Spice up your Christmas

The drinks worth savouring this festive season are peppered with spices, say Ireland’s leading cocktail-makers and shakers

Spiced apple martini created by Dan Shanley of the Westbury Hotel, Dublin.

Spiced apple martini created by Dan Shanley of the Westbury Hotel, Dublin.

 

Theming aperitifs has always been an important festive ritual; whether it’s sweet or savoury, an after-dinner Irish coffee or the perfect short, a Christmasy-drink is a thing of pure joy. This year, cocktail menus are set to welcome a slew of new concoctions infused with spices. Not only do spices conjure up Christmas nostalgia, they’re also the easiest way to put a new twist on old favourites.

“The Irish palate has evolved, and so now we are seeing a lot of variations of the classic Christmas drinks,” says Carl D’Alton of Cask, Cork, current World Class Irish Bartender if the Year. “There’s nothing nicer than a winter-spiced Roe & Cosy (hot toddy) with Roe & Co Irish whiskey on Christmas Eve, or a hot buttered Zacapa rum after the ol’ Christmas dinner.”

Before you invest in an entire spice rack, D’Alton suggests using the usual suspects. “You can’t beat the old favourites – nutmeg and cinnamon. My champion of all Christmas spices is mace, as it’s a super flavour to work into winter drinks.” If you’re feeling brave, dive a little deeper into seasonal tinctures, infusions and syrups with ingredients such as pine and clove.

At Cask, D’Alton has his favourites. “I use lots of nutty numbers, such as fino sherries and vermouths like Belsazar Red, as modifiers for dark, warming cocktails. Zacapa 23 rum is a favourite for buttered rum and salted rum hot chocolates. Locally spiced hot toddies with Roe & Co or Talisker 10-Year-Old will add a little smoke to replicate the warming fires of winter.”

CARL D’ALTON’S CHRISTMAS MANHATTAN

Ingredients

40ml Zacapa 23 rum

20ml fino sherry

Dash of Angostura bitters

Spritz of spice-rack tincture (vodka infused with mace, clove, cinnamon and nutmeg for one week at room temperature)

Method

Aromatise the glass with spice-rack tincture.

Stir all ingredients with ice and strain drink into “the sherry glass from the good cupboard”.

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A pitstop at the Westbury Hotel’s Sidecar is a Christmas shopping tradition for many Dubliners, and the man behind the boozy selection in the five-star hotel is Michael Lis, head mixologist and assistant bar manager. “Ginger makes ordinary cocktails extraordinary and is, without fail, one of my favourite ingredients to use when I create a new cocktail,” he says.

The humble root not only brings character and freshness to drinks – it also boasts a host of health benefits. “It boosts the immune system, especially during long winter evenings.”

Lis foresees the return of classic cocktails this season, from artisan Irish gin and vermouths to amargo and sherry. “I believe that the discerning cocktail consumer wants the best-quality ingredients that are creatively blended and presented in beautiful glassware in luxury surroundings, with service to match. This year, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg will be present in our festive offering in hot indulgent drinks and in more refreshing combinations, too.”

MICHAEL LIS’S MARZIPAN SOUR

Ingredients

30ml Teeling’s Irish whiskey

30ml amaretto

15ml ginger and honey syrup

25ml freshly squeezed lemon juice

Three dashes dark chocolate bitters

20ml egg white

Method

Mix well and garnish with orange peel and freshly ground cinnamon.

Bar manager of The Ivy Dan Shanley says the return of spice this festive season is inevitable. “I’ve noticed a resurgence in the use of spices in liquor throughout the year – it’s been coming slowly but surely. There’s an Irish whiskey I’ve been using, Flaming Pig, which is infused with cinnamon, clove and black peppercorns. It’s spicy and sweet and works over ice or in cocktails.”

This Christmas, he’s exploring cinnamon and nutmeg, as well as more savoury spices like rosemary and thyme. “There are those nostalgic tastes and fragrances that instantly make people feel like it’s that time of year, and though we like to take a new approach to those drinks from time to time, they’ve got to bring that festive feel”

At The Ivy, you can expect to see Shanley preparing his spiced apple martini (see recipe), but at home he loves making his own take on eggnog. “It’s a great one for get-togethers and dinners, and I make it with almond milk so it’s dairy free. It’s a bona-fide crowd-pleaser.”

DAN SHANLEY’S SPICED APPLE MARTINI

Ingredients

50ml Longueville House Irish Apple Brandy

12.5ml Monin cinnamon syrup

12.5ml egg white

100ml apple juice

Method

Shake and fine-strain into coupe glass. Garnish with ground cinnamon dust.