During the holidays, you should be drinking something more festive than beer or jungle juice — assuming you’re of legal age of course. With just a little more time and effort, you can make drinks in your own dorm room that will make you wonder why you ever paid $7 for a rum and Coke.
You don’t need fancy equipment to to whip up sophisticated cocktails. Although professional bartenders use metal shakers to mix drinks like Manhattans and Cosmos, a Mason jar works just as well. And despite what James Bond says, drinks made with clear liquors — like 007’s beloved vodka Martini — can just be stirred together with a spoon rather than shaken. Cocktail recipes are usually written in ounces, but there’s no need to buy new measuring equipment. Just know that one ounce is two tablespoons, and you’ll be all set.
One of the best ways to start customizing your drink is with flavored syrups. Many drinks are sweetened with simple syrup, which is just a mixture of equal parts sugar and water, heated until the sugar dissolves. For the holidays, try adding spices like cinnamon sticks or cloves or fruit like cranberries. The longer the syrup sits, the better its flavor, so consider making it the night before you’ll be mixing your drinks. Just make sure to strain out the spices beforehand.
If you’re having a crowd over for the holidays, you probably don’t want to stand around mixing everyone their own drink. Instead, consider making a pitcher cocktail. Start with a base like sparkling water or juice, then add liquor of your choice. Try white wine, orange liqueur and apple cider for a cold-weather take on sangria. You can also let people make their own drinks with a cocktail station. Just set out a few different flavored syrups, some booze, garnishes like citrus slices and a big bowl of ice.
For those of you who aren’t 21 yet, never fear. The principles for making great cocktails also apply to making great non-alcoholic drinks. It’s best not to just take the liquor out of a classic drink recipe though. Instead, look for other ingredients, like spicy ginger beer or tart cranberry juice, to help balance out the sugar. The recipe below was inspired by a drink served at Colicchio & Sons on 10th Avenue. It’s equally delicious with or without the optional alcohol.
Le Petite Poire
6 cinnamon sticks
1 cup raw or light brown sugar
1 cup water
1 1/2 ounces dark rum
1 ounce pear juice, chilled
1 ounce sparkling apple juice, chilled
1 slice lemon
For the syrup: Combine the cinnamon sticks, sugar and water in a small pot. Cook over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Let cool, then strain out the cinnamon.
For the drink: Combine the pear juice, rum and 1/2 ounce of the cinnamon syrup in the bottom of a glass and stir. Top with apple juice and lemon slice, then serve.
A version of this article appeared in the Nov. 30 print edition. Email Kendall Levison at [email protected]