Once upon a time, when a barman could be judged by the shape of his cocktail and not his mustache, I was one myself. To be honest, I liked it. It also gave me the chance to work with Junior Merino, who is the Yo-Yo Ma of bartending. This is before bars were filled with disgraced Lehman brothers hawking their homemade (and terrible) bitters. Junior and I had a good thing going.
One thing we wanted to push forward was that cocktails could be a seasonal food. Junior would come back from Mexico with cactus pear and obscure tobacco-flavored mezcal. I would go to the farmer’s market on the way to work. And right around this time of year—right between fall and winter drinks—we liked to mix up something to be thankful for.
Here’s a winner for Friday after Thanksgiving, when all are around and there’s plenty of food to find but not much going on in the kitchen. Bonus: if you’re trying to stay out of the kitchen you can mix it up in a crock pot and keep it warm.
(These drinks are always a delight, but beware of how you sweeten them. Therein lies your holiday hangover. Leave the sweeteners on the side for guests as you would coffee.)
Crock Pot Glueh-Fixe
1 bottle of red wine (may we suggest beaujolais?)
1 peeled orange
Pinch of cloves
4 cinnamon sticks
(optional) Dash of agave nectar
In all the snowy parts of Europe, they call this Glühwine. Zee Germans love it so much there is a brand of tea that is just the bag of spices called “Glühfix” as in “get your fix.” It’s easy to make, hard to mess up.
Sassafras Cider (Party Sized and Alcohol-Optional)
1 gallon apple cider
4 cinnamon sticks
1 stick of sassafras root
8oz maple syrup
Heat the cider in a nice big crockpot. Float the spices and wait until every single person in the house asks you what that delicious smell is. Mix an ounce or two of the bourbon in to taste on a mug-by-mug basis. The non-alcoholic version is suitable for children.
Sassafras is the original flavor of root beer. It comes from the root of a tree in Appalachia and farmers there are known to harvest it in the winter when their fields are resting. I get mine during derby season at the Lexington Farmer’s Market in Kentucky and store it year round.
4 squares Taza Semi-Sweet chocolate chunks (70% Dark)
1/2 oz honey
8 oz hot water
Dash of cinnamon and cayenne
Mix all in mug to taste. This in itself is dairy- and gluten-free, or you can add a dab of Mascarpone Float below.
8oz tub mascarpone
Seeds of one fresh stick of vanilla
Scrape the seeds off the stick and mix directly in the tub. Add a little dab to your mug. Give it an ounce of cognac or — if you can’t find any Fireball without anti-freeze — try Rock & Rye. an old spicy staple making its way back after being sidelined as cough syrup during prohibition.
Now, if you’re ready for the master class, here are two from Chef Junior. The first one is equal parts reposado tequila and Castries Peanut Rum liqueur with a dash of Kahlua and Navan Vanilla cognac. Junior likes to float in it a coffee bean, star anise and a cinnamon stick as a swizzle. He also makes his own chocolate-coconut spray to give it a little lift. Here’s the cocktail equivalent of the part on the Food Network where seconds after they explain it they take pull a perfectly baked dish out of the oven:
1 1/2 oz tequila reposado
1 1/2 oz Castries
1 1/2 oz Kahlua
1 1/2 oz Kavan
Pour all ingredients in a shaker. Add ice, shake and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a cinnamon stick, coffee bean and star anise. Spray with Junior Merino chocolate-coconut enhancer.
The second is mostly the same proportions as a margarita or sidecar only with VSOP Cognac, german apple-flavored Apfel liqueur and Dainzu elderflower-ginger syrup with a muddled apple.
1 1/2 oz date-infused VSOP Cognac
3/4 oz Berentzen Apple Liqueur
1/2 oz Dainzu elderflower-ginger Syrup
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1/4 green apple, chopped
Muddle the elderflower-ginger syrup and apple in a mixing glass. Pour all the ingredients. Add ice, shake and strain over ice in a rocks glass rimmed with Junior Merino Maple Sugar-Mexican Chocolate Toasted Corn rimmer.