocktails and make them interesting to younger, more adventurous patrons, use different spices or garnishes on the rim, and pair different flavors and alcohols within a hot cocktail theme. For example with a coffee-based theme, you might try Bacardi Superior Rum with Green Mountain Island Coconut Flavored Coffee. Use established brands the consumer can identify, and finally, give the cocktail a name that is fun to say.”
Ronnie Campbell, the U.S. spokesperson for Wild Hibiscus (a natural flower garnish with a raspberry-rhubarb flavor) agrees that bringing different combinations of flavors, textures, and sensory elements to traditional seasonal cocktail menu will provide customers with plenty of impetus to give that menu a second look. She has discovered with her trade customers that blending the exotic with the traditional will generate sales by piquing curiosity.
“Pair them where they naturally work best, capping off a meal and served with dessert; also suggest to the customers that some hot drinks work beautifully as the dessert itself,” she says. “Offer a small plate of cookies for the table along with hot drink menu as incentive. Alternatively, you can play up unique, exotic ingredients and spirits to set them apart from average or ordinary ‘mom and pop’ hot drinks. For larger or catered events, a stylishly-presented communal punch bowl could function as both centerpiece and invitation for customers to partake.”
In other words, there is nothing like a little extra originality and creativity to stir up conversation and heat up the atmosphere.