Spirits of the Season
Originally published in the Wall Street Journal.
It’s beginning to taste a lot like Christmas.
While December’s mild temperatures so far may not have New Yorkers cozying up by the fireplace, bars and restaurants throughout the city have added some wintry holiday spirit to their cocktail menus, often in the form of eggnog.
Vaucluse, a French restaurant on the Upper East Side, is serving its Normandy Nog, featuring Calvados and Velvet Falernum, a liqueur flavored with spices and lime. Eggnog is also on the menu at RedFarm, which serves one with Domaine de Cantone ginger liqueur and whisky, as well as at Sweetwater Social, which sells a frozen version.
Two sister bars in the East Village, Mace and Boilermaker, remake themselves entirely, changing their names this month to Miracle on Ninth Street and Sippin’ Santa’s Surf Shack. Until Thursday, customers can expect strings of Christmas lights, holiday playlists and Santa-themed shot glasses as well as Christmas-themed drinks.
At Miracle, the cocktail offerings include the Christmopolitan, made with fig-infused vodka, St-Germain and spiced cranberry syrup; and the Candy Cane Fizz, with peppermint-infused gin, buttermilk syrup, clementine juice and Prosecco.
One drink, a mix of pumpkin-infused rum, cachaca and other flavors, is served in a sugar-dusted mug shaped like a red knit mitten. Its name is a winking, unprintable reference to Bruce Willis’s catchphrase in the 1988 movie “Die Hard,” which takes place on Christmas Eve in Los Angeles.
“Everyone loves it,” Nico de Soto, Mace’s co-owner and head bartender, said of the drink’s name. “I’ve had no one ask me why the reference.”
Sam Gauthier developed the recipes for Sippin’ Santa’s Surf Shack, including a Scotch Old Fashioned served in ice that has been ground, packed into a sphere and refrozen—a kind of artisanal snowball.
“I want every one of these drinks to remind you of a Christmas memory,” Mr. Gauthier said. Rudolph’s Apple Sling, for example, features apple brandy, maple and gin, poured into a glass spritzed with pine-infused gin.
“It smells real piney, but then it tastes like apples and spice and maple,” Mr. Gauthier said. “It’s almost like you’re sitting in front of a Christmas tree.”
By the Shack’s third day of business, Mr. Gauthier was spending an hour a day brewing four-gallon batches of eggnog, which requires about 18 separated eggs, 12 ounces of sweetener, four pints of cream, three bottles of Jamaican rum, 128 ounces of whole milk, a few whole nutmegs and an ounce of Angostura bitters.
The Shack isn’t the only bar doing a brisk business in eggnog. At the NoMad, a five-gallon batch lasts about one night. It first appears on the bar’s menu around Thanksgiving and due to customer demand, is served through January.
Once the ingredients are combined, eggnog has a longer shelf life than its individual components, said Leo Robitschek, bar director at Eleven Madison Park and the NoMad. “The longer eggnog sits, the better it gets, because you’re really infusing those flavors, so it gets spicier and richer.”
At Miracle, the Jingle Balls Nog and the Bad Santa, a warm milk punch, are the two best-selling drinks. Both are prepared in the kitchen, not the bar, so the bar staff came up with hand signals to get them out efficiently and avoid screaming over the music: Closed fist means eggnog, open hand means milk punch.
On Saturday, Kiki Lenoue was the first in the door at Miracle, wearing Christmas-themed leggings and earrings, and she was there, she said, for the Jingle Balls Nog. “It’s a little bit like a dessert in a glass, don’t you think?”