Seasons drinkings

SN&R writers raise a glass to the upcoming holiday season

The holidays don’t officially kick off for another seven days but, to be honest, our anxiety level ratcheted up weeks ago at the thought of all those family get-togethers, office parties and crowded shopping malls.

So. Much. Togetherness. So. Much. Cheer.

Take a deep breath and relax. For every Secret Santa gift exchange, neighborhood potluck and fuzzy red elf hat-required pub crawl, we’ve got the antidote.

Whether your jam is Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, winter solstice, New Year’s Eve, Boxing Day or Netflix and chill, SN&R’s writers have scoured the city (and their kitchen cabinets) for 12 worthy drinks.

Some are super-boozy. Some masquerade (thankfully) as desserts and a few are designated driver-friendly. There are even a couple of recipes for when you’re too broke (or cold, or lazy, or whatever) to venture outside.

Think of it as your holiday survival guide. Cheers!

Easy Martha Stewart points

Hot mulled Barsotti's apple cider

Set a pot of Barsotti’s apple cider to warm on your stovetop before a holiday gathering. (Buy it at Apple Hill or grab some at Raley’s.) Add cinnamon sticks, whole cloves and a couple of anise pods. Tie the spices in cheesecloth if you’re the Martha Stewart type, or just throw them in and trust your guests to deal. Slice an orange and float the pretty citrus discs on top. Set out cups and a bottle of brandy, so guests can serve themselves and spike their drinks as needed. Now your first round of cocktails is ready to go and your house smells like a winter wonderland. You are officially the host with the most. B.C.

Morning beer

Chocolate Fish Nitro Coffee, Hook & Ladder Manufacturing Co.

There are two very specific types of people who should immediately take an interest in Hook & Ladder’s Nitro Coffee ($4.25): chemists and coffee lovers. The drink looks like a glass of thick stout, but there isn’t a drop of alcohol in it, just good old coffee—made with nitrogen. That creamy fizz on the top will shout “beer” to your brain. The taste lands somewhere between an iced coffee and a dark cold draft brew. It’s made from espresso beans, so its kick is probably stronger than that Starbucks you drank this morning. 1630 S Street, A.C.

Shopping fuel

Peppermint Hot Chocolate. Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates

Skip the Swiss Miss and head straight for Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates for the best hot chocolate in town. Their peppermint hot chocolate ($5)—available after Thanksgiving—will be a rich blend of semisweet chocolate, organic milk and local mint from West Sacramento’s Del Rio Botanical. Gilding the lily is fresh whipped cream and Valrhona chocolate pearls on top. If you have a long day of shopping ahead, ask for a shot of coffee mixed in. You’ll be buying a local product that’s 10 times better than that chain store red-cupped Frappuccino. Plus, you can get fleur de sel caramels while you’re there. 1801 L Street, AMR

No pretense

Tea and Sympathy, Zelda's Gourmet Pizza

Enough with artisanal, 17-ingredient, $10 cocktails served in Mason jars to keep it real. You really want to keep it real? Go to Zelda’s, where the winter drink menu likely hasn’t changed since the last millennium, and order some tea and sympathy ($6.50). It’s a shot of Grand Mariner, hot water and a teabag. No, the tea’s not handpicked, fair trade African honeybush. It’s Lipton, garnished with a lemon wedge and two teensy plastic straws. Sip it in the cozy warmth of the pizza oven and the knowledge that cocktails don’t have to be pretentious to be comforting. 1415 21st Street, B.C.

Hurts so good

Harvey Milk Punch, Red Rabbit

Yes. We know. We’ve told you about the Harvey Milk Punch ($9) before. Multiple times. Somewhat recently. But we can’t have a list of holiday cocktails without it—it’s Sacramento’s quintessential wintry drink for all the right reasons. With aged rum, brandy and Galliano liquor, this milk punch is sort of like a vanilla-anise, oaky eggnog, but not too heavy or sweet. Need more? It’s comforting, creamy and topped with freshly grated nutmeg, for chrissakes! 2718 J Street, J.B.

