Hot toddies, spiked eggnog and buttered rum are traditional holiday classics, but many bartenders across Brooklyn are mixing drinks that are even more old-school, with some of them going back thousands of years. Sweet, savory, spicy and sometimes even strange to modern palates, warm up with innovative concoctions that combine distilled and fermented alcohols with a variety of spices, wine, molasses, mugwort and even curdled milk.
The Drink of the Gods
Enlightenment Wines and Honey’s, 93 Scott Avenue, (401) 481-9205
Traditionalists can’t get any more old-school than ordering mead, a fermented honey and herb drink that was developed thousands of years ago. First called Ambrosia or Nectar by the ancient Greeks, mead was thought to be the drink of the gods. In 2016, Enlightenment Wines opened New York City’s first meadery, Honey’s.
Try a seasonal dry sparkling mead called Night Eyes, which is fermented with rosehips, hibiscus and fruits. For something a little less honeyed, order the Lucid Dreamer, a cocktail with an unexpected combination of Smith and Cross rum, Amaro Sfumato, mugwort, a bit of salt and an egg white.
Batavia Arrack Punch
Aska, 47 S. 5th Street, (929) 337-6792
Punch is making a comeback, and some of the best of them are mixed with Batavia arrack, a molasses-based spirit developed by the Dutch in Java in the 17th century. Sometimes compared to rhum agricole, and at other times said to taste faintly like old leather and smoke, Batavia arrack is an acquired taste, with a burning bite that makes some people drool. Used sparingly, the spirit pairs nicely with citrus juices, sugar and spices. Stop by Aska’s cellar bar (yes, the same Aska that received two Michelin stars for their close-to-divine Swedish restaurant in Williamsburg) to order a light, modern version of Batavia arrack punch infused with sweetfern and juniper.
Cold Milk Punch
Rye, 247 South 1st Street, (718) 218-8047
Fort Defiance, 365 Van Brunt Street, (347) 453-6672
Like other punches, milk punch has been around since the 17th century. This one, however, was developed in Scotland, and unless you’re lactose intolerant, it’s known as being a terrific “hair of the dog” hangover cure. The Scots-person who came up with this drink must’ve been absolutely foutered, mixing rum, sugar and citrus juice with hot milk and spices together until the milk curdled. At that point, most people probably would’ve thrown the mess out the window, but lucky for us, the mixture was strained through cheesecloth, leaving a smooth, translucent and absolutely beautiful holiday cocktail, served cold.
Today, bartenders experiment with making milk punch with bourbon, whiskey, and gin and various teas. You can order one (off-menu) at Rye (Williamsburg) or Fort Defiance (Red Hook).
Feminists Take Back the “Cock-tail”
Butter & Scotch, 818 Franklin Avenue, (347) 350-8899
As one might imagine, the word “cocktail” has a storied past. In the 18th century, ginger was used as a suppository for horses in the 18th century in order for them to appear more lively before being put up for sale. “Cock-tail” became the slang for ginger, and over time, it also became synonymous with any stimulant such as hot red pepper that was used to give a kick to “manly” mixed drinks.
Today, drinks with “cock-tails” are found in nearly every bar, and they’re no longer just for men. At Butter & Scotch, a women-owned bar in Crown Heights, patrons can try a variety of drinks made with Barrow’s Intense Ginger Liqueur and take satisfaction knowing that their stimulating “cock-tail” drinks were developed by feminists.
Holiday Cocktails Mixed with Aperitifs and Digestifs
Brooklyn Wine Bar, 213 N. 8th Street, (347) 763-1506
While an aperitif is meant to stimulate the appetite, a digestif is meant to stimulate digestion. In other words, one is meant before dinner, and one is meant soon after. Of course, mixed with other alcohol and wine, aperitifs and digestifs become vibrant cocktails. The Brooklyn Wine Bar, for example, puts their own twist on a Negroni by mixing Campari (a bright orange-colored aperitif) with Brooklyn Winery’s rosé and bourbon.