Part of the joy of the holiday season is entertaining groups of family or friends, but those get-togethers can also be challenging—particularly for the amateur bartender. Each of your guests is likely to have his or her own drink preference, and making cocktails individually for 15 or 20 people can easily take up the bulk of your evening. To get some expert advice, we consulted with Ross Kupitz, beverage director for the D’Amico & Partners family of restaurants (Campiello, Café Lurcat, Masa, and The Continental).
D’Amico & Partners Beverage Director Ross Kupitz mixes it up at The Continental.
Develop a seasonal strategy. “Because we have endless summer in Florida,” says Kupitz, “people don’t necessarily gravitate toward brown spirits such as rye or bourbon. But most of us do shift toward winter spices such as clove, cinnamon, and ginger, as well as flavors such as cranberry, apple, and maple. The challenge is to manipulate those flavors and still have a refreshing drink.”
Think punch. There’s a good reason why punch has been popular since the seventeenth century, when it was brought back to England from India by employees of the British East India Company. The libation is easy to prepare, allows guests to help themselves, and virtually guarantees a stress-free evening for the host. Making punch, traditionally a blend of alcohol, sugar, lemon, water, and spices, is far from rocket science. When in doubt, fall back on the old rule: “One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, and four of weak.”
“A Champagne punch is perfect for the holidays,” says Kupitz. “It’s festive, easy to make, and it appeals to people who might not drink Champagne by itself.” One of his favorites is a sparkling punch that can double as a Champagne cocktail. Begin by making a syrup: Add one cup of water, a half-cup of sugar, one cup of fresh or frozen cranberries, three to five cinnamon sticks, and three to five cloves to a saucepan. Bring the ingredients to a boil, simmer for 10 minutes, and add two cups of blood orange puree. The cooled syrup can be used to make individual cocktails, or poured into a punch bowl with Champagne or a bottle of sparkling wine, such as Prosecco or Cava.
Eggnog Adaptation. Eggnog is one of the few elements of the Christmas ritual designed for adults, and has been with us since the Colonial era. Kupitz’s favorite variation on eggnog is the Tom and Jerry cocktail. “My uncle used to make this every year at Christmas,” he says, “so the drink brings back childhood memories for me. It’s very versatile; you can make it one at a time, or do up a batch and hold it in a Crock-Pot or double boiler under low heat.”
For a medium-size crowd, begin by separating six eggs. Beat the whites until slightly frothy; add a half-cup of regular sugar, one cup of powdered sugar, and one teaspoon of cream of tartar, and beat until stiff. Add the same amount of sugar to the yolks along with a 7-ounce jar of marshmallow cream, and also beat until stiff. Fold the whites and yolks together. Keep warm in a double boiler or Crock Pot. Ladle the mixture into coffee cups and add 1.5 to 2 ounces of your spirit of choice and garnish with freshly grated nutmeg. “I like to use a reasonably good cognac or bourbon like Courvoisier VS or Maker’s Mark,” he says, “but a less expensive brandy will work. If you like a bit more spice and kick in your holiday drinks, I’d suggest using a high-proof rye whiskey, like the 100-proof Rittenhouse.”
The Tom and Jerry works very well for groups because you can customize the drink by adding the amount of liquor each guest wants.