3 Perfect Drink Rituals of the Holiday Season

Aaron DeFeo, a partner of Little Rituals in Phoenix, Arizona, shares his favorite holiday rituals.

The holiday season proffers so many of our great culinary traditions; from pumpkin pie and honey ham to Chinese cuisine on Christmas Day. For me, though, it’s always been the drinking rituals that make the holidays so special. The holidays are a time for friends and family, and no spirit says family more than agave. Steeped in centuries of tradition, and toasted by friends all across the globe, agave spirits and agave-based beverages have been long-tied to celebration. So, when the temperatures drop, I’m still inclined to reach for a good mezcal or tequila—just not necessarily in a margarita.

The Occasion: Family Gatherings 

The Perfect Ritual: Hot Apple Cider

Few flavor combinations are as harmonious in the booze world as baked agave and apple. Add the spice of a great cider made with real apples, and you’ve got an instant winner. Grate some real cinnamon on the top of the drink as a perfect finishing touch. 

I recommend using Azuñia Reposado, as the fresh roasted agave flavor—along with playful butterscotch and caramel—plays much more into the apple and spice than a richer, fuller and more oak-influencedañejo.

For the cider, depending on the part of the country you live in, there will more than likely be a local farm that is selling their version (often at the local supermarket), if you don’t feel like going through the whole process. But these are holiday rituals, and part of what makes these drinks so enjoyable is the prep work. Cooking apple cider makes your home or bar smell like a winter lodge, and you can’t beat that. Not to mention that by making apple cider yourself, you can adjust the recipe to accommodate dietary needs, such as kosher guidelines.  Another great part of apple cider is that if you have members of your family who are too young to drink or simply choose to abstain, the delicious cider can be served sans tequila.

This version punches up the traditional cider by adding a touch of Madeira for richness, agave nectar instead of brown sugar, and pears, which boost the apple in accentuating the agave flavor.

Apple Cider Holiday Drink Ritual

Amatitán Cider 

  • 8 apples (your favorite varietal)
  • 4 pears (Bosc or Anjou)
  • 3 quarts filtered or spring water
  • 1 cup Madeira (semi-sweet)
  • ½ cup agave nectar, or to taste
  • Peel of 1 large orange
  • 4 ea. cinnamon sticks
  • 6 ea. star anise
  • 2 Tbsp allspice berries
  • ½ Tsp citric acid (optional)

INSTRUCTIONS: This is best made in a slow cooker or in a pot on the stove on low. You need to cook the entire mixture for about 3 hours, then mash up the fruit and continue cooking for an additional hour or two. The idea is to break down the fruit thoroughly.

Once finished cooking, it is critical to fine strain the mixture, as the pulp and pectin from the fruit doesn’t make for as appetizing a drink.

NOTE: if you don’t have the time to cook it down, you can omit the fruit and use a combination of two parts apple juice to one part pear nectar, though you will still need to simmer the rest of the ingredients for at least 30 min.

To make the drink itself:

  • 1 part Azuñia Reposado Organic Tequila
  • 3 parts apple cider

Combine in an insulated cup and add a cinnamon stick with grated nutmeg for garnish.

The Occasion: Holiday Parties

The Perfect Ritual: Hot Toddy

good hot toddy can be hard to find, even though many bars offer them nowadays. Often times recipes erroneously call for adding fresh citrus juice to the glass—a step not recommended when using 180°F water, which will cook that citrus and bring out the bitterness. Besides, what we’re after when making a toddy isn’t citrus juice, but rather the oil of the skin to brighten up a drink; much like a hot old fashioned. Early versions of the toddy would include a spirit, water, and sugar only. When boiling water wasn’t available, a hot poker called a loggerhead or flip-dog was used to heat drinks a la minute. Not shockingly, this combination of water, sugar and a spirit aren’t quite as appetizing without a spritz of zesty citrus oil.

Making toddies at holiday gatherings has always been a ritual of mine, and as the temperature (slowly) drops here in Phoenix, we’ll find ourselves making hot toddies for our guests at the bar, as well as at any evening-time gathering of friends.

Hot Toddy Holiday Drink Ritual

Azuñia Hot Toddy

  • 1.5 oz Azuñia Añejo Organic Tequila
  • .5 oz rich chai demerara syrup*
  • 4 oz hot water
  • Orange peel

INSTRUCTIONS: Combine AzuñiaAñejo and rich demerara in a cup. Add very hot water (tea or hot coffee temperature) to the mixture and stir lightly. An electric tea kettle is PERFECT for this. Express the oil from an orange peel over the surface of the drink and discard.

*Chai Demerara Recipe

  • 800 g raw Demerara sugar (or turbinado, like Sugar in the Raw)
  • 400 ml water
  • 8 ea chai tea bags, such as TAZO

NOTE: if you don’t have a way to measure weight by grams, just measure to the best of your ability one part of water and two parts of demerara sugar.

In a pot on the stove, heat water to almost boiling, turn off the heat, then add tea bags. Let steep for as long as 15 min. Once a strong, dark and fragrant tea has developed, slowly mix in the demerara sugar, while bringing the heat up. Keeps stirring until the sugar has dissolved completely, then remove the tea bags with a ladle.  Before the mixture boils, turn off the stove and let syrup cool naturally. You may also set the pot in an ice bath to cool more quickly. Bottle once cooled and refrigerate. This should make enough syrup for more than 60 cocktails.

The idea here is to make a super-strong tea into a syrup. That way, you can make these for the entire cold season without having to brew tea each time. The syrup will last for months if kept refrigerated.

The Occasion: Daytime Drinking

The Perfect Ritual: New Year Punch

If you are like me—and you live somewhere that is perpetually warm during the day, daytime cocktails are the perfect respite from holiday shopping, or when you just want to relax and enjoy time off. For bartenders, usually, our holiday day off tends to be New Year’s Day, when we can escape the craziness of the night before and recover with something refreshing.Punch is the ideal beverage that allows a host to take a step back and actually enjoy the party after all the prep work is done.

Hibiscus Punch Holiday Drink Ritual

New Year Punch

  • 1 part lime juice
  • 2 parts Velvet Falernum (if you can’t find Velvet Falernum, use REAL Ginger Syrup instead)
  • 3 parts Azuñia Blanco Organic Tequila
  • 4 parts hibiscus tea
  • Angostura bitters or other aromatic bitters to taste

In a large punch bowl, combine citrus, falernum, Azuñia Blanco and hibiscus tea. Stir well, adding aromatic bitters until a cinnamon spice is evident, then add large chunks of ice to the mixture to dilute and chill. Garnish with edible flowers such as orchids. Ladle and serve over ice in old fashioned-sized glasses with ice.

NOTE: If you cannot find hibiscus flowers, there is a fantastic tea by TAZO called Passion®, which has orange peel and rose hips as well. This makes for an excellent substitute. 

Azuñia would like to thank Aaron for sharing these seasonal drink rituals with all of us. To learn more about Aaron’s bar, Little Rituals, and to read his full biography, please read on.

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