As The Worst Jew in Brooklyn, I’ve managed to miss pretty much every single actually important holiday the past few years, which is why I took it upon myself to host a nice little Hanukkah soirée this year. Menu planning was in the bag with latkes and ruggelach (our house never made sufganiyot), but figuring out what to throw into the punch bowl was severely depressing.
Google “holiday cocktails” and you’ll get 42 million results of Christmas vomited into a glass; Google “Hanukkah cocktails” and prepare to throw your phone at the mere 700,000 results. Suggestions were mostly inedible, including liquid gelt, using curaçao, or ironic praises of the one ingredient I was actively avoiding: Manischewitz. (Yes, it makes a reasonable substitute for vermouth, but even that didn’t scream Hanukkah to me.) And here they say there’s a war on Christmas. Pfft.
Then, it hit me: What about arak? It’s Levantine, so it’s basically the most accurate, and also anise-flavored, which would be a refreshing complement to fried potatoes and onions. After a little digging, I came across the perfect iteration at Miss Ada in Fort Greene called Beet-On: a mix of arak, fresh beet and lemon juices, simple syrup and mint. Not only do the beets have the perfect seasonal angle as winter root vegetables, but they also spoke to the Ashkenazi in me, adding just the extra touch I needed to officiate as the signature cocktail of Hanukkah. Immediately, I popped over and picked the brain of its creator, head bartender Ruben Hernandez.
“You need fresh-pressed beet juice,” he says. “It won’t taste good without it.”
Hernandez reaches for Israeli label Kawar Arak 45, which is simply shaken with the other ingredients and poured over ice. Unlike most beet cocktails, the vegetal flavor is subdued thanks to the strong anise flavor of the arak. Refreshing and clean with a zip of acidity from the lemon, it’s great for cutting through rich, heavy latkes and sugar-saturated dessert plates.
Technically, the drink is a bar menu staple at Miss Ada, but it should really be the official cocktail of Hanukkah. After all, it did save my own party. A Hanukkah mitzvah, you even might say.
1½ ounces arak
1 ounce beet juice
½ ounce lemon juice
½ ounce simple syrup
4 leaves of mint
Muddle mint and add all liquids, shake hard with ice.