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The Beginner’s Guide to Creative Cocktails and Mocktails

The following information was provided courtesy of local cookbook author and chef, Carla Snyder. Learn more about Carla at Ravenouskitchen.com. 

The holidays are the perfect time to brush up on your bartending skills, and we’re here to help with a few tips and tricks to make you the season’s host with the most. It doesn’t have to be complicated. With all the wonderful mixers, liquors and fruits of the season, you (yes, even you) can whip up a cocktail to rival those at your favorite watering hole.

Guests rarely turn down a festive beverage, be it a cocktail or a non-alcoholic mocktail. Before we get down to the nitty gritty cocktail combinations, there a few key ideas to keep in mind.

We Drink with our Eyes

Yep! Just like the food on your plate, a cocktail should look delicious and appealing. Even a lackluster cocktail can taste better with the right garnishes. Think a sprig of mint and wedge of lime in a mojito, or a few fresh raspberries in a Kir Royale. That being said, the following suggestions might come in handy.

  • Make fruity ice cubes by freezing smashed and whole fruit in large ice cube trays of varying sizes and shapes. The large ice cubes are great because you only need one. Fruit like berries, cherries, clementines, pomegranate, lemon, lime, orange slices and even herbs like thyme, rosemary and mint work beautifully. You can add even more flavor by using watered down fruit juices instead of water. Just be sure that the flavor in the cubes goes with the flavor in the drink.
  • Look for interesting short and long skewers made from bamboo or reusable decorative metal cocktail picks.
  • Strip the leaves from rosemary stems, leaving a few leaves at the tip, to skewer fruit or olives.
  • Thinly slice star fruit and attach it to a long skewer for a tall glass star garnish.
  • Place upside-down sprigs of rosemary in a drink to resemble Christmas trees.
  • Use colored, coarse sugars to coat the rim of the cocktail glass. To do this, place quartered slices of citrus on a plate, invert the glass, twist and coat the rim with the juice, then dip the wet rim into the sugar on a separate plate.
  • Use a zester to make long strips of festive citrus zest.
  • Sift powdered sugar over top of the cocktail for a “snowy” garnish.
  • Hook a mini candy cane over the rim.
  • Skewer cranberries (or any berry of choice) or kumquats.
Holiday Cocktails and Mocktails
White Cranberry Mulled Wine. Photo courtesy of Christina Musgrave.

Mixers Make it Better

It’s a good idea to have a variety of mixers on hand. Beyond the basic tonic water and club soda, an assortment of the following will add to the creative mix.

  • Flavored seltzers such as La Croix or Spindrift. Heinen’s also has a line of bottled sparkling waters in an assortment of delicious flavors!
  • Hard flavored seltzers such as White Claw
  • Juices such as orange, cranberry, pineapple, grapefruit, apple and mango
  • Ginger beer
  • Colas and ginger ales

Mix Up a Batch

Now, let’s get down to business. Keep it simple and mix up a few batches of whatever cocktails or mocktails you choose before the party starts and keep them chilled in the fridge until guests arrive. Arrange the bar with the pitchers and garnishes, as well as a card with directions if a bit of seltzer is to be added at the last moment. Most guests will appreciate a vodka or rum-based cocktail, while some prefer whiskey or bourbon. And don’t forget champagne, Prosecco or sparkling wine! One of the easiest cocktails is a mimosa (champagne or sparkling wine and orange juice).

Holiday Cocktails and Mocktails
Champagne Cranberry Fizz Cocktail. Photo courtesy of Christina Musgrave.

Ratios Make it Easy

Most cocktail making centers on ratios. The best cocktails have a balance of sweet, tart and fizzy, so the perfect ratio is 2 parts spirit (vodka, gin, rum, whiskey), 1 part sour (lemon, lime, grapefruit) and 1 part sweet (simple syrup, honey or fruit juice) with a splash of something carbonated at the end (tonic, club soda, ginger beer). The average pour of spirits is between 1 1/2 and 2 oz. So, a basic drink will consist of 2 oz. spirit, 1 oz. citrus juice and 1 oz. simple syrup or fruit juice.

To make a non-alcoholic mocktail, leave out the booze and play up the fruity flavors by using 3-4 oz. of fruit or citrus juice, a splash of sweetener and a large splash of fizzy water.

Since you have the garnish ideas mapped out, the mixers in house and the ratios for making drinks, it’s time for the fun part. The combos below are a great starting point for delicious holiday drinks. Let’s get creative!

