7 festive cocktails for the holiday season

Want to take the fun out of hosting a holiday party? Spend the whole evening playing bartender.

As festive as it is to offer a delicious cocktail at your party, picking the right mixed drink involves more than just deciding what tastes great and works with your menu.

You also want something that can be prepped ahead of time, then set out for guests to serve themselves. That way, your guests can enjoy a drink and you can enjoy your guests.

To keep it simple, we start with a pitcher-style cocktail.

Allison Ladman, Associated Press

Cranberry mint pitcher margarita

  • 1 12-ounce bag cranberries
  • 1 cup fresh mint leaves, plus additional for garnish
  • 1 750-milliliter bottle silver or blanco tequila
  • 3/4 cup agave nectar
  • 1 cup lime juice
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 cup water

In a blender, combine the cranberries, mint leaves and tequila. Blend until the berries and mint are well chopped. Cover, refrigerate and allow to steep overnight or for up to 3 days.

After the mixture has steeped, pour it through a mesh strainer to remove and discard the solids, pressing them to extract as much liquid as possible. Transfer the infused tequilas to a pitcher and refrigerate until ready to serve.

In a second pitcher, stir together the agave, lime juice, orange juice and water. Serve the pitchers side-by-side, along with mint sprigs to garnish. Instruct guests to pour equal parts of each mixture (roughly 2 ounces of each) into an ice-filled glass, then gently stir. Makes 12 servings.

A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to be a judge in the American Harvest Bartenders’ Challenge at City Roots urban farm in Columbia, S.C.

After the imbibing was done, I asked bartender Olando Patterson, manager of Goatfeathers, if he would like to share his recipes for some holiday cocktails. Here are his offerings for the season.

Susan Ardis, The State (Columbia, S.C.)

Bad Santa

  • 4-5 ounces eggnog
  • 1 1/2-2 ounces Fireball Cinnamon
  • Whiskey

Steam the eggnog; rim a standard Irish Coffee glass with a mix of cinnamon and sugar. Add Fireball Whiskey, then the steamed eggnog and froth to the glass and top with whipped cream, then dust with more cinnamon. Makes 1 drink.

You’re nerdy hot

  • 4-5 ounces hot chocolate
  • 1 ounce UV Whipped Cream flavored vodka
  • 1/2 ounce Goldschlager

Rim a standard size Irish Coffee glass with sugar. Steam your favorite hot chocolate. Add Goldschlager and UV Whipped Cream Vodka to the glass and top with the steamed hot chocolate. Add whipped cream and dust it with cinnamon and chocolate sprinkles. Makes one drink.

Season’s greetings

  • 4-5 ounces eggnog
  • 1 ounce Meukow Vanilla Cognac
  • 1/2 ounce pear cognac

Rim a standard Irish Coffee glass with sugar. Steam the eggnog. Add Meukow Vanilla cognac and Belle de Brilliet Pear Cognac to the glass and top with the steamed eggnog. Top with whipped cream and garnish with orange zest and fresh nutmeg. Makes one drink.

My definition of the ideal summer cocktail? Easy to make, refreshing to drink. Come the winter holidays, I make only one change: Easy to make, comforting to drink.

At Thanksgiving and Christmas and the onslaught of holiday gatherings in between, I want whatever is in my cup to put me at ease, to leave me feeling warm and to play nicely with whatever food is on the table.

But I’m not willing to work all that hard for it. Hence the “easy to make” part never changes, no matter what the season.

For cold weather holidays, I gravitate to bourbon. It has all the qualities I’m looking for — warming, festive, affordable and compatible.

So here’s a trio of holiday-friendly bourbon cocktails to get you started.

J.M. Hirsch, Associated Press

Bourbon orchard

  • Ice
  • 2 ounces bourbon
  • 4 ounces apple cider
  • 1 teaspoon agave nectar

In an ice-filled cocktail shaker, combine all ingredients. Shake well for 30 seconds, then strain into a tumbler. Makes 1 serving.

Rooted and brewed

  • Ice
  • 2 ounces bourbon
  • 1 ounce coffee liqueur
  • Root beer

Fill an 8-ounce drinking glass with ice. Add the bourbon and coffee liqueur. Stir, then slowly pour in enough root beer to top off the glass. Gently stir again. Makes 1 serving.

Juicy dreams

  • Ice
  • 2 ounces bourbon
  • 1 ounce Lillet
  • 1/2 ounce lemon juice
  • 2 ounces pomegranate juice

In an ice-filled cocktail shaker, combine the bourbon, Lillet, lemon juice and pomegranate juice. Shake, then strain into an ice-filled tumbler. Makes 1 serving.

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