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Holiday Cheers: Festive drinks welcome season

| Friday, Dec. 21, 2001

When the frosty season draws near, local bars and restaurants offer a variety of drinks that guarantee to keep you warm sip after sip.

Palomino's, Downtown, offers its first winter drink menu, dubbed "Fire and Ice." Scott Moniger, Palomino's bar manager, says people are getting into the holiday spirit and are ordering more festive seasonal cocktails. Two of the bar's most popular drinks are the Hershey Chocolate Martini and an Espresso Martini that send folks into a rich, warm heaven. These intoxicating sweets are perfect for an intimate dinner for two or for entertaining guests while snow falls outside the window.

Chocolate martinis seem to be riding the Pittsburgh trend this year at other local spots, such as Olive or Twist and Dowe's on 9th, both Downtown, along with specialty coffees and champagnes.

Olive or Twist has seen a innovative new champagne hit this holiday season. Piper-Heidsieck has come out with miniature champagne bottles called Baby Pipers that are all the rage.

"They really look cool; we keep them on the bar," says Mary Jo Kapizzi, general manager. "They are served with a little straw, and they are the new hip thing."

Bartenders at Olive or Twist also have been pouring a lot of the new Bacardi O, an orange-flavored rum that people are drinking straight up or with Cointreau.

Dowe's on 9th serves cup after cup of Irish coffee when a cold front moves into Pittsburgh.

"Coffee and alcohol together makes your body nice and warm, and it's great with Creme de Menthe and a cherry and cinnamon on top," says Etta Cox, operations manager and co-owner of Dowe's.

Also seeing a rise in Irish coffees is F. Tambellini Restaurant, Downtown. Charles Pelligrini, owner of the restaurant, suggests using ingredients such as brandy and amaretto to give a drink what he calls a "warming effect."

And if that warming effect doesn't do the trick, try a drink that's literally ablaze: the Flaming Coffee at the Fox Chapel Yacht Club is sure to keep you toasty from head to toe when their delicious mix of cognac, Kahlua and coffee is served with a flame on top.

All varieties of hot toddies are popular during the chilly season. Dale DeGroff, master mixologist and one of the world's leading authorities on cocktails, suggests some tea, lemon, honey and rum or whiskey to make a fabulous winter tea or coffee blend with a kick.

"You have to look at it as a culinary experience and find the flavors you like together," he says.

Festive holiday drinks are easy for anyone to put together, says DeGroff, whose 20-year career has included stints as a bartender at exclusive establishments such as Los Angeles' Hotel Bel Air, New York City's Grace Mansion and the city's world famous Rainbow Room. "The most important thing is to have fun, aim for simplicity and group ideas. You just throw something in a pan, drain out the spices, and you're done."

At Dingbats in Oxford Center, Downtown, the drinks of choice have shifted from chilled bottles of Smirnoff Ice and Mike's Hard Lemonade to more robust blends.

"Obviously, we are seeing the red wine selection triple this season with Cabernets and Merlots," says Ken Wise, a Dingbats bartender.

Red wines may be notorious for heating the insides on a cold day, but don't rule out a frosty mug of beer.

"Christmas necessitates the spice in a beer - it's heavier, stronger and more hoppy. The higher alcohol beers keep you warmer in the winter," says Chris Santucci, a bartender at Fuel & Fuddle in Oakland.

"In Europe, they make a whole different beer, but in the States, we add nutmeg, cinnamon and pine spices to the beer," says Jeffrey Walewski, owner of the Sharp Edge.

The most popular beer at Sharp Edge at the moment is Delerium Noel, a Belgium beer. It carries its weight with a heavy, 10 percent alcohol content that is sure to keep its drinkers warm and toasty.

This spirited beer also claims one of the more creative labels seen this season: It pictures Santa's sleigh being pulled by magically flying pink elephants, all wearing Santa hats and candy cane-striped scarves.

Christmas spirits

Here are some festive drink recipes that will keep you warm and toasty while the snow falls and the wind howls.

Faux Nog
This modern take on the traditional egg nog is made without the egg.
  • 3/4 ounces vodka
  • 3/4 ounce white cacao
  • 2 ounces heavy cream
  • 3 dashes of Angostura bitters
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Shake, strain over crushed ice and finish with a dusting of nutmeg.

