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Cocktails for the Holiday Season

The holiday season has arrived and, along with it, holiday parties.

In a city swarming with people trying to outdo each other, hosts looking to make a big impression will want to serve the perfect drink, whether it’s a cocktail, a glass of wine or a beer.

Hand-mixed drinks can lend personality to a party, but there’s no need to get stuck with bartending duty all night. Matt LeBarron of Granville Moore’s Belgian gastropub (1238 H St. NE) recommends picking up a copy of “The Punch Bowl” by Dan Searing, a co-founder of the D.C. Craft Bartenders Guild.

The 75 recipes in the book, which debuted this year, are organized by their key component, such as whiskey, gin, wine or tea, and many are modernized versions of recipes that predate the 20th century. Pick out a few punches, prepare them before the party and serve them in festive bowls placed around the room. Check out the book’s hot mulled apple cider and brandy punch, a recipe from the 18th century, as seasonal options.

LeBarron also offers his own easy-as-apple-pie recipe for a warm cider concoction: Simply heat cider with Irish whiskey in a slow cooker and serve with a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Over at Union Pub (201 Massachusetts Ave. NE), the bartenders recommend a butterscotch-laced spiked eggnog for palates seeking traditional holiday flavors.

The more adventurous might serve genever, a Belgian spirit that was the precursor to gin. LeBarron recommends Diep 9, which can only be purchased stateside in Washington, D.C., Vermont and Massachusetts. LeBarron (who admittedly works with a Belgian bias over at Granville Moore’s) says using this hard-to-come-by liquor will impress your guests with your intoxicating know-how.

The liquor comes in eight flavors: old grain, new grain, peach and apricot, apple, passion fruit, red currant, vanilla and chocolate. The chocolate Diep 9 works well as a dessert shot, while the red currant can be mixed with club soda or tonic water and topped with a lime for a red holiday drink that doesn’t taste a thing like cranberry.

A few other liquors to keep in mind are Laird’s Applejack and Hiram Walker Pumpkin Spice Liqueur, according to Schneider’s of Capitol Hill (300 Massachusetts Ave. NE) and JJ Mutts Wine and Spirits (643 Pennsylvania Ave. SE).

Applejack is a blend of spirits and apple brandy that can be enjoyed as a shot or sipped on the rocks. Use the pumpkin spice liqueur to make a delicious pumpkin martini. (Whether you use gin or vodka is up to you.)

If hard liquor and spiked drinks aren’t your thing, then Felix Milner of Schneider’s would steer you toward Victory Brewing’s Golden Monkey beer. The Belgian-style ale is brewed with citrus, apples and Belgian yeast and pairs well with a meal. For a sweeter brew, try the Dogfish Raison D’Etre Belgian-style brown ale. The craft beer is brewed with malt, brown sugar and raisins.

For wine lovers looking to splurge, Milner recommends a bottle of 1982 Chateau Sociando-Mallet from Burgundy, France. Priced at $130, the Bordeaux is described as medium- to full-bodied with earthy, fruit flavors. The wine is expensive because of where and when it was made, but it goes well with any full turkey dinner, Milner says.

At the lower end of the price range, Pali Wine Co.’s 2010 Summit pinot noir has the body to pair well with rich holiday foods such as stuffing and gravy. This $30 California wine tastes of raspberry and cherry mixed with white pepper and other spices.

A good dessert wine that pairs well with the sweets on your menu can be difficult to find. Buller Wines’ fine tawny port ($19) is sweet without diminishing the tastes of other food and is made to be paired with pies or chocolate, according to Milner. The Australian wine has flavors of candied red fruit, roasted nuts, caramel, toffee and spice.


If you’re looking to show off your bartending skills, liven up your gathering with one of these simple recipes recommended by local bartenders.

The Snow Job

1 part dulce de leche

1 part butterscotch schnapps

2 parts eggnog

A favorite of the Union Pub bartenders, this take on the classic spiked eggnog is a sweet treat to add to your holiday party. Just mix and top with cinnamon or nutmeg.

Irish Apple Cider

Apple cider

Irish whiskey

To provide a warm drink that won’t take too long to prepare, Matt LeBarron of Granville Moore’s recommends this simple combination of cider and whiskey. Warm the cider in a slow cooker, sprinkle in cinnamon and add Irish whiskey to taste.

Diep 9 Cocktails

Diep 9 genever

Tonic water or club soda

Genever is a Belgian liquor that served as the precursor to gin, and Diep 9 comes in eight flavors: old grain, new grain, peach and apricot, apple, passion fruit, red currant, vanilla and chocolate. Mix with tonic water or club soda, or try the chocolate flavor alone as a dessert shot.

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