Nothing is more festive than whipping up a round of cocktails to toast the season and spread holiday cheer. Whether you prefer your happy hour hot or cold, sweet or staunch, straight or slushy chances are there is at least one vintage drink that you could enjoy any time any where no questions asked. But did you know that there is actually an appropriate time and place for some very specific cocktails? Not all are meant to be enjoyed as a prequel to dinner, a post work wind-down or an eleventh hour night cap. Today we are setting the bar straight and suggesting the most appropriate time and circumstance to enjoy your favorite vintage libation as approved by Amy Vanderbilt, mid-century America’s go-to etiquette adviser.
Eggnog – Only in the Afternoon
Eggnog, the traditional centuries old cream filled concoction that has more recently filled Tom & Jerry bowls for over five decades is meant to be consumed only in the afternoon, in cold climates and ideally alongside a holiday treat like fruit cake or sweet biscuits. Even though it is now consumed anywhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas, New Year’s Day is actually the most appropriate holiday for this beverage harking back to the British custom of raising a glass to toast good health and prosperity in the coming year. Never serve eggnog just before dinner. Its high fat content, rich flavor and thick consistency make it too heavy for hors d’oeuvres hour.
Hot Buttered Rum, Glogg and Spiced Wine – Only After Exercise
These are the spirits you want to enjoy after a heavy dose of physical activity in frigid, frosty climates. Any outdoor activity that has you moving around a bit (shoveling snow, ice skating, skiing, chopping firewood, hanging holiday lights, building a snowman, etc) is the perfect precursor to a warm cup of spice that will balance your blood sugar and warm your belly. Plus that extra bit of butter in your cup of rum doesn’t seem nearly as devastating if you just shoveled your way out of your latest snowstorm. Like eggnog these contain a rich and colorful mixture of scent and flavor, so you should avoid serving this trio right before a big meal too. Give yourself at least a three hour spacer between these drinks and dinner.
Tom Collins, Mint Juleps, Rum & Colas, Punch – Only When You Are Not Eating
This assortment of spirits is meant for more sociable affairs where large amounts of food or a dedicated meal are not going to be served. Traditionally in the mid-century days of Amy Vanderbilt’s time such activities included club meetings, card games, dances, open houses, fundraisers and sporting events typically attended sometime between noon and 5:00 pm. They generally followed brunch but preceded cocktail hour. Their light, sweet consistencies were meant more as a refresher – a spirit to perk your spirits – and keep you feeling lively and engaged in an activity that didn’t revolve around eating.
Brandy, Stingers, Vegetable and Herb Liqueurs – Only After Dinner
All of these drinks fall under the digestif category and should be enjoyed only after dinner. By this time of night you undoubtedly would welcome a little peaceful calm down. These types of cocktails are like your very own batch of internal elves helping your body in digesting both the day’s events and the day’s food intake. On the body front they help enzymes and organs break down food and on your brain front they help relax your thoughts and settle your spirit for a night-time’s worth of relaxation. There’s a reason why people “retired” to another room for post-dinner brandy back in the days of elegant entertaining. It was the ideal end-cap to the evening for both body and mind.
So now that we have discussed some drinks that shouldn’t be hanging out at happy hour, let’s look at the little darlings that deserve a seat at the bar between that much anticipated 5:00pm-7:00pm stretch…
Martinis, Manhattans, Old-Fashioneds, Daiquiris, Bacardis and Whiskey Sours –
These are the gang you want to spend your time with if a feast awaits in the near future. While they pack punch in the flavor department they don’t overpower your palate, so dinner will taste marvelous. All these drinks contain a mixture of pretty little garnishes like olives or cherries but proper decorum dictates that you should only eat those offered on toothpick or skewer. Amy Vanderbilt frowns on anyone fishing around inside their cocktail glasses with their fingers. No matter how hungry you get before dinner.
Finally, if all else fails and you can’t recall what you are supposed to be enjoying when remember this easy guide… brights and lights for warm weather, dark and moody for cold weather. That means…
if you are looking at palm trees, pools, heat, humidity, bathing suits and beaches on your Christmas holiday stick to gin and tonics, vodka gingers, coconut rums or anything light in color and topped with citrus. But if your holiday plans take you in the exact opposite direction and your vantage point involves twig trees, frozen ponds, wind chill temperatures, gloves and scarves and snow covered hills then warm up from the inside out with bourbon, scotch, rum, brandy and all the variations that produce colors in the brown, black, red and amber shades.
Common sense and natural instinct prevail here in the vintage drink guide. But sometimes we can get so caught up in the novelty of the holiday or the fun of party planning that we forget about proper pairings. We want to try everything. But just like wine and beer every cocktail has its ideal place on the food and activity spectrum. So this year, follow this guide and you will sail through Christmas and New Year’s feeling snappy instead of sick.
Cheers to partying like a professional!