Madam Barfly: A Festival of (Getting) Lit

I, Madame Barfly, am here to help you with all of your booze-loving needs. As a nine-year veteran of the restaurant business, I’ve learned a worthy trick or two. In this monthly column I’ll share trade secrets and scope out what’s shaking at local bars.

Craft cocktails are all the rage right now — bartenders everywhere are using complicated, multiple-item recipes and house infusions to put a personal, artisanal stamp on their cocktails. With the holiday season in full swing, it’s a great time for creative inspiration. This time is marked by warming, wintry flavors, often including pine, allspice, brown sugar, and winterberries.

We all have our go-to cocktails — our “old faithfuls,” as they say — but the holidays are a great time to spice them up. Take mine, for example: the Tanqueray and tonic. It’s simple and it always does the trick, but around this time of year I start to crave a little something more. I find the Art in the Age Sage, an organic 80-proof “tea” you can find in the liqueurs and cordials section, a pleasant addition. By itself, Sage is dry and floral — hints of pine, lavender and fennel mingle with a dominant sage flavor. For most, it doesn’t make for great stand-alone sipping, but it pairs nicely with gin and vodka tonics.

Also by Art in the Age, Root and Snap are welcome additions to any holiday mix. Snap is especially festive — flavors of ginger, vanilla, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg meld to create a strictly adult version of gingersnap deliciousness. Snap is great on the rocks and also pairs well with spiced rum. Add some to your Captain and Coke to make things more interesting. Root — fermented with black birch, cinnamon, clove, anise, and allspice — also goes nicely with the darker distilled liquors. Use it to spice up your whiskey and Coke, or drink on the rocks with Bailey’s and reminisce about your childhood root beer floats.

St. Germain, a popular French liqueur made from elderflower, is a sweet and tasty addition that fits the holidays. Many elder-lovers add a splash to their bubbly, or make a cocktail of it by stirring it in with Prosecco and vodka. Little known fact: St. Elder, a Boston-based company, makes a delightful version of the French favorite that packs in even more elderflower flavor and is actually less expensive.

GrandTen Distilling — also Boston-based — makes Amandine and Cranberry liqueurs that are worth a try. The distillery, which joins Art in the Age and a number of distilleries in a trend that veers away from the overly sweet, manages to capture the essence of almond and cranberry in the two products without making them sickeningly syrupy. For those in the mood for sweet, remember you can always add simple syrup.

Craft cocktails are often expensive, thanks to a number of pricy ingredients, but not necessarily. Take Johnny’s Tavern in Amherst, for example — they’ve infused vodka with Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal for a fun spin on a White Russian. You can add dimension to your home cocktails by infusing liquors with your favorite flavors. Steep chunks of leftover pecan pie in your bourbon for a tasty holiday treat — allow to sit for two to three hours and strain before drinking. Shake that up with some Rumchata — a creamy spiced rum liqueur—for a luscious pecan pie a la mode martini.

And to the next point of creative opportunity — simple syrup is becoming, well, more than simple. Classically, sugar is melted into boiling water on the stove to create a syrup that blends easily in cocktails. Now, bartenders and home cocktail creators are putting together flavored syrups that can add another layer to your cocktails. Add mistletoe extract to your simple syrup and shake it up with your favorite vodka for a martini worth kissing under.•


Contact Amanda Drane at

Amanda Drane

Author: Amanda Drane

Share This Post On

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sign up for our daily newsletter!

You don't want to be left out, do you?

Sign up!

You have Successfully Subscribed!