Spicing Up Your Holiday Drink List

Dec 24, 2013
Originally published on December 27, 2013 2:24 pm

When it comes to holiday drinks, there's always the traditional recipes for mulled wine and eggnog. But what about a taste of something new and different?

James Beard Award-winning mixologist Dale DeGroff has some surprising ideas to spice up your drink menu this season. He is widely credited with reviving the art of the cocktail. He's also president and founder of the Museum of the American Cocktail.

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When it comes to holiday drinks, there's always the traditional, of course, there's mulled wine, there's eggnog, but what about a taste of something maybe new and a little different? We've called on someone widely credited with reviving the art of the cocktail. Dale DeGroff is a James Beard Award winning mixologist and he's president and founder of the Museum of the American cocktail. Welcome back.

DALE DEGROFF: Thank you, Celeste. I'm delighted to be here.

HEADLEE: Well, let's start with the traditional eggnog. That's the drink everyone associates with Christmas and with the holiday season. You found a really unusual recipe for eggnog that goes back way over a hundred years. Tell me about General Harrison's eggnog.

DEGROFF: Yeah. I just was blown away when I got this recipe and tried it for the first time. You take eggs and you actually beat them up a little bit so that they're emulsified. You drop about a teaspoon of sugar in - now you can make this nog by the glass, which is lovely - and you put it into a cocktail shaker and you put about three and a half to four ounces of eggnog and you shake with ice as hard as you can to emulsify that egg completely. I'm using sweet cider and I'm adding my own alcohol and I'm calling it General Harrison's eggnog number three.

I'm adding some bourbon in this case. I'm using Bulleit, which is a good one. I put the sugar, and I just added another touch because I felt that the little bit of nutmeg on top was not enough spice, so I added some pimento bitters, which brings a whole baking spice feeling of nutmeg and cinnamon and all of these things 'cause pimento means allspice. So that was the Spanish word for it, anyway. It's just a delightful - and light, there's no cream, there's no milk.

HEADLEE: I was going to say there's no what we think of as nog - the creamy part.

DEGROFF: Exactly. It's just delightful and so tasty and actually, yes, you can make it without any alcohol by using sweet cider and egg and some sugar.

HEADLEE: Is it spices like nutmeg and, as you say, allspice that distinguish something for - that's for a holiday, for example?

DEGROFF: I think so. I mean, those baking spices are in every nog and they're in also a lot of drinks like the Old Fashioned and things that are very holiday oriented. I wouldn't think of doing a nog or any kind of a drink like that without having some kind of Christmas spice. I mean, you know, the mulled wines that they do overseas, and especially the one called glogg, that the Swedes do, they've got raisins and cardamom and clove and cinnamon sticks and all kind of goodies in there. And they leave it overnight in the red wine and the following morning, they warm it up again and put it in a big serving dish. And now this wasn't finished. You 'd add a little vodka to this spiced wine.

HEADLEE: We're still talking about the glogg, right?

DEGROFF: The glogg, you would fortify with a little vodka and you would put some blanched almonds and a little bit of the raisin that was actually in the wine overnight as the garnish, and serve it hot.

HEADLEE: And then you would pass out because that's a lot of alcohol.

DEGROFF: You know, you don't go crazy with the vodka. You would put maybe a few ounces of vodka for a whole serving. I mean it's just - that is unless you're Swedish and then you probably put a lot more.

HEADLEE: Well, it's cold up there. You mentioned an Old Fashioned earlier and, of course, the regular Old Fashioned recipe is bourbon, a little bit of bitters, some water...

DEGROFF: It is. It is.

HEADLEE: ...Sugar and, like, an orange wrapped around a cherry, right?

DEGROFF: Yeah, that was the flag garnish. And in the early days of the Old Fashioned they didn't actually do anything with the fruit except use it as a decoration. But later, in the 20th century, people got the idea that it might be fun to mash up the cherry and the orange with some bitters. Bitters is very, very important in an Old Fashioned because bitters, by the way, is the single ingredient that when added to punches, created the category of cocktail. So that's why we call this the Old Fashioned because it goes right to the dawn, 1806, the first time that definition of the cocktail appeared in print. A cocktail had to be strong spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters. That was the definition

HEADLEE: And we should be clear here, a cocktail is an American invention.

