In the best of times, there is no evening as mysterious, comforting and holy as Christmas Eve, nor rise as joyful and wondrous as Christmas morn. It is the day we celebrate God’s only son made flesh and born of Mary. It is the first day of a Christian calendar that stretches from Bethlehem ’til the end of time.
And it is right, proper and manly to raise our glass in the traditions of the merry gentlemen who’ve raised theirs before us, God rest ’em.
Below, I offer no guide on which Mass or service to attend, nor if you should go with a smoking jacket or Irish fisherman’s sweater. But if you are the type of man who senses a special time when he smells it in the air, understands a cigar emits not a smell but an aroma, and knows in his soul that sweatpants are worn only when bed-ridden and feverish, read on. You, sir, are the type of man who knows that while a growler or case of cold beer is an important addition, the kings of the Christmas drink take a little work.
“I never had any large respect for good spelling,” Mark Twain wrote in his autobiography. “That is my feeling yet. Before the spelling-book came with its arbitrary forms, men unconsciously revealed shades of their characters and also added enlightening shades of expression to what they wrote by their spelling, and so it is possible that the spelling-book has been a doubtful benevolence to us.”
The same, gentlemen, is true for most recipes, and in the season of Christ’s coming I urge you to free yourselves from the recipe. There are exceptions, of course, which we shall cover in due time. In the meantime, the only book that rules you is the Good Book. Try it. It’s liberating. Tweak away, me boys, for why would the good Lord have blessed us with an imagination were it not to find a way?
The Mulled Wine
Boys are boys, girls are girls, and mulled wine is not a sweet drink.
Now that we’ve got that settled, we can move on to other important truths. Because while mulled wine has cinnamon in it, it is a spiced drink like a proper cider or well-made old fashioned. You’ll notice all three contain sugar, and next to a glass of Islay scotch are, indeed, sweeter, so what then is our North Star to sweetness?
Whether children or women who despise the taste of good drink like it. That’s it, and if the answer is no, then it is not truly a sweet drink, even if you might serve it to a drinker who prefers a little cinnamon in his cup.
Recipes can change, but here’s one from my recipe notebook in the drawer that will do you well:
- 1 bottle of red wine. Nothing fancy. A $5 dry one
- 1 orange, sliced into wheels
- 6 whole cloves
- 4 sticks of cinnamon (or 8 dashes of cinnamon powder)
- 1/4 cup of honey
- 1 cup of brandy
That’s it. You add these to a pot, turn the burner on medium, and bring her to a simmer. Remove the pot, bring the heat down to low and slow, and once your grate or burner has cooled down to a low level you let a big pot ride the evening.
I recommend a Costco box of dry red. Four bottles for $15 or so. Quadruple your ingredients and drop a ladle in to serve your guests in coffee mugs or something finer that can handle heat. Remember, it will be hot when ladled in, so must be handled carefully. Coasters are crucial. If your furniture is not made of wood, marble, or something similar, fix that on a timeline you can manage. If it’s made of gold, you’re reading the wrong article.
The Christmas Punch
My old friend, Higdon, gave me this recipe. He probably gleaned it from the internet somewhere, but I don’t feel the need to give credit beyond the man who gave it to me because 1) he undoubtedly stole it as well, and 2) he gave it with an essecntial piece of advice: “This recipe will cause fights.”
I laughed and tried it at a small gathering. It was a hit. I tried it again and again, each at small Christmas season parties, each with great success. Cocky, I presented a large bowl of it, lit by a Christmas tree pump, to hundreds of tuxedo’d guests at the famous Christmas party Howard and I used to throw. By night’s end, the bowl’s table had been knocked to the ground, a number of fights had broken out, and two men had been ejected from our home.
That is to say this beverage does not scale, but it remains my wife’s favorite and I present it here for your discerning and well-behaved guests:
- 1.5 gallons apple cider
- 5 gallons apple juice
- 2-3 cups brown sugar
- 6 cinnamon sticks
- 1 liter bottle of 190 proof moonshine or grain alcohol
- Apple slices
In a large pot, combine your cider, juice, sugar, and cinnamon. Bring it to a boil, then remove it from the heat and allow it to cool so the alcohol does not evaporate when you add it in.
Add the Everclear or your stash of moonshine, then your slices of apple. Serve with a ladle.
This year, I’ll be trying a take on this recipe with Captain Morgan’s spiced rum and brandy, but the basics maintain. God be with those brave souls who choose the moonshine.
The Egg Nog
This, gentlemen, is a sweet cocktail, although the simple cure to that is more whiskey. Famous for drunken children and slow Christmas mornings, it is a staple.
It also rather difficult to make and impossible in a pinch, and most good brands have a bottle they sell to which you can add (even more) brandy and whiskey plus a little ground nutmeg to round out nicely. This is not a coward’s way out; rather, when assembling the meats, sides, and cheeses you’ll be serving, it can be a necessary way. But for those who have the time, there is always this delicious recipe.
My good friend Charlie has served this recipe the night we’ve decked the halls for years, and adding a shot of bourbon or a little brandy has gained me the patience to unscrew and straighten the tree for the third time, as well as to unwind and rewind the lights after a bulb you cannot find goes on strike so you execute the lot.
You might notice I did not include a few Christmas classics, among them Scotch, port, sherry, or a half-pint of gin. I have faith you can make those yourselves, but am happy to dispense bottle recommendations to any who ask.
So raise your drink to family and the faith this Christmas, friends. May God bless you and yours.