Holiday cocktail menus wrap up end-of-year sales.
By Jamie Popp, Senior Editor
Spanish coffee from Portland City Grill
Chocolate-Vanilla Martini with chocolate liqueur, vanilla-flavored cognac and cream is one of Il Fornaio’s holiday cocktails.
Dancing, prancing and donning seasonal garnishes, holiday cocktails this year will offer new flavors and sensory experiences for diners escaping the shopping crush or seeking celebratory moments.
Eggnog and rum-based punches are expected on many beverage menus this season, according to Shawn Kelley, spokeswoman for the Washington, D.C.-based Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. She predicts drinks incorporating seasonal fruit such as pears and clementine oranges as well as cognac-based cocktails will gain popularity.
Top garnishes include not only traditional candy canes but also chocolate-covered strawberries and marshmallows.
“During the holidays, it’s always great to bring back classics such as eggnog or Tom & Jerry and make it your own,” says Philip Raimondo, director of beverage development and training at Stafford, Texas-based Patrick Henry Creative Promotions, which consults on beverage menus for restaurant and hotel chains. “We recommend a few different versions served up as martinis flavored with chocolate and fun glass-rim coatings such as crushed candy cane.”
One creative spin on eggnog is The Drunken Egg Potion served at Davidburke & Donatella in New York City. A combination of vanilla bean, cinnamon-flavored schnapps, bourbon and apple brandy served in an ostrich eggshell, the drink is finished with a meringue and the restaurant’s “angry spice,” a combination of black and cayenne peppers.
“The Drunken Egg Potion is served chilled because we find it’s easier to drink,” says Bruce Yung, Davidburke & Donatella beverage director. He uses peppers in dessert drinks because “people are moving toward a savory level in cocktails.”
Raimondo recommends that operators select one signature drink to spotlight during the holiday season. “Many guests at that time of year are on vacation and want servers to guide them in their food and beverage selections,” he says. Train servers to recommend one or two holiday cocktails, he advises.
“During the holidays, customers are looking more for sipping-type cocktails,” adds Keely Strong, general manager at the Los Gatos, Calif., unit of Emeryville, Calif.-based California Cafe. “We often serve people who don’t necessarily dine in the restaurant, but they will have a few drinks while taking a break from shopping and getting away from the crowds.”
Introduced last winter as part of its “liquid therapy” menu, California Cafe’s Stress-Relief Chocolate Martini proved to be a popular holiday choice, says Strong. Its strawberry floating on a mixture of cream and chocolate- and coffee-flavored liqueurs attracts attention. Other drinks on the therapy menu—which returns to California Cafe locations this year—include Hot Apple Pie, with house-made spiced apple cider mixed with vanilla-and-citrus-flavored Italian liqueur, topped with whipped cream.
Chocolate has a place in any holiday celebration, and Davidburke & Donatella’s Angry Claus is a spicy take on classic hot chocolate with added cognac, crme de cacao and amaretto. Based on a pastry chef’s recipe, the drink combines milk and dark chocolate; after it is topped with whipped cream, a pepper-crusted marshmallow is added for garnish. The restaurant makes its own marshmallows and rather than rolling them in confectioners’ sugar, uses the sticky edges to hold cracked pepper.
Django in New York City serves a hot- chocolate drink spiked with orange liqueur and topped with orange marshmallows. Using white chocolate instead of dark, Django Pastry Chef Nancy Olson uses several types of orange to cut the sweetness of the candy. In addition to orange liqueur, mandarin orange purée is added to house-made marshmallows during the mixing process.
“When you mix that much air and sugar with orange purée, you can’t see the orange color,” she says about the resulting marshmallows’ creamy color.
Olson has introduced a number of marshmallow garnishes for cocktails in flavors such as pia colada, cinnamon, cherry and caramel coated with cocoa powder.
Django also serves a drink combining bittersweet hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps and marshmallows made with peppermint extract and peppermint candy cane. “A hot drink with something melting on it is nostalgic,” Olson says.
Corte Madera, Calif.-based Il Fornaio’s Chocolate-Vanilla Martini combines chocolate liqueur, vanilla-flavored cognac and cream. Also on the seasonal cocktail menu are Coco Baci with vodka, hazelnutflavored liqueur and Irish cream liqueur; Orange Vanilla Drop with vanilla rum, white crme de cacao, orange liqueur and fresh orange juice; and Italian Cream Soda, blending vanilla rum and ginger ale.
The 21-unit chain also offers a Bellini made with champagne and Prosecco—an Italian sparkling wine—and organic white-peach juice, which is expected to be a big hit, according to Tammy Karpenko, Il Fornaio director of marketing.
“We worked with suppliers to create drinks for our new menu,” she says. “We wanted to get the freshest ingredients for our cocktails.”
Candy Canes and Cider
Peppermint, another traditional holiday flavor, will be well represented on bar menus. Many operators also are seeing apple as a taste trend.
In New York City, BLT Group’s BLT Steak and BLT Prime restaurants take cider to a new level with a holiday Apple Cobbler cocktail that combines green-apple liqueur, fresh apple purée and vanilla vodka garnished with a warm, spiced apple chip.
Last year, Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Fox Restaurant Concepts featured an espresso martini made with vanilla vodka, chocolate-mint liqueur, espresso and coffee-bean garnish. To close 2005, Fox’s 12 restaurants—including Bistro Zin in Tucson, Bloom in Scottsdale and North, with three Arizona units and a Denver location—will offer something lighter.
“For our North concept, we’re going to roll out Peppermint Mojito, and the Christmas Kiss Martini will be served in all of our restaurants,” says Regan Jasper, Fox corporate sommelier and partner.
Served with a candy-cane stirrer, the Peppermint Mojito combines vanilla rum, a touch of peppermint liqueur, fresh muddled mint and soda water.
Fox Restaurants’ Christmas Kiss Martini blends vanilla vodka, chocolate liqueur and clear mint-flavored liqueur. For a festive finishing touch, the rim of the glass is dipped in simple syrup then coated with finely ground peppermint candy.
While mojitos, traditionally muddled mint-based drinks made with rum, are typically reserved for summertime sipping, Raimondo has put together a collection of mojito cocktails that are red, white and green to celebrate the holidays. Pomegranate, mint-flavored liqueur and muddled cranberries create the colors in “sinkers” at the bottom of the glass.
Bar Manager Dan Mages at Portland City Grill in Portland, Ore., hasn’t finalized the restaurant’s holiday bar menu yet, but he knows that Spanish coffee will be on it. “We pour hundreds of Spanish coffee drinks during the holidays,” he says.
Bartenders begin by igniting 1/2 ounce of rum in a miniature red-wine glass. While it flames, an ounce of coffee-flavored liqueur and 1/2 ounce of orange-flavored liqueur are added. A dash of cinnamon and nutmeg sprinkled over the flame sizzles in the air like fireworks, Mages says. The drink is topped with coffee and whipped cream.
Macintosh Apple Martinis and Caramel Apple Martinis (apple martinis with a shot of caramel syrup) also will be strong sellers during the holiday season, Mages predicts.