DEGROFF: Yes. You know, we got a lot of help from overseas, of course. It's a collaboration.

HEADLEE: We're going to forget that.

DEGROFF: It's a collaboration.

HEADLEE: Yeah red, white and blue cocktail. So let's talk about how you turned that very classic Old Fashioned recipe into a holiday drink.

DEGROFF: I did. Well, you know, in our family around Thanksgiving - because we always used to muddle the cherry and the orange with the bitters and the sugar. And I wanted to go even further than that. I dropped out the American whiskey, and I put some cognac in there as the base and just a little bit of full-bodied spicy rum to give it a little bit of spice. And then I added some of my spice. Then I muddled orange and pineapple slices in one of the great cherry brandies in the world.

It's called Peter Herring Cherry Heering. And if you're going to use a cherry brandy, I don't think there's any other one that can match this. I put a little bit of that in there, and I muddled it up and created a flavor paste. And then I took out the hulls of the fruit - you can do this right in the glass where you're going to serve it - put in some ice and poured in those two spirits, cognac, about an ounce and a half, and about a half ounce of this spicy rum. And then I would add the new slice of orange and the new slice of pineapple to give it a pretty look.

HEADLEE: Can you explain how one muddles without crushing?

DEGROFF: Yeah, well, pick one of these things up online. They're easy to get. Everything is easy to get online now. They're called muddlers. They used to call them toddy sticks in the 19th century 'cause that's what they used them a lot for. The muddler is just a flat side and a round side and it looks a little bit like a souvenir Yankee baseball bat, as a matter of fact.


DEGROFF: So you take this thing and you drop whatever it is you're going to muddle, in this case, it might be - like, in the case of my Old Fashioned, for example, it would be the slice of pineapple and the slice of orange and the dash of bitters and the little bit of cherry liqueur and you muddle away. You don't want to muddle with too much liquid. It gets messy. What you're trying to do when you muddle, like, citrus is to get the oil as well as the juice. Things you don't want to smush hard when you muddle it are herbs.

HEADLEE: There you go.

DEGROFF: Now herbs, you don't want to tear them up too much. You want to bruise them a little bit to open up some veins of flavor, like mint, for example, for a julep. You never want to go cranking away on it until it just shreds because then you get that sort of tannic, slightly bitter note, and it also tears it all up and it's not good. So I would just press it for a julep.

HEADLEE: Let's talk about at least one suggestion for a kiddie cocktail that's not a Shirley Temple or a Roy Rogers.

DEGROFF: You know, I did something at the Rainbow Room, in those days, I had a wonderful nonalcoholic cocktail menu. And I had something I called rainbow punch, and it was quite easy to make, as long as you're not too busy to squeeze some fresh juice 'cause you needed fresh orange juice. You needed fresh lime juice. You needed some pineapple juice, of course, unsweetened will do just fine 'cause it's hard to squeeze pineapples.

There was a possibility of putting a dash of something called angostura. Now I want you to know that angostura has alcohol in it but you use it, literally, in drops. A few dashes go a long, long way, and they give it a little spice. So I'm talking about mixing orange, lime, pineapple, and then the grenadine is how you sweeten and set - offset the lime juice. So you get a really good color for kids. And then you make it in a bowl, and it's just lovely. And you serve it over ice and you put fruit on top.

HEADLEE: Dale, I can't let you go without asking - and you actually mentioned, since you mentioned the toddy stick. I mean, it's winter season, a lot of people are going to get colds or the flu and one of the recipes that many people use is a hot toddy when they want to feel better, right? Is there a classic - is there a one-and-only way to make a true hot toddy?

DEGROFF: Boil some water. Put a couple of teaspoons of your favorite whiskey or rum in there and put a teaspoon of honey in there and a teaspoon of lemon juice and maybe even a cinnamon stick, why not? It wouldn't hurt it at all. And just sip on it. Sip on it. It's going to do good things for you.

HEADLEE: Dale DeGroff, president and founder of the Museum of the American Cocktail in New Orleans, he's also known as King Cocktail, kind enough to join us from our bureau in New York. Thanks so much, Dale.

DEGROFF: Thank you very, very much, Celeste.

HEADLEE: And happy holidays.

DEGROFF: To you, also. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.