Snow Bunny
You don't have to make it to the slopes to mix it up with a Snow Bunny.

  • 1 1/2 ounces Triple Sec
  • 1 cup hot chocolate

Combine in large mug and stir with cinnamon stick.

Hot Buttered Rum
Warm up from head to toes with this toddy.

  • 5 ounces hot Orange Pekoe tea
  • 1 1/2 rum or spiced rum
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup

Combine all ingredients in a large mug. Drop a pat of butter on top and dust with a pinch of cinnamon.

Chocolate Coffee Kiss
Hot coffee wakens the senses to romance with this hearty pleaser.

  • 3/4 ounces Kahlua
  • 3/4 ounces Irish creme
  • Splash creme de cocoa
  • Splash Grand Marnier
  • 1 1/2 ounces chocolate syrup
  • Hot coffee

Combine in large mug. Top with whipped creme, chocolate shavings and a cherry.

Hot Brandy Alexander
This variation on hot chocolate will get your motor running.

  • 3/4 ounces brandy
  • 3/4 ounces brown creme de cacao
  • 4 ounces steamed milk
Pour in heated mug, top with whipped creme and chocolate shavings.

Dixie Toddy
Pull up in front of a crackling fire and slowly sip this Southern specialty.

  • 3/4 ounces bourbon or Tennessee whiskey
  • 3/4 apple liqueur
  • 5 ounces of hot spiced cider

Combine in mug and garnish with cinnamon stick.

Cran-apple Martini
This twist on a classic combines the red and green colors of the season's festivities.

  • 1 ounces vodka
  • 1/2 ounces apple liqueur
  • 2 oz. cranberry juice

Pour ingredients in a cocktail shaker over ice. Shake well and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a thin slice of a Granny Smith apple.

Cherry Kiss
Find yourself some mistletoe and mix up this special cocktail.

  • 1 ounce gin
  • 1/2 ounce maraschino liqueur
  • 2 ounces pineapple juice
  • 3 dashes grenadine

Combine ingredients over ice in cocktail shaker. Strain into glass. Top with grated nutmeg.

Harvest Moon Punch
This crowd pleaser offers enough heart warming brew for the whole gang.

  • 1 gallon apple juice
  • 32 ounces bourbon
  • 6 star anise
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • Peel of 1 orange
  • 6 cloves

Combine all ingredients except bourbon in a stainless steel pot and simmer for an hour, do not boil. Strain pot and add bourbon. Makes 20 servings.

Millennium Cocktail
Continue celebrating into the new year and the new-ish millennium with this mixer.

  • 1 ounce Courvoiser Millennium Cognac
  • 1 1/2 ounces pineapple juice
  • 1/2 ounce Orange Curacao
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a twist of orange and dust with nutmeg.

Pekaba Hot Chai
This trendy hot drink boasts Chai, an Indian spiced milk tea, as its base.

  • 3/4 ounces peppermint schnapps
  • 3/4 ounces Irish creme liqueur
  • 5 ounces hot Chai tea

Combine ingredients in a mug and dust with nutmeg.

The Korbel Kir Royale
A twist on the classic champagne cocktail, a splash of brandy adds smoothness and taste.

  • 5 ounces champagne
  • 1 ounce brandy
  • Splashes black raspberry liqueur

Slowly stir brandy and black raspberry liqueur into champagne in a large fluted glass.

French 75
This champagne cocktail alternative brightens the season with a citrus blend.

  • 5 ounces champagne
  • 1/4 ounce gin
  • 1/4 ounce orange liqueur
  • 1/4 ounce lemon juice
  • Lemon twist

Shake gin, orange liqueur and lemon juice with cracked ice. Strain into chilled flute and top with champagne. Garnish lemon with twist.

The Korbel Cosmopolitan
Traditional Cosmopolitans gain sparkle with this mix.

  • 1 1/2 ounces champagne
  • 1/2 ounces Triple Sec
  • 1 ounces cranberry juice or cranberry vodka
  • 1/2 ounce lime juice

Pour all ingredients into a cocktail shaker over ice. Shake, strain and pour into a martini glass.

Sources: The Distilled Spirits Council, Korbel

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