East Coast Living: Winter cocktails add warmth to your holiday

By December 20, 2016The Holidays
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The word cocktail often stirs up memories of summer. Fruity drinks with gin or vodka, garnished with a paper umbrella. But cocktails take on a new twist when the weather turns colder.

“When you think summertime cocktails, you think typically on a patio, hot sun, something that is thirst quenching,” says Matt Gass, co-owner and general manager of The Wooden Monkey in Halifax. “Whereas in the winter, I picture someone around a fire, it’s dark, nighttime, people having a good time.”

That’s the inspiration behind The Wooden Monkey’s Maple Manhattan, which gives the classic cocktail a Canadian twist. The Maple Manhattan combines maple syrup, maple ice wine, and single-malt whisky from Glenora Inn and Distillery in Mabou, N.S. This cocktail has been a staple on the Wooden Monkey menu for several years.

“To me a cocktail should be strong and warm you up, really,” Gass says. “If you have a couple of cocktails before your brisk walk home, some whisky will definitely make your walk home a little more enjoyable.”

The same goes for the Pepper Gin Sour, a signature drink at Lion & Bright, a café wine bar in Halifax. This cocktail uses pepper syrup the bar staff created themselves. That syrup lends this drink a spicy winter warmth.

“When we opened, the cocktail trend was kitschy and trendy,” says Sean Gallagher, owner of Lion & Bright. “We wanted to go back to the classics; gimlets, sours, smashes, and old fashioneds. That’s our style for cocktails.”

Gallagher says this sour is the perfect concoction for winter because it has refreshing gin, spicy pepper, and sweet syrup. “It warms you up,” he says.

But winter drinks can be as refreshing as summer drinks, too. Take the Pear Sangria. Gass says they serve sangria all year at The Wooden Monkey because it’s a way to use up wine that’s past its best before date. And this drink still has a fruity flavours, too.

“Apples and pears that are two fruits that cellar so well, they are technically in season all year round,” Gass says. Gass suggests freezing fruit such as peaches and pears just after harvest when they are at the peak of freshness. “You can muddle the fruit into a drink any time of year,” he says.

To build up your winter bar, think of the basics. Gass says a coffeepot is standard for specialty coffees. Add citrus to balance out the sweetness in liqueurs. Gallgher says a winter bar should stock dark rums and aged liqueurs such as amaro.

“That kind of thing makes you think of curling up by the fire,” he says. “And swirling a glass or scotch or cognac.” And he says add other ingredients like vermouth, bitter mixes, and citrus, such as oranges and lemons.

Whatever your winter drink, there are plenty of garnishes to make it hotter, spicier, and more seasonal.

Gass suggests garnishing drinks with cinnamon bitters or cardamom to be more festive. But at-home mixologists should try ground cherries, plus fresh pear slices for the Pear Sangria.

If you have a greenhouse, try using herbs such as rosemary and thyme for your drinks. But Gass says those are more for the nose than the tastebuds. “You’re not going to eat the rosemary in the drink but it’s all about stimulating your sensory system.”

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