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12 Days of Cocktails: Day 3

Posted on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016



One of the biggest battles any bartender faces when creating a cocktail is finding balance: much like how we feel during the holidays when we’re fighting a cold but have to finish the shopping list, and little Billy wants to go ice skating, and your in-laws are in town, and all you want to do is dive head first into a hot toddy.  That’s completely what it’s like creating a well-balanced cocktail. Bartenders are constantly trying to create a balancing act between bitter, sweet, acidic and boozy goodness.  Most of the poorly made cocktails I’ve had are because the pendulum swings way too heavy on the sweet side. Now don’t get me wrong, I love sweets, as demonstrated by my super stretchy pants that are not made for yoga but rather so that I can comfortably consume brownies. My belief is that sweetness belongs on my plate and not in my cocktail glass. I prefer my cocktails to be savory and bitter. There’s a Grinch joke there somewhere but it’s early yet. That being said, there is something about this time of year that really gets me in the spirit and suddenly I’m actually quite fond of sweet cocktails. Maybe it’s all the shiny lights, maybe it’s the cold weather, but whatever it is, I *heart* sweet cocktails during the holidays.

Today’s recipe is a beautiful cocktail that mixes brandy with a rich and decadent hot caramel. Hot caramel is basically like hot cocoa’s fancy city cousin.  This cocktail is so sinfully naughty you’ll be looking over your shoulder so Santa doesn’t rip it out of your hands; over my dead body, big guy.


Glassware: mug

5 oz hot caramel

1 oz brandy

Build cocktail in the glass starting with the brandy and then pour in the hot caramel.


2/3 cup granulated sugar

2 cup heavy cream

1 tbsp brown butter

1/2 tsp kosher salt

3/4 cup whole milk

1/4 tsp vanilla

In a small sauce pan, bring the cream to a simmer (never to a boil).  Once at a simmer, kill the heat.  In a medium sauce pan, add the sugar in a thin even layer.  Heat the sugar over medium heat.  Don’t stir.  Cook until it is an amber color.  Once it is an amber color, kill the heat.  Add the cream in small increments and whisk to incorporate.  After all warm cream is added, add the brown butter and whisk in.  Let the caramel cool until luke warm then whisk in salt, vanilla, and milk. 


You can add different spirits to this cocktail instead of brandy. I think bourbon or rye would be beautiful in this or even a dark black strap rum.  I also think a rich Amaro like Averna or Cardamaro would add some depth to the richness of the hot caramel.  No need to garnish BUT if you were in need of some garnish I think some whipped cream with cinnamon or freshly grated nutmeg would take this to another universe


Serve this with hot apple cider as an alternative for the kiddos or use the caramel to make holiday ice cream floats or shakes. 


This would be ideal to serve as a welcome cocktail for any holiday get together. Keep the hot caramel warm in a crock pot or lined thermos and let your guests choose the spirit of their liking.

Sweet cocktails, I raise my glass to you!


Your neighborhood bar geek,

Catherine Manabat