Making spirits bright

Bartender Steve Benson of Brothers Beer Bistro has crafted a selection of holiday cocktails for the Citizen.

Most people, when they entertain, offer their guests a choice of red or white wine or beer. “Or maybe also eggnog if it’s Christmas,” says Steve Benson, bartender at the ByWard Market’s Brothers Beer Bistro.

“But in the time it takes to crack a beer or open a bottle of wine, you can also make something special from scratch,” says Benson, who has taught cocktail courses at Algonquin College and is regarded as one of Ottawa’s most knowledgeable bartenders.

Benson came up with three holiday cocktails for the Citizen that sparkle with delicious seasonal flavours such as cinnamon, star anise and clementines and which would make any gathering more fun and festive.

“They’re all super-easy to do at home,” says Benson. “You just need 20 minutes on the day of the party to make a syrup, then the drinks are as easy to make as pouring a glass of wine or eggnog.”

Christmas Royale

Makes: 1 drink

■ Half an ounce (1 tbsp or 15 mL) Cinnamon Cranberry Syrup (see recipe below)

■ 5 ounces (2/3 cup or 150 mL) sparkling wine (Prosecco or Cava work well)

Fresh cranberries for garnish

1. Add the syrup to a flute first, then add the sparkling wine carefully to avoid over foaming.

2. Garnish with two fresh cranberries floating on top.

Cranberry syrup

Makes enough for about a dozen cocktails

■ 1 cup (250 mL) cranberry juice (pure, unsweetened juice, such as from Upper Canada Cranberries, not the sweetened Ocean Spray cranberry cocktail)

■ 1 cup (250 mL) sugar

■ 1 stick cinnamon

■ 3 cloves

1. In a medium saucepan, combine the ingredients and stir to dissolve the sugar.

2. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until the syrup coats the back of a spoon (as thick as maple syrup, but not as thick as honey.)

Old-fashioned Christmas

Old-fashioned Christmas.

Benson recommends using Alberta Premium Dark Horse rye whisky in this cocktail because it has some spiciness to it, with notes of hot pepper and sweet ginger.

Makes 1 drink

■ 1.5 ounces (about 1/4 cup or 45 mL) Dark Horse rye whisky

■ Half an ounce (1 tbsp or 15 mL) spiced Maple Syrup (see recipe below)

■ 2 large pieces of clementine peel

■ 2 large pieces of lemon peel

■ 2 dashes angostura bitters

1. In a mixing glass, combine all ingredients with ice and stir for about 30 to 45 seconds.

2. Strain into an ice-filled old fashioned glass and garnish with a cinnamon stick, clementine peel and lemon peel.

Note: To make a large batch, multiply the recipe and make one large “drink,” stirring with ice, then strain into a pitcher or bottle and store in the fridge without ice to avoid over dilution. Then, as you serve guests, just pour the mixture over fresh ice and garnish.

Spiced Maple Syrup

Makes enough for about 16 drinks

■ 2 cinnamon sticks

■ 1 star anise

■ 1 cup (250 mL) maple syrup

1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, warm the spices for about 5 minutes, then turn down the heat and add the maple syrup.

2. Let syrup warm for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Remove from heat and let sit for another 10 minutes. Pour into a squeeze bottle and refrigerate until ready to use.

Mull Over the Holidays

Mull Over the Holidays.

Makes: about a dozen half-cup servings

■ 4 clementines

■ 1 cup (250 mL) sugar

■ 1 lemon

■ 1 lime

■ 2 cinnamon sticks

■ 3 bay leaves

■ 1 nutmeg, grated

■ 1 tsp (5 mL) allspice

■ 2 bottles red wine

■ 3 ounces (about 1/3 cup or 90 mL) Galliano liqueur

■ 3 star anise

■ Candied clementine slices for garnish (see recipe below)

1. To create a base flavour syrup, in a large pot over medium heat, add the juice and peels of the clementines, lemon peel, lime peel, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, nutmeg, allspice, sugar and enough wine to cover all of the ingredients; let it reduce to a syrup. This allows you to meld all of the flavours together without burning off all of the alcohol in both bottles of wine.

2. Once your syrup is ready, add the rest of the wine, star anise, and Galliano and let it sit on low heat to warm. Serve straight from the pot.

Candied: Clementine Slices

Makes about two dozen slices

In the bar, Benson candied his clementine slices with a blow torch, which worked well and was dramatic. Here’s his easier and safer method for doing them at home.

■ 1 cup (250 mL) water

■ 1 cup (250 mL) sugar

■ 4 clementines

1. To make a simple syrup, in a small pot bring the water to a boil, Dissolve the sugar into the boiling water, stirring constantly. Once the sugar is completely dissolved, remove the pan from the heat.

2. Slice the clementines into thin “wheels” and blanche (dip into) the simple syrup. Lay the slices on a Silpat baking mat or parchment-lined wire rack and place in the oven on the lowest setting until dehydrated, about two hours.

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