Better Life

Rotgut Ingenuity: Holiday Salvation Part 1

The drinking man’s guide to holiday parties and the gifts to leave behind…

The main objective as a holiday party guest should be to arrive bearing as considerate a gift as possible. And it should come as no surprise that whenever I’m asked, “What should I bring to the party?” before a person can get out the tee in party, I invariably say: “Good booze.”

What follows are three holiday party scenarios complete with a DIY cocktail recipe, degree of difficulty and a well-thought-out host gift—which will come in handy when you whip up said cocktail on the spot…


The Iceberg Gin Martini

The Host: Friends
The Gift: Koriko Shaker Tins and a Julep Strainer
Degree of Difficulty: Two Turtledoves


2-parts locally-made gin of your choice
1-part dry vermouth
Ice. For this drink I prefer the crescent-shaped ice made by a high-end fridge. Trays work too.
Twist of a lemon peel

The convivial nature of a friend’s holiday party is the perfect environment to show off your noisiest shaking skills. I can think of no better cocktail to make for a fancy, friends-only holiday party than a well-balanced gin martini. Bring a bottle of regionally-made gin and a bottle of dry vermouth. Fill the tins with ice from their fridge. Shake like hell. You want to shake it till the ice has broken against itself so intensely that ice chips will float on the surface of the cocktail. This adds a lot of water to the drink. The hydration makes the night last longer. Strain using a Julep Strainer—my favorite for extracting just the right amount of small ice chips into the cocktail. Top with a spirally twist of fresh lemon peel.

Chances are, unless they’re bartenders, your friends don’t have a high-quality set of shaker tins. Bring with you a set of my favorite. These Koriko tins are made by the Japanese, they’re weighted perfectly and they’re surprisingly durable.


A McFrosty Nip (at Your Nose)

The Host: Family
The Gift: Marquis Glassware from Waterford Crystal
Degree of Difficulty: Five Golden Rings


2-parts your favorite Irish whiskey (80 proof)
1-part Amaro Montenegró
1/2-part egg whites
Juice of a small orange slice
Twist of an orange peel
Pinch of thyme

On special occasions my Irish-American relatives proudly pull out the good crystal from County Waterford. We reminisce about holidays past—like the years during the Great Depression when my great-grandparents could only afford to give their children an orange, meant to represent the traditional gold coins left in stockings. More recently, in less trying times, my grandmother would give the grown men in my family a bottle of spice-scented after shave—they would hoist those bottles in the air and hum an old Irish tune.

This cocktail is meant to be a nod to those Christmases of yore. Pick up a set of four Waterford rocks glasses for the family host. The Marquis Collection is relatively affordable. You’ll also need a bottle of your favorite Irish whiskey, an orange, a bottle of Amaro Montenegró, a carton of eggs or a thermos of egg whites and a jar of ground thyme. Combine everything but the thyme and orange over ice in a shaker tin. Shake, strain and spoon out the remaining egg white froth atop the glass. Sprinkle with thyme, top with a twist of orange. As you clink glasses, hum your family’s favorite old tune.


A Maple-hattan

The Host: Perfect Strangers (AKA That Boss You Don’t Report to but Joke with in the Breakroom.)
The Gift: A Wentworth Pewter Flask
Degree of Difficulty: A Partridge in a Pear Tree


2-parts bourbon
1/4-part sweet vermouth
1/2-part pure maple syrup
2 dashes of orange bitters
1 Maraschino cherry

A safe bet when attending the party of someone with whom you are not familiar: bring your standards. Your go-tos. Your trusted stuff. My favorite flask is a Wentworth Pewter that was given to me by a friend for Christmas.

At a loss for what to bring to a white elephant party one year, I stopped at a gas station along the way. Desperate, I asked the attendant what he would bring to a party. “Oh, that’s easy,” he replied. “Pure Maple Syrup. Ours is some of the best.” It was a hit. Of course it was. Maple syrup’s unrefined sugars are a great natural sweetener and make any winter cocktail taste that much more wintry.

When it comes to giving the gift of spirits, my favorite to share with strangers is Basil Hayden’s Bourbon. As a means of disclosure, I’ve been their spokesperson for four years. Prior to that and surely long afterwards, I will continue extolling the virtues of Basil Hayden’s as an excellent bourbon for the aficionado and the novice alike. Made with twice as much rye as traditional bourbons, it has a “trademark spicy finish,” and comes in a uniquely packaged bottle that looks impressive sitting atop your bar.

And after making it for several years at all manner of holiday parties, I’ve come to learn this cocktail pleases all who try it. Toss all the ingredients into a shaker tin filled with ice. Shake vigorously and strain neatly into a cocktail glass. Add a cherry garnish.

Then go make friends of strangers and family of friends.