Cheers to a Happy and Spirited Holiday Season

Writer Shoshana Leon

Photography Courtesy of Hotel Valley Ho, Mastro’s Restaurants, Mountain Shadows and Omni Montelucia

The holidays are indeed the most wonderful time of the year with beautiful and bright decorations, nostalgic songs, decadent food, festive celebrations and most importantly, cherished time with family and friends.

Cocktails are often part of holiday celebrations. Like the festive foods enjoyed during the season, holiday cocktails offer flavors that evoke feelings of warmth and celebration.

“To make a unique holiday drink, combine unexpected flavors with traditional holiday flavors,” said Jim Gallen, food and beverage manager at Hearth ’61 at Mountain Shadows in Paradise Valley. “When in doubt, always add bubbles.”

Like many Valley restaurants and resorts, Mountain Shadows has created a signature cocktail for the holiday season. Offered throughout December for $14, Rudolph’s Sparkle includes spiced strawberry, red wine and sparkling wine.

“I was going through the process of researching cocktails that are unique for the holidays, and I wanted to do something that wasn’t overly sweet,” said Gallen. “I came across several cocktails that blended savory ingredients with sparkling wine, which inspired me to create the spiced strawberry syrup and red wine mixture that juxtaposed perfectly with sparkling wine.”

Gallen suggests pairing Rudolph’s Sparkle with a few items on Hearth ’61’s seasonal menu.

“The savory nature of the red wine pulls out the earthy flavors in the Sardinian stuffed pasta, and the bubbles clear the palate and allow the octopus flavor to shine through,” he said. “Also, the quinoa and lentil stew is a great pairing due to the fruity and spiced nature of the cocktail, which plays well off the richness of the dish.”

Another sparkling cocktail perfect for holiday celebrations is Berried Bliss, which is available at FLINT by Baltaire, a new restaurant focused on wood-fired dishes at The Esplanade in Phoenix’s Biltmore neighborhood. Berried Bliss is $12 and features sparkling rosé, raspberry St. George, pomegranate and lemon.

Although Phoenicians celebrate the holidays in a mild desert climate, many resorts and restaurants offer holiday cocktails with warm flavors to reflect the winter season.

Hotel Valley Ho in Old Town Scottsdale offers Mezcal Mistletoe for $16 through January 2, featuring locally made mezcal, Carreño Tobala, Cointreau, Borghetti espresso liqueur, fresh-brewed espresso, steamed milk and Nitro Irish cream with chestnut.

“I love the combination of the smoky mezcal with the liqueur, cream and coffee. It provides such a warm and cozy feeling that fits so appropriately with this time of year,” said PJ Baron, beverage ambassador at Hotel Valley Ho’s recently redesigned ZuZu restaurant.

“I’m a big fan of Mezcal Carreño. It’s an esteemed local brand, and I wanted to find a way to incorporate that into the cocktail and make it festive.”

Baron recommends a few pairings on ZuZu’s menu.

“The oxtail pappardelle pairs magnificently with the Mezcal Mistletoe due to the rich and savory aspects of the oxtail and the foie gras, that blends perfectly with the robust smokiness of the mezcal,” he said.

“Another option is the organic Maktoom dates, which is a signature small plate on our menu. The sweetness of the walnuts and the pungency of the blue cheese fondue makes it the perfect complementary dish for the cocktail.”

The Icicle at Marcellino Ristorante in Old Town Scottsdale, available through February for $15, brings a touch of winter to the Valley with white chocolate liqueur, vodka and sweet cream served in a coconut-rimmed martini glass.

Mastro’s Restaurants’ Holiday Cheer is made with Tito’s vodka, Kerrygold Irish cream, Kahlua and Licor 43 served in a martini glass and garnished with a cinnamon and sugar graham cracker rim. It is $22 and available throughout the month of December.

In addition to warm flavors, classic holiday flavors like cranberry, apple and cinnamon add brightness to seasonal cocktails.

“It’s important to tie in familiar nostalgic flavors while adding a signature spin to the cocktail,” said Baron. “The perfect holiday drink should have the right balance of classic flavors without being overly sweet.”

One local holiday cocktail that offers a perfect combination of sweet and spicy is the Cinnamon Margarita at CRUjiente Tacos in Phoenix, which just celebrated its third anniversary. Made with reposado tequila, fresh cinnamon, house-made agave simple syrup, house-made cinnamon simple syrup and fresh-squeezed lime, it is a seasonal favorite available throughout December for $9.

Taqueria Centro at the Omni Montelucia in Scottsdale offers an Apple Pear Whiskey Sour featuring Barmalade Apple Pear, an all-natural fruit mixer, with Maker’s Mark bourbon and lemon for $15. The restaurant also offers an Apple Spice Sour mocktail for $14.

Presentation is key for a festive holiday cocktail. The Ornamentini at LON’s at The Hermosa Inn in Paradise Valley is served in an ornament. The drink is made with Purity vodka, fresh lemon juice and the robust holiday flavors of cranberry, cinnamon and orange. It is available through the end of the year for $14.

While it’s delicious and decadent to experience holiday libations from the Valley’s top mixologists, it is fun to experiment and create your own holiday cocktails at home.

“Simplicity goes a long way,” said Baron. “It’s best to stick with the basics that you know will taste good and have the right type of balance. It’s also important to test out your cocktail before serving it to your guests, and it’s always helpful to get a second opinion.”

Whether you create your own holiday cocktail or sample festive libations around the Valley, this is a special time of year meant to be celebrated with family and friends. Cheers!

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