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‘Tis the season for holiday cocktails!

egg nog

Ho-ho-ho time is close with the long-awaited cheer of festive cocktails. Happily, red and green maraschino cherries no longer play a starring role. Today’s celebrations require top quality spirits mingled with authentic, custom-crafted ingredients served in distinctive glassware. Be inventive, but remember, when people are in holiday mode, a little familiar zip can go as far as an entirely new creation.

By Davin de Kergommeaux

According to “Whisky Ambassador” Matt Jones, aka The Whisky Chef for Beam Suntory Canada, fancy is not the formula. It’s back to the basics. “As the classic cocktail continues to excite bartenders and consumers around the world, seasonal variations are becoming more the standard,” he says.

But how to make them truly special?

Jones created Holiday Harvest Syrup, enhancing classic cocktails with the warming spiciness of cinnamon, cloves, vanilla and orange. “It’s a very easy way to tweak a Toddy, Old Fashioned, Manhattan, eggnog, cider, or Christmas punch,” adds Jones. Don’t be afraid to add your own signature twist. (Recipe below.)

“Adding port, sherry and other fortified wines brings a fruity complexity to eggnog, punches and cider, while amaros – Italian herbal liqueurs infused with nuts, stone-fruit pits and botanicals – create a more dessert-like richness in those same potations,” he recommends.

What holiday cocktails is Jones touting this season? These super sippers:

DIY Eggnog

“It is much more fulfilling to craft your own eggnog than ‘spike’ commercially produced cartons of overly sweetened cream,” says Jones. Your guests will remember drinks that offer more than they expect. Why not up the ante with quality brandy, whisky or tequila variations instead?

Consider replacing rum with the sweet and spicy Maker’s Mark 46. A traditional sprinkling of freshly ground nutmeg on top will provide the Christmas aroma. Then try sprinkling finely ground cardamom to complement traditional Christmas spices with warm ginger-cinnamon aromatics.

Hot Buttered Toddy

Known the world over, the Toddy combines spirits, sugar, and water − deliciously. It enhances any brown spirit: whisky, brandy, rum, and even aged tequila and genever.

Jones describes his favourite. “A decadent, savory and sweet combination to pair with brown spirits is buttered caramel.” Where better than with a Hot Toddy?

Accent butter-infused spirit with half an ounce of Holiday Harvest Syrup and orange peel zested into the glass; add hot water to taste. For an extra treat use the leftover, spirit-infused butter to caramelize pecans served on the side.

From Spiced Old Fashioned to Spicy Manhattan

Christmas in a glass for Jones is the crisp, spicy, woody notes of long-aged bourbon transformed by Holiday Harvest Syrup. The result is festive baubles for the palate. For a seasonal take on the classic Old Fashioned, along with aromatic bitters, Jones recommends Knob Creek as the base spirit for its intense aromatics of oak, vanilla and toasted nuts. Adding Vermouth transforms this creation into a real Christmas Manhattan, while an ounce of hot water offers another yuletide take on the Toddy.

Have fun with your holiday mixes and remember that a creative tweak to a well-loved old favourite will make your cocktails the ones everyone talks about next holiday season


Holiday Harvest Syrup


3 cinnamon sticks

15 whole cloves

3 orange peels

1 vanilla bean pod

2 cups water

1 cup sugar

1 cup maple syrup

Angostura bitters

3 ounces Devil’s Cut bourbon


Split vanilla bean pod

Add ingredients to 1 cup boiling water

Reduce heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes

Fine strain liquid


Add 1 cup maple syrup

Add 5 dashes Angostura bitters

Add 1 cup raw sugar

Remove from heat and stir until dissolved

Add 3 oz Devil’s Cut bourbon to a clean empty bottle

Add 3 cinnamon sticks, 3 peels, cloves and split vanilla pod to bottle

Fill with syrup

Label, date, refrigerate



Holiday Punch

750mL Knob Creek Rye

½ cup of Holiday Harvest Syrup, including cinnamon sticks, cloves and lemon/orange peels

Stir together in punch bowl

Add 12 hard dashes of Angostura or to taste

Add 500mL cold water to balance

Float a large ice cube containing baking spices and citrus peels, or add 750mL hot water and serve as warmed punch



Holiday Cider

Steep 3 chai teabags in 750mL boiling water for 5 mins

Remove bags and stir in 250mL cup Holiday Harvest Syrup, 500mL apple cider, 500mL rum, brandy or whisky

Serve warm cider into coffee mug adding ½ tsp of butter to each serving

Garnish with steeped apple slices and a cinnamon stick



Egg Nog

(Jeffery Morganthaler’s recipe – Clyde Common, Portland)

12 large eggs

18 oz (by volume) granulated sugar

3 tsp freshly-grated nutmeg

12 oz añejo tequila (or brandy, rum, whisky)

15 oz Amontillado sherry

36 oz whole milk

24 oz heavy cream

In a blender or stand mixer on low speed, beat eggs until smooth

Slowly add nutmeg, and sugar until incorporated and dissolved

Slowly add sherry, tequila, milk and cream

Refrigerate overnight and serve in small chilled cups

Dust with fresh nutmeg before serving

Makes one gallon


Spiced Old Fashioned

(for Manhattan just add vermouth to taste)

1oz Knob Creek Small Batch Bourbon

½ oz Holiday Harvest Syrup

2-3 dashes Angostura bitters

Orange zest

Serve stirred with ice or add 1 oz of hot water and serve as a toddy



Hot Buttered Anything

Melt 1 cup butter in sauce pan

Sprinkle in 1 tbsp of brown sugar

Slowly caramelize over medium heat for 10 minutes

Let stand and when still warm to the touch, pour into sealable container such as a Mason jar

Add 1 bottle Basil Hayden’s Small Batch Bourbon

Cover and shake vigorously

Let stand to room temperature then place in a freezer

When the butter has solidified, gently pierce the crust and pour whisky through 4 layers of cheese cloth

Now let it drip through a coffee filter leaving a clear buttery liquid with just a minor haze.