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Getting into the holiday spirits

Forget egg nog: Top bartenders stir up festive cocktails for the season

The appetizers are arranged, the soup is simmering, the entrée is keeping warm in the oven. You're sure even Martha Stewart would be proud of your holiday menu. But what are you drinking with all this delightful food? Beer, wine, or … eggnog?

Want to really impress your friends this holiday season? Want to spread some special holiday cheer as your friends sample the delectable dishes at your holiday party?

Then be bold — abandon the eggnog and punch. Place the wine back on the rack and the beer back in the fridge. Leave them for the amateurs. Instead, be daring — step into the world of the country’s best bartenders and create dynamic drinks at home. Spread some traditional holiday cheer with some not-so-traditional holiday cocktails.

We asked leading mixologists around the country to share their recipes and their secret weapons for making the best cocktails. So get ready, steady and mix!

(All recipes make 1 serving.)

Lucy Brennan
A native of London, England, Lucy Brennan owns and operates Mint and the swanky 820 Lounge in Portland Oregon.

Mint's contemporary American cuisine are popular, but it was Brennan's fabulous signature cocktails that earned her a hot spot in Food & Wine's just-released list of the nation's top five mixologists.

Brennan has also won The Oregonian’s “Battle of the Bartenders” in 2001 and was featured as one of the top mixologists in the country by Bon Appétit in 2004. She authored the forthcoming cocktail book "Hip Sips" (Chronicle Books, 2007).

For this festive season, Lucy created three drinks: the Hazel, Sweet Love, and Absolut Mission.

Hazel is prepared with a distinctive espresso vodka; Sweet Love celebrates rainy Portland evenings and is a new take on the more traditional Spanish coffee; and Absolut Mission entices with flavors of fig and port.

Lucy's secret weapon for the perfect cocktail: She believes that creating cocktails should be like cooking and looks for flavors that complement each other. Strive for consistency and balanced flavors in each drink you make. Keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to experiment with combinations of spirits and food.

Todd Thrasher
A native Virginian, Todd Thrasher mixes some of the best libations on the East Coast at Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Va. Thrasher also recently got a nod from Food & Wine when the magazine awarded him their Best New Wine List award, recognizing him as one of the "most influential trendsetters" in the wine world today.

The menu at Eve is graced by Thrasher's highly desirable Edenesque Cocktails — including the Pear of Desire, a specialty cocktail that combines Absolute Citron, a homemade pear liquid and an extravagant garnish of foie gras; the Purple Basil Colada, with Bacardi Limón rum, Captain Morgan Parrot Bay coconut rum, his custom “basil colada” mix and basil foam; and the Bubbling Scarlet, a seasonal cocktail that combines sparkling wine, vodka and pomegranate juice. “One of my favorite fruits is pomegranate,” says Thrasher.

But Thrasher's favorite winter cocktail is the Peppermint Paddy a tribute to both the classic candy and to Eve Chef Cathal Armstrong, who's Irish.  "It tastes just like the candy bar when you were a kid, Thrasher says.

Todd's secret weapon for the perfect cocktail: “My secret weapon is a soda siphon, which I use for several cocktails. It helps add bubbles and textures!”

Evelyn Hsu
Evelyn Hsu is the sommelier at the newly reopened Peacock Alley at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. Her interest in pharmaceuticals and the balance of elements led her to develop an interest in the creation of cocktails.

Previously, she helped open the Red Eye Grill and Shelly’s New York, and was the beverage director at Trattoria dell’Arte and at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s restaurants Mercer Kitchen and 66.

Currently, Hsu is serving a line of signature Peacock Alley cocktails, using innovative ingredients such as pomegranate-based liqueur and green tea infusions. She tries to arrange seasonal cocktails around whatever fruit is in season.

“Very much like a chef when they like to work with the farmers market and find produce that is in season, I like to find fruits that are ripe,” says Hsu.

She offers two recipes for fall: The Ultimate Sin is served cold, while her Apple Cider is served warm, to offset the cold outside.

Evelyn's secret weapon for the perfect cocktail: “It is crucial to use the freshest ingredients. Also, believe it or not, the type of ice used plays a major role as well. For example, if you want a perfect martini, the larger the ice, the colder the martini. And give it a good shake!”

Ryan Thomas Magarian and Kathy Casey
Ryan Magarian has gained recognition as one of America’s leading mixologists for his cocktail innovations. Southwest Spirit magazine named him among the “best nine bartenders of the moment” for his dazzling Seattle creations, and Food & Wine magazine awarded him a 2004 Tastemaker Award, naming him one of the country’s “fiercest young industry talents” under 35.

Magarian recently teamed up with Seattle cook and cookbook author Kathy Casey, owner of Kathy Casey Food Studios and Dish D’Lish. Together, the two have been devising new ways to reconsider traditional food pairings — looking to match dishes with cocktails by starting right in the kitchen.

Case in point: the Raspberry Womanhattan, which Magarian loves as a holiday drink. “For me, hand-crafted Manhattans using any of the rich and wonderful bourbons on the market are a great way to kick off your winter evening,” he says. “The touch of raspberry adds a little culinary intrigue and makes the cocktail great for food pairings.”

Casey, meantime, offers up her Rum Pom Pom, which combines the Christmastime spice of rum with seasonal fruit flavors. “It is super-festive in color and flavor!” she says.

Ryan’s secret weapon for creating cocktails: “I pay a lot of attention to measurement and temperature. A great cocktail can be lost by incorrectly measuring by only half an ounce!”

writes about food and culture from suburban Virginia.