Learn to craft the perfect holiday cocktail for the cold season.
Written by Jordan Venema
Photos by Rachel Valley
Winter Wonder cocktail
T he holiday season is upon us, and that means so, too, are holiday drinks. No, not pumpkin spice —we’re talking about drinks with a little more kick. From mulled wine to spiked ciders, the indulgent brandy alexander, or peppermint vodka, crafting the perfect holiday cocktail for a cozy, quiet evening or a party with friends is easier than you might think. Start with balance According to Teresa Loughner, bartender at Sacramento’s Ella Dining Room and Bar, whatever cocktail you choose this season, it’s important to start with balance. Considering Loughner’s win last year at the Golden 1 Center Cocktail Competition and 15 years’ experience behind the bar, she should know. “Every cocktail is a balance of acid, sugar, and alcohol,” she says. In the bartending business, those acidic and sweet flavors, such as lime and lemon and simple sugar, often are referred to as sours, and while everybody’s palate is different, the golden standard for a balanced cocktail is 2 parts alcohol to 1 part sour. Take, for instance, a typical recipe for the timeless and retro brandy alexander, which is a variation of two ounces brandy to a half ounce of crème de cacao and a half ounce of heavy cream, which rounds out the two-to-one ratio. Other drinks are as simple as the components of their name, such as brandy eggnog: eggnog and brandy. But Loughner’s take on the winter classic uses half whiskey and half brandy for the alcohol, with a dash of Angostura bitters “to bring down the sweetness a little, because if you don’t make your own eggnog from scratch, it can be really thick and sweet,” she says. But for Loughner, the quintessential holiday drink is just as simple. “I’m a fan of the hot toddy,” she says, “drinks that are warm and cozy and that make you happy. And it’s the simplest you can get: just hot water, lemon juice, and bourbon, or a little sugar if you want.”Better with bourbon “I’m a huge bourbon and whiskey fan,” Loughner admits. “That’s my thing. And bourbon goes well with spices because bourbon itself has spicy components already. It’s been sitting inside a barrel for so long that it’s taking on those qualities from the wood.”So forget pumpkin spice, because this holiday season, Loughner has created a spiced simple syrup that she’s using in a bourbon-based drink she’s calling Winter’s Wonder. With a base of cinnamon, cardamom pods, cloves, and black peppercorns, the aroma and taste of the simple syrup conjures images of bobbing for apples or sitting around the Christmas tree. But for its value in nostalgia alone, the syrup is too easy to make — just boil the spices in equal parts sugar and water. “Ideally, I would cook it and let it cool for about 30 minutes with all the spices, then put it in the fridge overnight and let it sit with the spices about two weeks. It’s ready now, but it will be even better in two weeks,” she advises. Other than the syrup, the Ella-exclusive holiday drink uses a bar spoonful of citrus marmalade, Angostura bitters, fresh lemon juice, Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth, and LEGADO rye whiskey, made by Sacramento’s own LEGADO Spirits, which its four female owners officially launched this past August. So while Winter’s Wonder can be had this season at Ella Dining Room and Bar, Loughner says the spiced syrup can be applied to other drinks as well — such as her favorite, the hot toddy. Ella Dining Room and Bar 1131 K St., Sacramento • 916-443-3772 • Elladiningroomandbar.com Winter’s Wonder (courtesy of Teresa Loughner, bartender, Ella Dining Room and Bar in Sacramento. Serves 1) 1½ ounces LEGADO rye whiskey ½ ounce Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth 4 dashes Angostura bitters ¾ ounce fresh lemon juice 1 bar spoonful orange marmalade ¾ ounce holiday spice syrup (see recipe below) 1 cinnamon stick and/or star anise for garnish Place ice and all ingredients in cocktail shaker and shake well. Strain over fresh ice into rocks glass. Garnish with cinnamon stick and enjoy! For holiday spice syrup 1 cinnamon stick 5 whole cloves 3 cardamom pods 5 black peppercorns 1 cup sugar 1 cup water Place cinnamon, cloves, cardamom pods, and peppercorns in pot and lightly macerate. Add sugar and water, stir, and bring to boil. Cool and strain. Refrigerate until ready to use. Syrup will last for up to 2 weeks in refrigerator.