Any self-respecting Southerner knows that every season is bourbon season. From summery mint juleps to holiday eggnog, there is always a seasonally appropriate cocktail for consuming our liquor of choice. But the holidays are when the bourbon-drinking tradition becomes a nightly affair for me.
It started during my first Christmas as a married woman — we married early in November, and after the honeymoon I sat down by the tree, bourbon-spiked eggnog n hand, and wrote thank-you cards for our wedding gifts. I wrote a few per night with the goal of finishing before the New Year. This is when I realized that a winter bourbon cocktail is even more pleasurable to drink when surrounded by the twinkle of Christmas lights, the smell of the tree and the warming comfort that comes with the anticipation and execution of a holiday ritual.
I know I’m not alone in savoring the entire routine, from the opening of the bourbon bottle to taking that very last sip. An excerpt from Roy Blount Jr.’s “Ode to Bourbon” essay in Garden & Gun is worth sharing: “A cork is a great thing in a whiskey bottle for the pleasure of pulling it out. Let’s see if I can spell the sound: f-toong. That’s if you pull it straight out. If you give it a little twist as you pull it, there’s a squeak — no, a chirp, a tweet even — that drowns out the f and even the t…. Sort of squeeoong.”
These are the sounds that make the holidays just a little bit more magical. The sounds that herald a soul-hugging cocktail in the making.
The recipe here is for a bourbon cider cocktail. Beyond being a regular in the nightly drink rotation, it’s also my signature cocktail for all holiday entertaining, from Thanksgiving through New Year’s. Just three ingredients blend beautifully into smooth, festive flavor: apple cider, lemon juice and bourbon. I am loyal to R.W. Knudsen’s Cider and Spice (available at most grocery stores) because there’s no added sugar, just the sweetness from the apples, brewed with cinnamon, allspice, cloves and orange in perfect proportion. It’s just the right amount of sweetness and spice to balance the lemon juice and bourbon.
Before this year, I would have insisted upon squeezing real lemons for the juice. In fact, this recipe in my family cookbook says, “Do not use bottled lemon juice. It will ruin your drink!” That’s true of the yellow, lemon-shaped plastic squeeze bottles, but I was forced to find a great bottled lemon juice this holiday season because making a cocktail while holding an infant is that much harder when juicing lemons is involved. It turns out that Santa Cruz Organics makes a quality bottle of 100 percent lemon juice (not from concentrate), which is welcome news for anyone wishing to scale up the recipe for entertaining. Cheers!
Bourbon Cider Cocktail (by Martha Stewart)
¾ cup apple cider (recommend R. W. Knudsen’s Cider & Spice)
1/3 cup bourbon
2 tablespoons lemon juice (fresh-squeezed, or Santa Cruz Organic’s bottled lemon juice)
Shake with ice, then serve over ice. Garnish with lemon rind, a shaving of fresh ginger or a sprig of rosemary if you’re feeling fancy.