Holiday Entertaining | Videos

Mix up some fun with 5 essential holiday cocktail recipes

Creative interpretations of classic drinks to infuse the season with international spirit.

photograph by Bruce Peterson; food styling by Denise Drower Swidey


Brazil’s national libation, Caipirinha, is a simple sweet-and-sour drink that uses cachaca, a spirit distilled from fresh sugar cane juice. The addition of sugared cranberries in this version of the Caipirinha complements its tartness and lends the cocktail a suitably festive feel.


Serves 8

1¼ cups sugar

24 cranberries plus 11/3 cups cranberries, rinsed


8 thin wooden skewers, a little taller than the serving glasses

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8 limes, cut into sixths

4 ounces 100 percent pure cranberry juice

16 ounces cachaca, chilled

3-4 cups ice


In a small saucepan, bring 4 ounces of water to a boil and add 1 cup sugar, stirring until it dissolves. Add the 24 cranberries for 15 seconds and then strain them, reserving the syrup. Toss the cranberries in the remaining ¼ cup sugar. Thread 3 cranberries up to the top of each skewer. (If the cranberries lose sugar during the threading, you can re-submerge the skewers in the syrup and recoat with the sugar.)

In a large bowl, add 6 ounces of the reserved syrup and the lime wedges, and muddle to break down the limes. Add the remaining cranberries and continue to muddle, breaking down the cranberries.

Transfer the mixture to a large pitcher and add the cranberry juice, 16 ounces of water, cachaca, and ice. Adjust flavors to taste if necessary. Pour the caipirinha into glasses, garnish with cranberry skewers, and serve immediately.

Island-Time Eggnog

The Painkiller, a rum-juice-and-coconut cocktail from the British Virgin Islands, might seem the polar opposite of holiday-staple eggnog, but the two are united by their embrace of nutmeg. And because our global mash-up is so tasty, you won’t be faced with those half-used cartons of eggnog when the party’s over.


Serves 8

16 ounces Pusser’s Rum Original Admiralty Blend (or substitute another dark rum)


32 ounces pineapple juice

8 ounces freshly squeezed orange juice

4 ounces cream of coconut

32 ounces eggnog

8 cups ice

1 navel orange, thinly sliced

Whole nutmeg

Have all ingredients chilled. In a large bowl, combine the rum, pineapple juice, orange juice, cream of coconut, and eggnog. Add the ice and stir to chill the mixture well. Strain into another large bowl, discarding the ice. Transfer to individual glasses, garnishing each with an orange slice on the rim, and grating fresh nutmeg atop each drink. For an alcohol-free version, simply leave out the rum.

Winter Rosemary Sangria Punch

While rosemary is a member of the mint family, it’s also an evergreen shrub, making it the ideal herb to infuse the flavor of winter into a typically summer drink. Rather than adding ice cubes to the punch bowl, consider substituting additional frozen blackberries or ice cubes of red or white wine, to keep from diluting the sangria.


Serves 10

2 bottles Rioja (or other red table wine)

2 navel oranges, cut into eighths

1½ cups sugar

14 8-inch rosemary branches

12 ounces fresh blackberries

4 ounces blackberry brandy

8 ounces fresh orange juice

8 ounces sparkling water

3-4 cups ice

The night before (or at least 4 hours before), combine the wine and the oranges in a large bowl, squeezing the citrus into the wine. Cover and refrigerate.

In a medium saucepot over high heat, bring 12 ounces water to a boil. Add the sugar, stirring to dissolve, and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium, and add 4 rosemary sprigs. Boil an additional 5 minutes (or longer for a more pronounced rosemary taste). Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature, leaving the rosemary in to steep. Remove the rosemary and store the simple syrup, covered, in the refrigerator.

In a large bowl, mash the blackberries with a potato masher. Add the wine mixture, 4-5 ounces of the rosemary syrup (reserve any leftover syrup for another use), brandy, orange juice, and sparkling water. Balance the sangria to taste with simple syrup, orange juice, brandy, or sparkling water. If you prefer a stiffer drink, add some vodka.

