While winter weather was a bit bashful this year, the month-long happy hour we call the holiday season is fully underway. It’s time to eat, drink and be merry. Emphasis on the drink. It’s the season of creamy coffees, cozy cocoas and cranberry cocktails. You can keep your leaping ladies and piping pipers, my true love sends me drinks.
Day–sipping: coffee and tea
“It’s like pumpkin pie meets eggnog,” said the barista at Uncle Leroy’s Coffee, describing their newest offering, a Chaga Chai made with oat milk. And let’s face it; you could sell me a car battery by describing it that way. Creamy, gently sweet, with a hint of spice and the mildly earthy flavor of chaga, this cozy blanket of a winter beverage delivered on her extravagant promise. (701 W 36th Ave. #18)
This time of year, I spend a ridiculous amount of time at Summit Spice & Tea, a one-stop shop for hygge-lifestyle beverages. With so many choices, I had a hard time choosing my favorite seasonal loose-leaf brew. The piquant cranberry orange black tea? The unapologetically cinnamon-forward caramel apple? Autumn plum with dark roasted oolong? It was a difficult decision, but I finally landed on the “Iditamint” blend. Described as "a thin mint in your cup,” this tea features roasted mate, peppermint, cacao nibs and rooibos. The blend drinks like an herbal tea but has a secret weapon – caffeine – for when you want a relaxing cuppa but still have a mountain of Christmas cards to address. Summit Spice also stocks an impressive variety of hot cocoas (with flavors like picante, salted caramel and candy cane) as well as mulling spices for wine and cider. (3030 Denali Street #2)
There’s obviously no shortage of pumpkin spice lattes being frothed up around town, so it struck me as notable that I kept hearing raves about the Real Pumpkin Spice Latte at Black Cup Coffee. How different could it be? But such was the buzz that I made a special trip. Readers, this is the pumpkin spice gold standard. Containing actual pumpkin puree, condensed milk, vanilla, fresh ginger and spices, this cup is creamy and decadent but not too sweet – a pumpkin-spiced beverage for a grown-up palate. (341 E. Benson Blvd.)
Nightcaps: Holiday cheer with a kick
Tim’s Cranberry Toddy at the Bear Tooth Grill is right on the cusp between day–sipping and night-capping. It’s a light and bright-tasting refresher that looks so primly respectable in its teacup that you might not remember that it’s laced quite assertively with Bulleit Bourbon. This drink is warming and clove-laden but with a lot of fresh cranberry acidic attitude. The wedge of lemon along the side was completely superfluous. I snuck a quick break from my afternoon routine to sip one of these among a few other “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere” philosophers and didn’t feel the least bit guilty about it. (1230 W. 27th Ave.)
Double Shovel Cider’s cranberry refresher looks like a sunset in a glass. This dry-yet-thirst-quenching cranberry cider has just enough round, apple flavor to mellow out the natural tartness of the cranberry juice. Light and refreshing, this is just the pick-me-up you’ll need after braving the crowded shops, markets and Christmas tree lots of the season. (502 W. 58th Ave. Unit C)
South Restaurant is serving up some of the most beautiful and interesting cocktails in town, and their seasonal creations are no exception. My recent favorite was the Pilgrim’s Progress cocktail, with Four Roses single barrel bourbon, Aperol, cranberry sauce, lime and smoked tea. This drink is a journey. The mellow, warming sensation of the bourbon, the subtle sweetness of the fruit, the aromatic smokiness of the tea all combine to make each sipful revelatory. The attention to detail here is wonderful – from the sprig of fragrant rosemary to the perfect, oversized crystal clear cube of ice. I think their drinks taste even better when you’re sitting at the bar, enjoying the floor show of bartenders executing perfect cocktail after perfect cocktail. (Shout out to my runner-up, the Winter Spritz -- an oddly bitter but bubbly blend of zucca amaro, strega, prosecco, orange and sage. It’s beautiful to sip and to look at. “It’s Instagram famous,” said our bartender). (11124 Old Seward Hwy.)
The holidays offer blanket permission to consume silly drinks that feature both alcohol and whipped cream. Most months, you’re expected to pick a side -- are you Team Booze or are you Team Dessert? But in December, apparently, there are no rules. A perfect example of this lawlessness is in the Hot Buttered Pumpkin at Spenard Roadhouse. Pumpkin-spiced butter, Bacardi, whipped cream and lots of cinnamon – it’s like drinking a piece of pie. Now, regular pie seems dumb. (1049 W. Northern Lights Blvd.)
The Peppermint Patty from Humpy’s is another prime example. A combo of hot chocolate, crème de cacao, crème de menthe, and whipped cream, this is a grownup drink for your inner child – just the thing to sip while writing your letter to Santa. On my list? Another Peppermint Patty. (610 W. Sixth Ave.)
The antidote to these sweet and silly desserts disguising themselves as cocktails is the sophisticated balsamic cosmopolitan at Fiori d’Italia, which shakes up some of the best drinks in town. With infused vodka, cranberry juice, lime and aged Ferati balsamic, this drink is fruity yet dry with a masterful balance of sweet and bitter. Though it’s a year-round pleasure, the presence of cranberry allowed me to sneak it onto my list. (2502 McRae Rd.)
I know the holidays are a time for socializing and festivities. But sometimes the best cocktail of the season is the one you make yourself at home. While wearing PJs. And fuzzy slippers. And by “make a cocktail,” I mean “pour something into a glass,” specifically Kirkland Brand Egg Nog Liqueur from Costco made from cream, whiskey, spiced rum, brandy and French vanilla. If you feel like channeling your inner-Martha Stewart, you can grate some nutmeg on top. But frankly, that sounds exhausting. (4125 DeBarr Road and 330 W Dimond Blvd.)
Cures for what ails you:
So let’s just say – purely hypothetically – you’ve been a little too merry over the holidays? Perhaps a few too many creamy cocoas, a few too many boozy concoctions, a higher than usual ratio of whipped cream to nutrients is taking its toll? I know, I know, you’re asking for a friend. Never fear. I’ve got drinks for that too.
When you’ve overworked your digestive system, turn to the healing power of kombucha. Specifically, my favorite turmeric and ginger kombucha from Zip Kombucha. Stomach-soothing, refreshing, with enough ginger to pass it off as a holiday drink. (3404 Arctic Blvd.)
When austerity measures are in place and you need to press a dietary reset button, check out Pure and Pressed Juice Co. raw and cold-pressed juices and superfood smoothies. If the hot buttered rum is like a pie in a cup, then the Root Me Up juice with red beet, cucumber, orange, celery, red apple, and lemon is a salad in a bottle. This is just one of many juice blends for which your overly-nogged body will thank you. (1389 Huffman Park Drive Unit 120)
Personally, my recovery plan involves a little hair of the dog. Which I’ll consume while petting my dog. On the couch in front of the fire. With a dash of nutmeg. And not a partridge in sight.