I grew up in California where it was not uncommon that we do our holiday shopping wearing flip flops. Since my move to Cincinnati, I’ve come to associate this time of year with the first beautiful sparkling snow of the year, bundling up and warm cocktails that melt the chill from the soul out. This year, while I was creating the cocktails for this series it has been unusually warm in our little corner of the world. No complaints here, but does anyone else find it odd that it’s in the high 60’s in the middle of December? However, it inspired me to research traditional holiday cocktails in other parts of the world that are usually warmer this time of the year. There are so many wonderful traditions around the world when it comes to food and drink during this festive time. It’s wonderful to look to cultures that are different than what we are accustomed to and to push us creatively. Today’s cocktail is inspired by a customary holiday beverage served in the Caribbean, the Sorrel Punch. In Jamaica, sorrel refers to hibiscus, not to the pungent green that we typically associate with this word in the states. This punch is typically made with hibiscus that is steeped and spices like cinnamon, cloves, or allspice berries. Ginger is also a traditional addition and it wouldn’t be the Caribbean if there wasn’t rum. For our Ohio take on this cocktail, I add thyme for a little earthiness and vanilla for sweetness, and replace the rum with bourbon. You can use hibiscus flowers, which you can find at most ethnic markets, or spice shops, or hibiscus tea is readily available at most grocery stores. I add non-alcoholic ginger beer to the hibiscus syrup to add effervescence and zip. The slight tropical flavor of this cocktail is perfect for this unusually warm winter, without sacrificing familiar holiday flavors.
DAY 2: THE MIDWESTERN SORREL
GLASSWARE: rocks glass
GARNISH: sprig of thyme
1 ½ oz bourbon
1 oz hibiscus syrup
4 oz non-alcoholic ginger beer
METHOD: In a shaker, add bourbon and hibiscus syrup. Add ice and shake. Strain into a rocks glass, add ginger beer, and then add ice. Garnish. Savor.
4 hibiscus tea bags or 1 cup of dried hibiscus flowers.
3 cups water
1 ½ cups sugar
6 sprigs of thyme
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
Peel of one lemon
METHOD: In a medium-sized sauce pan over medium-high heat add sugar and water. When sugar has dissolved, add hibiscus tea or dried flowers, thyme and peel of one lemon. Bring up to a boil, and then lower heat. Add vanilla extract. Simmer for 25 minutes. Remove from heat (if using tea bags, make sure to squeeze all liquid out of the bags before removing). Strain out rest of ingredients. Store syrup in fridge in an airtight container.
WITH A TWIST: Swap out the bourbon for a dark rum for a different take on a Dark and Stormy. You can also use vodka, gin or rye. If you want to keep it low proof, this would also be delicious with an Italian Amaro like Cocchi Americano or Aperol.
LIKE A VIRGIN/PARTY TIP: This would be great to mix as a non-alcoholic punch to serve your guests, with different bottles of spirits set on the side to give your guests options on what kind of cocktail they can create. You don’t want to be a short order cook at your own party, shaking and mixing a different cocktail for each of your guests. We know that everyone has different tastes, so by keeping the mixer separate from the spirit you’re not cornering your guests to only drink one type of cocktail. You’ve done all the prep work and now your guests can have options, and during the holidays we live for options.
DOUBLE DUTY: Make this syrup and add a ½ cup more sugar and a pint of raspberries, and reduce for an extra 10 minutes for a delicious syrup to pour over waffles or ice cream. Because gosh darn-it, you’re worth it.
So cheers to the different traditions around the world, and how they inspire us. I hope you feel warm from sharing delicious cocktails with lovely company.
Your neighborhood bar geek,