The holidays are a time for family, merriment, fun—and perhaps a little more drinking than usual. While there’s no such thing as a completely healthy cocktail, there are ways to make even the most caloric holiday beverages (eggnog, we’re looking at you) less rich. “Cocktails can just be a tad healthier if you’re conscious of the sweeteners and modifiers,” says Aaron Goldfarb, author of the new holiday-beverages book Gather Around Cocktails ($14, Dovetail). We asked four bartenders across the country for healthy(ish) cocktail recipes to make at home this season.
Eggless Avocado Nog
This large-format cocktail, created by Los Angeles bartender Jason Eisner, is featured in Goldfarb’s new book. “One reason I love holiday cocktails so much is because they can be a bit indulgent,” Goldfarb says. “You don’t drink these heavy, creamy, super-desserty cocktails any other time of the year.” This vegan version of classic eggnog is a healthier alternative, using avocado and coconut milk to provide texture instead of heavy cream and eggs.
- 2/3 cup almonds
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 5 cups unsweetened whole coconut milk
- 1 cup vanilla hazelnut milk
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 lemon rind, pith removed
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- Flesh of half an avocado
- 6 ounces blanco tequila
- 2 ounces mescal
In a food processor, combine almonds and two tablespoons of sugar. Pulse on medium until ground into a fine paste. In a saucepan, combine coconut milk, hazelnut milk, cinnamon sticks, lemon rind, vanilla, and baking soda, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat, discard cinnamon sticks and lemon rind, and let cool. Mash avocado and whisk into coconut-milk mixture, then add ground almond paste and remaining sugar. Return pan to stove, and cook over low heat, stirring and scraping the bottom for five to seven minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool completely. Pour into a pitcher and stir in tequila and mescal. Serve in highball glasses. Makes ten cocktails.
We Got the Beet
Las Vegas is known for excess, but at farm-to-table restaurant Honey Salt, the focus is on ingredients and composition. Such is the case with this light holiday cocktail, created by Victoria Levin, a beverage-industry veteran and director of project management at Blau and Associates, which operates Honey Salt. The antioxidant-rich beet juice provides a dose of vitamins A and C, while the ginger has anti-inflammatory properties and can help control blood sugar. “This drink has a gorgeous color for the holidays, and it’s festive with the sprig of rosemary,” Levin says. “It packs a punch of nutrients and tastes like an earthy, whimsical dream.” The recipe for cardamom honey yields three and a half quarts and is good for up to one month.
- 1 1/2 ounces Hendrick’s Gin
- 1 1/2 ounces fresh beet juice
- 1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
- 1 ounce infused cardamom honey (directions below)
- 2 ounces Fever Tree Ginger Beer
To make cardamom honey: In a saucepan over medium-high heat, lightly crack 30 cardamom pods open with a muddler. Toast for two minutes to release aromatics. Add two quarts of water, and bring to a simmer. Then pour two tablespoons of ground cinnamon into water and whisk while adding two quarts honey. Turn heat off, and let steep for 30 minutes. When cool, strain with a fine-mesh strainer to remove solids. Transfer to an appropriate-size container, and cover tightly.
For cocktail: Pour all ingredients—except ginger beer—into a shaker, add ice, and shake vigorously. Add ginger beer to shaker, then strain over fresh ice into a rocks or collins glass. Swirl a sprig of fresh rosemary around the edge of the glass, and garnish. Makes one drink.
This low-ABV version of a holiday punch is a lighter option to serve at parties, according to Alex Jump, bar manager of Denver cocktail bar Death and Co. “It uses a little wine and aperitif to bring the proof down, allowing your guests to have a few without feeling the effect of a full-proof cocktail,” she says. “Let’s face it, none of us really like having all of our friends getting trashed at our house.”
- 6 ounces Spring44 vodka
- 3 ounces Svol Aquavit or a similar, dill-flavored aquavit
- 3 ounces Cocchi Americano
- 3 ounces Leopold New York Sour Apple Liqueur
- 3 ounces Riesling
- 3 ounces cane-sugar syrup
- 3 ounces lemon juice
- 6 ounces sparkling wine
Combine all ingredients in a shaker tin, and shake well with ice. Strain into wine glasses and top with more sparkling wine. Garnish with lemon wheels. Makes six drinks.
Vegan Buttered Rum
Hot buttered rum is a classic holiday cocktail. But this version, created by Ky Belk, bar director for Denver’s Vital Root, is a vegan iteration that replaces the butter with cashew milk and uses chai tea as a base. “Using the cashew milk to create a hot ‘buttered’ chai delivers a healthier version that’s plant-based and dairy-free,” says Belk, adding that the combination of flavors is also more complex than the mix of butter, ice cream, and sugar in the classic drink. Another perk: “The chai tea and MCT oil provide an energy boost, unlike the nap-inducing classic hot buttered rum,” he says.
- 5 ounces strong, spicy chai tea, heated
- 1 1/2 ounces aged rum
- 2 ounces cashew milk, heated
- 1 tablespoon coconut or MCT oil
- 1 cinnamon stick
Combine all ingredients in a blender until oil is fully incorporated. Pour into a glass and garnish with a cinnamon stick. Makes one drink.