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7 Holiday Cocktails From Around the World

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It's not a holiday celebration without plenty of food and drink, but what ends up on the table varies from place to place. To bring some variety into your holiday drink routine, we’ve rounded up seven festive cocktails from around the world.

1. WASSAIL (U.K.)

It’s a song! It’s a verb! It’s a warm drink! It’s Wassail, and it’s all of the above! It may bring to mind a group of carolers in centuries-old garb warbling their hearts out, but its name and heritage are a bit more muddled. As legend has it, a beautiful Saxon noblewoman seduced the drunk king with a goblet of mulled wine, the drink of choice for the rich. Once their relationship was, ahem, consummated, the king greeted her by saying, “Waes hail.” He then married her and toasted the union with “Drinc hael,” which translates to “drink in good health.” The word “wassail” later evolved to mean the toast itself, the drink in the glass, and farmers drinking (and yelling) to promote fertility on their farms. Waes hail, friends.

2. GLÖGG (SCANDANAVIA) OR GLÜWEIN (GERMANY AND AUSTRIA)

Spiced, mulled wine goes by many names, but few are as potent or as established as Glögg. In the Middle Ages, King Gustav I Vasa of Sweden was fond of a concoction of German wine, sugar, honey, and spices. Back then, many alcoholic drinks were considered medicinal. On a more practical level, the sugar and spice hid any unpleasant flavors. In 1609, it acquired the name “glödgad vin,” which translates to “glowing-hot wine.” By 1870, it first appeared in print under the shortened name “glögg.” At that point, it was probably just made from wine, but has since been fortified with port and aquavit or brandy and has become popular across Europe. Its German counterpart, glühwein (“glow wine”), is often made with white wine, and its Irish equivalent is made with their native whiskey.

Get the recipe here.

3. HOT BUTTERED RUM (U.S.)

Sometimes, a cup of Hot Buttered Rum looks like an oil slick. Other times, it’s rich and creamy and will warm you down to your toes. Back in the 1860s, U.S. taste for alcohol was divided regionally. In the Northeast, rum reigned. Although our modern idea of rum seems overwhelmingly tropical, lots and lots of rum was made and consumed in or exported from the region. To keep warm, hot drinks did the trick. Although the butter’s purpose is, to date, unknown, Charles Browne posits in the 1939 Gun Club Drink Book that it will oil your mustache.

Get the recipe here.

4. COLA DE MONO (CHILE)

If you’re ready for a party, opt for the Cola de Mono. Though it looks like a cross between Egg Nog and a White Russian, this drink is a unique experience. Translated as “tail of the monkey,” the cocktail may have been named for its effect on partygoers. It also may have picked up the nickname from being stored in Anis del Moro bottles, or from a former president and his pistol. However it was named, the aguardente in this light, creamy drink packs a wallop.

Get the recipe here.

5. PONCHE NAVIDEÑO (MEXICO) AND PONCHE DE FRUTAS (GUATEMALA)

These fruit punches are great holiday treats. Their recipes tend to be somewhat similar, due to the overlaps in available fruits, but the rummy punches turn out somewhat differently. Further, Ponche Navideño can be difficult to recreate anywhere else. This fruit-laden punch features tejocotes, the fruit of the hawthorn tree. The recipe is passed down through families and varies widely from place to place, but it always makes for a tasty warm drink.

Get the recipes here (Ponche Navieñdo) and here (Ponche de Frutas).

6. COQUITO (PUERTO RICO)

Though its history is vague, its deliciousness isn’t. Coquito, which translates as “little coconut,” is thought to be a derivative of eggnog. However it was invented, this creamy, tropical rum drink is hugely popular. In Cuba, you can get a variety that’s topped with coconut ice cream. It’s sometimes served as an after dinner chaser, and is the subject of an annual cocktail competition at the Museo Del Barrio in New York.

Get the recipe here.

7. SORREL PUNCH (JAMAICA)

If you can’t travel to the tropics this year, recreate some of its charm in your home. In Jamaica, Sorrel Punch is everywhere during the holiday season. Sorrel, also known as hibiscus, is believed to be a panacea. Whether or not it will cure what ails you, this fruity, herbal punch will bring back memories of warmer times.

Get the recipe here.

BONUS: TWO NON-ALCOHOLIC DRINKS TO KEEP YOU WARM.

If you’ve indulged a bit too heavily this season, fear not: we’ve included two nonalcoholic drinks you can enjoy at your leisure.

SUJEONGGWA (KOREA)

Sujeonggwa is a sweet, spicy persimmon punch that’s often topped with pine nuts. In Korea, it’s considered a dessert, and is prepared both hot and cold. It’s also considered a digestive, which may explain its place in the meal. Over time, it’s been so popular that it’s canned or bottled and sold in supermarkets.

Get the recipe here.

SALEP (TURKEY)

Salep (or Sahlep) may be the most difficult beverage to make from scratch if you live outside Turkey, since one of its ingredients—flour ground from the tubers of certain breeds of Turkish orchids—isn’t exported. Luckily, it’s available in many powdered forms. Like many other drinks, Salep was originally a medicinal potion. It’s been drunk for many centuries and still maintains a reputation for being a healthful beverage.

Get the recipe here.

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What's the Right Way to Make a Sazerac?
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If you pronounce New Orleans "New Or-leens," or if you can’t get enough of those Big Ass Beers sold on Bourbon Street, you’re probably not actually from New Orleans. But if you’re feeling adventurous and missing the Big Easy, a Sazerac might be just what the doctor ordered. 

