Flaming orange zest. Hot coffee. Absinthe. Whether you love or hate the holidays, these cold-weather cocktails (and their fanciful ingredients) should warm your spirit.
Bartender Adam Harness likes to call his winter cocktails "mind erasers." Sounds ominous. But, hey, 'tis the season.
Sure, the holidays are all about family and gift-giving, but all the mandatory cheeriness can lead to stress-induced freakouts.
"I can kind of see the grimaces on their faces," the Cafe Maude bartender joked. "They tip their drinks back a little quicker."
And then there's the cold. It makes us want to drink bolder, darker liquors -- stuff that will heat up our insides.
I asked a trio of great Twin Cities bartenders to share their best holiday cocktails. Like the season's bright lights, these drinks are colorful and fun. But you'd better believe they also come with a kick.
I've included the recipes here, so feel free to test them at home. But if you're not snowed in, I suggest getting out of the house. It's best to taste these cocktails as made by the hands of their masters. Trust me, the Grinch himself would crack a smile after sampling these libations.
Bartender: ADAM HARNESS
Home base: Cafe Maude, a south Minneapolis bistro with a penchant for mood lighting and live jazz.
Back story: "It's a riff off a classic cocktail called the Stinger. I like to name drinks after bands and songs. There's a Minneapolis band called STNNNG -- phonetically, it looks like 'Sting' but it's pronounced 'stunning.' They're all my buddies."
Flavor: Herbaceous, minty, with an earthy green color.
Combine all ingredients except for soda into shaker, shake and strain over fresh ice. Add splash of soda. Garnish with a single mint leaf.
Cocktail: BITTER MAI TAI
Back story: "It was a long summer. I kept trying to rack my brain wondering how I was going to make a winter cocktail menu with such nice weather. So I just put a twist on a summer drink. Typically, a summer cocktail should be easy drinking and really refreshing. But this one has a bitter front. It's like walking outside onto a winter beach."
Flavor: The bitterness will warm your insides.
Shake and strain over ice. Garnish with orange slice.
Bartender: ROBERT JONES
Home base: Meritage, the French brasserie in St. Paul that also boasts a sleek old-world bar.
Cocktail: FAKE NORWEGIAN
Back story: "It's named after my bar back, who's from Norway. Her accent sounds more like she's from northern Minnesota. So we like to joke that she's not really from Norway. The drink is a collaboration with Mark Govich, who also works at Meritage."
Flavor: The frothy head is as silky as a pillow of snow. The rest goes down dry and sweet, with a minty aftertaste.
Combine ingredients and shake without ice. Add ice and shake hard. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with 12 drops Peychaud's bitters.
Cocktail: COUNT'S COURAGE
Back story: "It's a variation of a Negroni, which was invented by Count Negroni -- a really old Italian guy. But instead of gin, I'm using Genever [a gin-like liquor], which the Dutch call 'Dutch courage.' So my drink is a play on words."
Flavor: The bitterness and accompanying spice can be challenging. But the piney notes make it perfect for coming in from the cold.
Combine ingredients over ice and stir. Strain into chilled coupe glass. Cut thick orange peel. Heat zest with lighter or match. Squeeze orange peel over flame, releasing fiery oils onto the drink. Garnish with orange peel.
Bartender: JEFF ROGERS
Home base: The Lowry, a new Uptown diner that's proud of its beer and wine -- and slowly becoming a cocktail destination.
Cocktail: SNOW SHOE
Back story: "I'm really infatuated with the cream drinks of yore, like the Grasshopper. I substituted Rumple Minze for the Crème de menthe, which gave the Grasshopper its green color. Now the drink is as pure as the driven snow. Originally, I wanted the chocolate drizzle to look like snow tracks."
Flavor: Tastes like a Grasshopper, but a bit stronger (thanks to the Rumple Minze).
Place all ingredients into shaker, add ice and shake. Strain over new ice in a lowball glass. Garnish with a chocolate swirl.
Cocktail: CAFE LOWRY
Back story: "I've always been in love with hot drinks and the holidays. When I lived in the Caribbean it was like having this season robbed from me. I really started to miss those chilly mornings. I guess it's a creature comfort. I was also thinking of my dad when I made this drink. He was a big fan of mixed nuts and he would always make oatmeal with walnuts and honey."
Flavor: Creamy chocolate-orange goodness with honey and roasted-walnut notes.
Preheat a footed glass mug with hot water. Discard the water. Place liqueur and coffee into glass while leaving a 1/2-inch window on top. Float whipped cream and place two stir straws on top.
Honey walnut liqueur
Roast walnuts in a preheated 375-degree oven. Add walnuts, brown sugar and half of Cointreau to pot. Simmer on medium-low heat for 10 minutes, stirring. Remove nuts. Add honey, cream and milk, and simmer 5 to 7 minutes, stirring. Remove from heat. Stir in the rest of Cointreau. Cool, then bottle. Keep refrigerated.