Blow it up, shake it off

Car Bomb, Broderick Midtown

This is no ordinary Car Bomb. It’s a Car Bomb milkshake ($13), but even better. Being East Coast-influenced, Broderick Roadhouse subs out ice cream for frozen custard. That means its shakes are denser, creamier and richer with bonus egg yolks. The chocolate custard blended with Guinness and Jameson works, perhaps too well. The boozy bite is subtle, but definitely apparent, and the texture absolutely luxurious. It would be wise to split with a friend, as it arrives in a 20-ounce beer mug topped with whipped cream. Then again, if the holidays are not the time to splurge on this monstrous dessert-cocktail, when should you? 1820 L Street, J.B.

Like pie, in a glass

Curious George, Block Butcher Bar

The newest cocktail at the Block sounds a little—ahem—curious at first, but the Curious George ($12) has all the makings for your next cold weather staple. Normally, I’m not so into banana, but it totally works here in a maple-sweetened coconut-banana cream. That gets shaken up with scotch, rum, amaretto and grapefruit, and topped with frothy egg white and grated nutmeg. The result boasts a rich mouthfeel and subtle sweetness, with a long, nuanced finish. And the garnish might be the king of all garnishes: a glossy, bruleed chunk of banana, holding a sprinkle of coarse salt. Bite the banana, feel the caramelized side crack and take a sip. Brilliant. 1050 20th Street, J.B.

Earn some holiday cred

Vic's Cafe Affogato, Vic's Cafe

When you can’t decide between breakfast and dessert, choose a Vic’s Cafe affogato ($4). This simply brilliant combo of espresso poured over ice cream gains holiday cred when you ask for eggnog or peppermint ice cream. Italian for “drowned,” affogato forms a little floating island of ice cream amidst the bitter hot coffee. Start on the cafe side, where you get your cup, then go next door for the ice cream of your choice (prices vary) before pouring the espresso on top. Prego! 3193 Riverside Boulevard, AMR

Liquid courage

Hard Nut, Goldfield Trading Post

At some point during the holidays, almost everyone needs a little liquid courage. When that happens, sidle up to the bar at Goldfield Trading Post and order a Hard Nut ($8). A simple concoction of 100-proof Old Forester bourbon and Nocello walnut liqueur, it’s served neat to get straight to the point. The liqueur adds a nutty sweetness to balance the fiery whiskey. When family gets a little too cozy, make a quick “errand run” and throw back a shot of this. You’ll be back before they know it. 1630 J Street, AMR

Start the day (or night) right

Day Walker, Bottle & Barlow

With a spirit-driven flavor profile, the Day Walker ($12) warms up your insides in more than one way. Served hot, Bottle & Barlow’s spin on a hot buttered rum gives off the aroma of rooibos tea. That’s accented by herby Averna liqueur, peppermint and a little honey. A thin layer of melted butter rises to the top and leaves your lips slick and delicious after every sip. But unlike most hot buttered rums, the Day Walker is strong and light on sweetness. Go in wanting a mug of scotch, amplified and perfected for chilly nights. 1120 R Street, J.B.

Smoke ’em if you got ’em

Smoking Jacket, Grange Restaurant & Bar

The Smoking Jacket ($19) at the Grange is a classy drink, and it serves two, so be sure to bring a date. The server brings a bottle partway filled with brandy, and filled out with a thick hickory smoke that looks like someone exhaled a drag of their cigarette into the bottle. Here’s how it goes down: The servers lays down two drinking glasses filled with dried apricots, lemon rinds, ice and other delicacies. After pouring you and your date some brandy, the flavors pop out. It’s sweet, sharp and warm, and that tangy hickory smoke pervades your taste buds in the best way possible. 926 J Street, A.C.

Like the Brits do

The London

Like a Manhattan, but with a touch of tea liqueur for a British bent. Start a batch of the liqueur now to serve these in December. 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water to a simmer. Let it cool. Combine 1 and 1/2 cups good vodka and 2 teaspoons Lady Grey tea leaves in a measuring cup and steep for 24 hours. Strain out the tea and stir in about 1/4 cup sugar syrup. Taste and adjust if needed; pour the alcohol into a bottle. Let it sit in a cool place to mature for one week.

To make a drink: In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine 2 ounces whiskey, 1 ounce tea liqueur, 1/2 ounce sweet vermouth and 4 drops orange bitters. Shake and strain them into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist. AMR