Want to be a superstar at your next holiday party? Mix up a batch of cinnamon simple syrup. The quick combination of sugar, water, and that tasty holiday spice will add a subtle wintery touch to any cocktail that calls for sweetener.
“It’s my favorite ingredient all year round, made from scratch, but it’s especially nice during the holidays to get some spice into your cocktails,” says Todd Grubb, bartender at The Baldwin Bar in Woburn. “In a daiquiri, use cinnamon simple and maybe an aged rum, and you’re going to get an entirely different cocktail and definitely more of a holiday style,” says Grubb, who is responsible for whipping up the stylish bar’s syrups, tinctures, juices, and other house-made flavors. Cinnamon simple syrup can also give a boost to Tiki drinks—concoctions generally of rum and a mixture of juices—he says, or try it in the popular Moscow Mule, a mix of vodka, ginger beer, and citrus.
Even in these days of an increasingly sophisticated spirits culture, hosts don’t have to perform a cocktail high-wire act to provide thoughtful refreshments, Grubb says. Four basic drink styles—citrusy, tropical, a stirred whiskey or rum drink and a bitter one—should please the vast majority of your guests.
“You don’t want to overcomplicate things with too many ingredients,” Grubb advises, explaining that few people will refuse a citrusy drink, although there are those who prefer their alcohol hidden, so serve them a tropical or tiki-style drink. Manhattan drinkers will look for a stirred cocktail, and then there are the bitter fans, who might enjoy the current trend toward using amaro—an Italian digestive liqueur in cocktails.
Go Low Proof
Amaro can be a key ingredient in another style that is trending right now—cocktails that are lower in alcohol than those made with a classic spirits. “Low-ABV [alcohol by volume] cocktails, made with ingredients like amaro or sherry, are very popular right now,” Grubb says. “I find myself making those sorts of drinks constantly.” While it takes some thought and experimentation, a low-proof tipple like sherry can sometimes stand in for a stronger spirit like rum, as in the bar’s Sherry Painkiller. A tropical mix of juice and house-made coconut cream that is usually spiked with rum, Amontillado sherry brings a subtle difference and lowers the alcohol. At The Baldwin, it is especially popular in a large format—served in a big bowl with a bunch of straws, intended for a group to share.
“People go crazy for it,” Grubb says. “You get so many flavors going on, your palate is like, ‘What is this wonderful thing?’ It’s a perfect drink.”
Get the Garnish Right
What really puts the Sherry Painkiller over the top for the holidays is a grating of fresh nutmeg on top—Grubb says garnishes can be the difference between impressive and average.
“If your garnish game is strong, that’s really something to take pride in—making the drink taste good, but also making it look really good,” Grubb says. “People drink and eat with their eyes and their nose before anything else. Even a simple sprig of mint—handled correctly—can elevate a cocktail.
“If you just grab a bunch of mint out of a bag, it’s going to be all smooshed and terrible,” Grubb says. “But if you know how to whisper the mint, you’re going to be sitting pretty.” To become a mint whisperer, plunge the plucked stems into ice water for at least 15 minutes, and then trim the stems and stick them into a jar of super hot tap water. “The mint will just blow up, as if it’s been fresh-picked,” Grubb says. Just keep the mint in the jar all night—the water will cool, but the mint stays “whispered” for hours.
It’s surprising how just a touch of effort can impress your guests, Grubb says. “If you put a little extra time and effort into your drinks, it’s going to make people feel special,” he says.
However, if a cocktail high-wire act sounds appealing to you, Grubb has the drink for you: a Ramos Gin Fizz. Milk-based drinks with citrus look really festive, but are notoriously tricky to pull off—and the Ramos, a sophisticated combination of egg white, heavy cream, lemon and lime juice, and orange flower water, fills the bill.
“It’s one of the most complicated cocktails out there,” Grubb says. “It can definitely go downhill pretty quick.” It involves at least two minutes of shaking, careful adherence to the recipe and some fancy pouring to get it right, or you could wind up with a curdled mess.
Don’t try it at home, unless you plan to shake all night or have a back up plan, Grubb says. Or perhaps leave the tough stuff to the experts and stop by The Baldwin. “We love making them,” Grubb says. “We’re really into it and we love people who are really into it.”
Makes 8 cocktails
Bourbon lovers will enjoy this take on a Manhattan, which gets an extra
kick from amaro—a bitter Italian digestif.
> 8 oz. Amaro Montenegro
> 8 oz. Carpano Antica vermouth
> 8 oz. Four
> 8 orange swaths
Combine in a pitcher. For each drink, measure
three ounces into
a rocks glass over ice – ideally one large cube. Garnish with orange
swath for the oils.
Makes 8 drinks
Substituting sherry for the rum, which is traditional in a Painkiller, lowers the alcohol content while adding some exciting flavors. The cinnamon simple syrup brings a festive touch, as does the nutmeg garnish.
Mix well in a punch bowl. For each serving, pour about five ounces over crushed ice. Garnish with mint, edible flowers, powdered sugar and a grating of fresh nutmeg.
Cinnamon Simple Syrup
Makes 2 cups
Crush 1 ounce cinnamon sticks in a small pan. Place pan over low heat and toast the cinnamon for about five minutes. Add 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar, stir over low heat until sugar is fully dissolved, and then cover, remove from heat and steep for 1 to 2 hours. Strain and refrigerate until ready to use. It should keep for a few weeks.
Makes 8 cocktails
A sibling—some say a forerunner—to Campari, Gran Classico is bitter, complex and herbal. Batch the liquors but add the citrus when serving—it keeps the grapefruit fresh, and if there are leftovers, the batched liquor will keep much longer without the fruit juice.
> 12 oz. Lillet Blanc
> 12 oz. Gran
> Angostura bitters
> orange bitters
> fresh grapefruit juice
Pour three ounces of the batch into a rocks glass with ice—ideally one large cube. Add a dash of orange bitters and a dash of Angostura bitters, along with a bar spoon of grapefruit juice. Stir in glass then top the rocks with a pinch of salt.
The Baldwin Bar
2 Alfred Street, Woburn