This is the time of year that every goddamned drink writer in existence, from the most woozily avuncular old silverback (it me!) to the greenest young clickbaiter, tries to get you to drink far outside your comfort zone.
If a bottle is recommended, it’s a rare and exquisite one, which of course means for the same money you could buy that 2011 Nissan Altima you’ve had your eye on, the one with the undercoating and the new shocks and only 84,000 miles on it. If it’s a mixed drink, it’s the kind where you have to round up six or eight different bottles from three different stores, plus a mess of fresh fruit and eggs and sugar and cream and a whole freakin’ nutmeg; the kind where three months later you’re still finding sticky patches behind the microwave and crusty fingerprints on the drawer pulls. These things never make just one drink—it’s always 12 or 20 or a 180; like your whole purpose in life is to stand there like a schlemiel handing out free drinks to every deadbeat in town.
But what if you don’t want to mess around with punch bowls and ladles and, God help us, nutmeg graters? What if you have no earthly interest in laying out $180 for the fancy silver cocktail shaker that’s in all the gift guides? Or, let’s get real, even the crappy stainless steel one that’s $11.99 at Costco? What if you don’t want to play bartender or bon-vivant or anything like that, but you still want something more festive than Georgi and ginger ale? Something that looks like a holiday cocktail and tastes like a holiday cocktail, but comes without all the bullshit?
There’s an easy solution, one that has become something of a bartender’s secret weapon over the past few years. It doesn’t have a name, at least not that I know of. Back in 2005, when I put it on the drinks list for a sports car-themed Italian eatery out in the Hamptons, I called it a “Spyder,” but the place closed and the name disappeared as if written on water. In 2011, I tried a new name, the “Reanimator.” That even made it into the New York Times, but it didn’t do much better than the old one. I’m done naming it: you can call the drink whatever you want. Handwarmer. Santahol. Daddy’s Ornament. Christmas Pony. Nakatomi Nog. Whatever. Knock yourself out.
Here’s what you’ll need:
A) 1 750-ml bottle bonded (100-proof) rye or bourbon. Rittenhouse, the new Bonded Old Overholt or Wild Turkey 101 Rye will all do well for the rye, while Bonded Old Grand Dad, Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon or Bonded Evan Williams will work just fine for the bourbon. On no account should you spend more than $25 on it (OK, $35 in New York City or Seattle).
B) 1 750-ml bottle cheap, low-proof Italian amaro. That means nothing fancy, and no Fernet-Branca. Cynar (not the 70-proof one), Amaro Montenegro, Luxardo Amaro Abano, Amaro Lucano, Averna, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. They’re all good, and all will work just fine.
Now, you mix A and B. Equal parts.
When bartenders break this out, it’s usually as a room-temperature shot. That’s fine. But you can also pour your Year-Ender a little long and have it on the rocks. Just splash the boozes straight into the glass and stir everything around a little (be classy; use a spoon, at least for the first round or two).
If you do have a cocktail shaker, there’s no reason not to trot it out. Fill it with ice, pour a slug from each bottle and shake away. If you have cocktail glasses, strain the Antler-Freeze into that. (To be really slick, put the glass in the freezer when you’re taking the ice out.) If not, you can pour it into any old thing and it will still taste just fine. If you’ve got a mixing glass and a barspoon and a thing for drinks that come out smooth and silky on the tongue, use them instead of the shaker.
If you like to garnish things, a wide swatch of lemon or orange peel, cut thin to avoid the pith and squeezed into the drink to cover the surface with its oils, will really make that Caroler Repellant pop. But it’s not necessary and better to have the drink with no garnish than not have it because you forgot to get the bloody lemons.
Depending (mostly) on which amaro and (a bit) which whiskey you use, your Reindeer Wee will be mellow and Christmas-spiced or slightly less mellow and maybe even a little bit stimulating.
But it won’t taste bad, no matter what you do, and hey, you just made a holiday drink. Beats slugging Eggnog out of the carton and chasing it with swallows of Ten High, anyway.