Ice and serve the sangria in a large punch bowl. Garnish each glass with a rosemary sprig.

White Chocolate Candy Cane

This elegant drink requires just a few ingredients, and patience is one of them. Layered drinks work because of slightly differing densities of the liqueurs. A common technique is to add a layer by slowly pouring the liqueur over the back of a spoon, but I found something most home cooks have — a turkey baster — that actually does the job more easily and effectively.


Serves 8

8 regular-size candy canes

1 ounce white chocolate (a scant ¼ cup), finely chopped and melted

8 ounces creme de menthe, chilled

8 ounces white chocolate liqueur, chilled

Prepare 8 tall 2-ounce shot glasses: Break the curved end off the candy cane to make a swizzle stick sized to your shot glass (about 5½ inches for a 4-inch glass). Place the curved ends in a heavy-duty quart-size plastic bag. Place the bag on a cutting board and crush the candy finely with a hammer; transfer to a shallow dish. Place the melted chocolate in another shallow dish (note that white chocolate chips have a lot of stabilizers and don’t melt as well as real white chocolate does. If using chips, thin with a little canola oil after melting). Coat the rim of a glass by inverting into the melted chocolate, about ¼ inch deep. Next, dip rim into the crushed candy cane. Repeat with remaining glasses. (Excess crushed candy cane can be saved for another use.)

To serve, place a swizzle stick in a prepared shot glass. Using a small funnel to avoid disturbing the rim, pour 1 ounce of creme de menthe in the bottom of the shot glass. Using a turkey baster, add 1 ounce of the white chocolate liqueur right on top of the creme de menthe, one drop at a time at the start, going a little faster as the layer builds. Repeat with remaining glasses. Serve immediately. The swizzle stick can be used to combine the layers, if the drinker prefers.

Applejack Wassail

In the days of yore, going a-wassailing was the tradition of carolers calling in search of wassail — a warmed and spiced English concoction that’s spiked and hearty (so hearty that eggs were sometimes cooked into it). Guests will sing for this updated version that nixes the eggs, steeps the spices in a brown sugar syrup, swaps apple brandy for wine, and replaces floating roasted apples with more user-friendly sugared apple-chip garnishes.


Serves 8

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 large Granny Smith apple, cut into 1/8-inch-thick slices (a mandoline is ideal for this)

1¼ cups dark brown sugar

4 pieces star anise

3 large cinnamon sticks

1 teaspoon whole allspice

1 teaspoon whole cloves

4 ounces fresh lemon juice

64 ounces apple cider

16 ounces applejack (apple brandy)

Heat the oven to 250 degrees. In a small bowl, combine the granulated sugar and ground cinnamon. Cut a slit (for fastening to serving cup) in each apple slice and arrange slices on a wire rack atop a cookie sheet. Dust slices with half the cinnamon mixture, then turn them and dust other side. Bake for about 75 minutes or until they feel mostly dried out. The chips will seem a little pliable but will crisp up once removed from the oven and cooled. Chips can be made ahead and stored in an airtight container.

Meanwhile, bring 10 ounces water to a boil. Add the brown sugar and stir to dissolve. Add the anise, cinnamon sticks, allspice, and cloves and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature, leaving the spices to steep in the syrup. This can be done several days ahead; refrigerate the syrup with the spices until needed. When you are putting the wassail together, strain the spices from the syrup and stir well if the mixture has crystallized slightly.

In a large pot over high heat, combine 4 ounces of the strained simple syrup, the lemon juice, and cider. Reduce heat to medium and warm the mixture to just under a simmer (about 185 degrees). Taste and adjust flavor with simple syrup or lemon juice if desired. Remove from heat and add the applejack, then pour the mixture carefully into heat-proof glass mugs (ideal serving temperature is 160 degrees). Garnish the rim of each mug with 1 or 2 apple chips, and serve immediately. For an alcohol-free version, leave out the applejack.

Denise Drower Swidey is a frequent contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to