Holiday Cocktails and Mocktails
Pomegranate Grapefruit Sparkling Wine. Photo courtesy of Chef Billy Parisi.

Creative Cocktail (and Mocktail) Combinations

Vodka

  • Vodka, pomegranate juice, ginger syrup and soda on ice with a garnish of pomegranate arils, skewered candied ginger and a lime slice
  • Pear vodka, pear nectar and ginger syrup shaken with ice and strained into a flute with Champagne and a pear slice
  • Vodka, cranberry juice and lemon lime soda on ice with cranberries
  • Vodka, lemoncello and lemon juice shaken with ice and strained into sugar-rimmed martini glass with a lemon wedge
  • Vodka, ginger beer and lime juice on ice with a lime wedge
  • Vodka, pineapple juice and orange juice on ice with a splash of mango White Claw and garnishes of sliced lime and cherries
  • Muddle rosemary and thyme and add bottled lemonade. Refrigerate overnight and strain. Add vodka, or serve over ice as a mocktail with a splash of seltzer, a lemon wedge and an herb sprig
  • Vodka and pink lemonade shaken with ice and fresh basil and strained into a sugar-rimmed martini glass with a strawberry
  • Vodka, peach schnapps, lemonade concentrate and cranberry juice on ice with skewered cherries

Bourbon and Whiskey

  • Bourbon and mint leaves muddled with simple syrup on ice with a mint sprig garnish
  • Bourbon, lemon juice and simple syrup on ice with a halved kumquat and cherries
  • Mint and lemon slices muddled with bourbon and simple syrup that’s shaken with ice and strained into a martini glass with a sugared rim and mint sprig
  • Whiskey, sweet vermouth ad dry vermouth shaken with ice and strained into a martini glass with a cherry
  • Bourbon, cognac, orange liquor and eggnog refrigerated overnight with a dusting of nutmeg
  • Bourbon, triple sec, apple juice and lemon juice over ice with an apple slice
  • Bourbon, lemonade and pomegranate juice over ice with a cherry

Rum

  • Rum, apple cider and cinnamon schnapps heated and served in mugs with cinnamon sticks and an orange wedge
  • Rum, lime juice and ginger beer on ice with a lime wedge
  • Muddled lime slices, simple syrup, mint and rum on ice with a splash of lime White Claw and a lime wedge
  • Rum, grapefruit juice, lime juice and simple syrup shaken with ice and strained into a sugar-rimmed martini glass and a cherry
  • Rum, pineapple juice, orange juice, lime juice and cream of coconut shaken with ice and strained over ice with a cinnamon sugar rim and skewered pineapple

Gin

  • Gin, simple syrup and lemon juice on ice with a splash of lemon White Claw and a lemon slice
  • Gin and tonic on ice with a lime wedge
  • Gin, lemon juice and simple syrup shaken with ice and strained into flutes, then topped with Champagne or sparkling wine and a lemon slice
  • Gin, lime and simple syrup on ice with black cherry White Claw and a lime wedge
  • Gin, orange liquor and lime juice shaken with ice and strained into a sugar-rimmed martini glass with a lime peel

Tequila

  • Tequila, Cointreau and lime juice on ice in a salt-rimmed glass with a lime wedge
  • Tequila, grapefruit juice, lime juice and ginger syrup on ice with pink grapefruit White Claw and a lime wedge
  • Tequila, lime juice and ginger beer on ice with a lime wedge
  • Tequila, orange juice, lime juice, lemon juice and grapefruit soda on ice with an orange slice

Champagne, Prosecco or Sparkling Wine (or sparkling non-alcoholic wine for mocktails)

  • Orange juice, lime juice and tequila in a salt-rimmed glass topped with Champagne and an orange slice
  • Apple cider and Prosecco in cinnamon sugar-rimmed flutes with an apple slice
  • Rum, lime juice and honey on ice and topped with Champagne and an orange peel
  • Grand Marnier shaken with ice, strained into flutes and topped with Champagne and an orange wedge
Holiday Cocktails and Mocktails
Blackberry and Thyme Champagne Cocktail. Photo courtesy of Sally Roeckell.

Heinen's logo in black
By Heinen's Grocery Store
In 1929, Joe Heinen opened the doors of a small butcher shop on the east side of Cleveland, Ohio, aiming to establish himself as the city’s purveyor of quality meats. As customers came into Heinen’s new shop for their meat purchases, they began asking him to carry groceries as well. Joe added homemade peanut butter, pickles and donuts and by 1933, business had grown enough to include a line of produce and canned goods. Heinen’s Grocery Store was born.

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