‘Tails and Stories

A few hundred years ago, you might have actually gotten a doctor’s order for a Sazerac. One of the drink's origin stories claims that it was invented by New Orleans apothecary Antoine Amedie Peychaud. According to this tale, Mr. Peychaud mixed up the drink with his eponymous bitters and served it in an egg coupe in his shop. 

A more likely origin story states that the drink was invented by a different New Orleans resident (though in the same neighborhood). Around 1850, Sewell T. Taylor sold his bar to Aaron Bird and went into the import business. One of his products happened to be Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils brandy. While Taylor was importing, Bird renamed his bar the Sazerac House and began serving a house cocktail that featured Taylor’s brandy and, as the story goes, bitters made by his neighborhood apothecary, Mr. Peychaud.

In the 1870s and 1880s, Europe's grape crops were decimated by an infestation of American aphids. In just four years, French wine production was cut by 67 percent, and even the most dedicated cognac drinkers switched to whiskey. For New Orleans, that meant switching to rye whiskey that was shipped to the city down the Ohio River and through the Mississippi. Thomas Handy, who owned the Sazerac Bar during that time period, likely switched the drink's main ingredient. This take on the signature cocktail is the one that found its way into the 1908 edition of The World's Drinks and How To Mix Them, with the recipe calling for "good whiskey," not Sazerac cognac. 

The origins of the Sazerac’s name is vague. It’s possible that it was a nod to the fact that it was the bar's house cocktail, but it’s also possible that it’s a reference to the brand of brandy. In those days, “cocktail” referred to a specific alcoholic drink format. As put forth by The Balance and Columbian Repository in 1806, a “cock-tail” is “a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.” If you wanted this type of drink with whiskey in it, you would ask for a Whiskey Cocktail. If you wanted Sazerac brandy (until the aphid plague, at least), you'd ask for a Sazerac cocktail.

Hit the Lab

Sazerac Recipe:

2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
.25 oz simple syrup (or a sugar cube)
2 oz good rye whiskey (use the good stuff)
lemon peel for garnish

Place the sugar cube into an absinthe-rinsed rocks glass. Dash the bitters onto the cube and muddle. Add whiskey and one large ice cube and stir to combine. Garnish with a lemon twist.

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Flickr User Janice Waltzer // CC BY 2.0
What’s the Right Way to Make a Caipirinha?
Flickr User Janice Waltzer // CC BY 2.0
Flickr User Janice Waltzer // CC BY 2.0

The Rio Olympics start in just a few weeks, and all eyes are on Brazil. To celebrate, we decided to focus on the country’s most famous cocktail creation: the Caipirinha.

In form, the Caipirinha is pretty much a Brazilian Daiquiri. It’s made from sugar, lime, and cachaça. Cachaça could be considered a cousin to rum, but it is altogether unique. While most rum is made from molasses, cachaça is made from fresh sugarcane juice.

Unlike rum, which can be made anywhere, cachaça can only be made in Brazil. Though it’s often sold unaged, it is usually matured in woods that are native to Brazil, like peanut and balm. As with wine, beer, and whiskey, different kinds of wood affect the product inside differently.

The classifications of cachaça aren’t based on the type of cask in which it’s aged. It can get a bit confusing: Spirit that is not stored in wood or is kept in stainless steel vats before it’s bottled is often called branca (white). But cachaça aged in wood that doesn’t color the liquor may also be labeled as branca. This category goes under several other names, including prata (silver) and clássica (classic).

Cachaça that’s stored or aged in wood is usually labeled as amarela (yellow), in reference to its color. These may also be labeled as ouro (gold). Envelhecida (aged) cachaça, a subtype of amarela, is a bit more involved: it’s considered aged if more than 50 percent of the content of the bottle has been aged for at least a year in a barrel that’s 700 liters or smaller.

Cachaça is the “third most produced distilled drink in the world,” according to Alcohol In Latin America: A Social and Cultural History. Though more than 5000 brands existed in 2008, it was relatively ignored outside of Brazil until the recent resurgence of craft cocktails. In fact, until 2013, it had to be labeled “Brazilian rum” to be imported into the U.S. As a result, it’s often mistaken by many people for being a type of rum.

Unfortunately, we don’t really know anything definite about the origins of the Caipirinha. Like the Mojito and the Old Fashioned, the formula was perhaps first used in folk medicine. Carlos Lima, the executive director of IBRAC (the Brazilian Institute of Cachaça) told Casa e Jardim that a mix of lime, garlic, and honey with a pour of cachaça was probably used in São Paulo around 1918 as a remedy for the Spanish Flu.

As the story goes, someone eventually decided to skip the garlic and honey. Then, to balance the acidity of the lime, sugar was added. Over time, the drink spread into bars, ice entered the equation, and it became the Caipirinha we know today.

HIT THE LAB

Like the Mojito, the classic Caipirinha recipe is quite simple, but it’s also been the subject of many, many variations. We’ve included the International Bartenders Association (IBA) recipe as well as a modern take on the drink.

Caipirinha
Modified from the IBA website.

2 ounces Cachaça
1/2 of a lime
1 tablespoon sugar

Muddle lime and sugar in an Old Fashioned glass. Fill with ice and pour cachaça over it. Stir and enjoy.

Prata B. (Puerto Rico Asta Ah Brazil)
Recipe by Luis Ramos, bar manager of Bourbon and Branch in San Francisco.

1 3/4 ounces Avua Prata Cachaça
3/4 ounce lime juice
3/4 ounce pineapple gomme syrup
1/2 ounce Pedro Ximenez sherry
1/4 ounce Punt e Mes
Grated nutmeg, lime zest, lime wheel for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a Collins glass. Add crushed ice and stir until glass frosts. Top glass with grated nutmeg, lime zest, and lime wheel.

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