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Cheers to New Year's Eve

Masterminds of mixology offer tips on creating libations worthy of a celebration

Emma Janzen

This story was originally published December 31, 2008.

New Year's Eve is upon us - the holiday so festive that every professional barkeep in town is on the clock, and legions of amateurs are likewise called to duty at home bars across Central Texas.

New Year's Eve is an occasion for thinking outside the box. If you typically drink vodka and soda or light lagers, tonight is the night to try something a little more adventurous. If you fancy yourself a cocktail enthusiast, now is the time to really go over the top. When pouring champagne, don't be afraid to get creative with it. Drop in a bitters-soaked sugar cube for a champagne cocktail. Add a float of Chambord for a Kir Imperiale. Or if you're feeling particularly indulgent, shake up the Ritz Cocktail recipe on page D10.

Prepare drinks in batches so that you can serve your guests more quickly, and spend more time celebrating and less time behind the bar. Just keep in mind that when you're multiplying out recipes, not all ingredients will multiply proportionately. Add only half the amount of sweetener you might need, taste, and go from there to make sure your libation stays balanced.

If you are hosting on a budget this year, there are ways to entertain in style without breaking the bank. Punches and pitcher drinks are a good place to start (see Fino barkeep Bill Norris' recipe here for Hard Holiday Cider Punch, which can be served hot or cold). You can pick up a great rum such as Flor de Caña for much less than comparably good tequila or whiskey. And don't be afraid to ask for help at the liquor store - a knowledgeable clerk can steer you in the right direction for your budget.

In addition to my own experience behind the bar and with my tipsytexan.com Web site, I consulted Norris and local mixologist Will Earls and asked how to help "civilians" channel their inner mixologist through recipes good for New Year's Eve. I also interviewed Dale DeGroff, one of America's pre-eminent cocktail mixologists and the man who was one of the progenitors of the modern cocktail renaissance. DeGroff offered some of his insights into entertaining and shared some recipes from his new book, "The Essential Cocktail." As a cocktail sleuth who's collected more than a hundred books on the subject, I can verify that this volume is one of the best, a cocktail cookbook that is essential for the professional and home enthusiast alike.

DeGroff reminds us that another great way to stretch the entertainment dollar is to serve smaller portions. This might seem counterintuitive to the festive nature of the holiday, but it makes sense: Smaller portions allow your guests to enjoy more cocktails and allow you to control the flow of alcohol. On the other hand, big cocktails encourage over-consumption and get warm before they are finished, which leads to waste (or at least an unpleasant tipple).

Last, one of the most overlooked aspects of entertaining is making water readily available to your guests. It will help them moderate their consumption, and they will thank you in the morning when they are not staring down the pounding headache of dehydration.

This year you will see a lot more fresh and local ingredients in your cocktails - in addition to the liquor store, you also need to hit the grocery store and the farmers markets for cocktail ingredients. Mixes are out; fresh is in. Because New Year's Eve coincides with the Texas citrus harvest, get your hands on some big Texas Ruby Red grapefruits.

Here are some holiday recipes from Norris, Earls and me, as well as some recommendations from DeGroff. With advice from a crew like this, your party is a guaranteed success.

Ritz Cocktail

The Ritz is a classy cocktail created by Dale DeGroff as a tribute to the Ritz hotels. You can prepare everything but the champagne in a batch; at the time of service, shake the ingredients with ice to chill, then top with champagne.

¾ oz. cognac

½ oz. Cointreau

½ oz. Luxardo Maraschino liqueur

½ oz. fresh-squeezed lemon juice

Champagne

Flamed orange peel for garnish (see note)

In a mixing glass, stir together the cognac, Cointreau, Maraschino liqueur, and lemon juice with ice. Strain into a large cocktail glass and fill with champagne. Garnish with the flamed orange peel.

Note: To flame an orange peel, cut an oval-shaped piece of orange rind, approximately 1 inch by 11/2 inch. Hold the peel gently by the edges over the drink and light a match under the peel, skin side down. Squeeze the peel so that a spray of orange oil ignites and leaves caramelized orange oil on the surface of the drink.

French Détente

This is a variation of the classic French 75. Cocktail mixologists differ in opinion as to whether the French 75 should be made with gin or with cognac. David Alan favors the former, but in the spirit of the holidays, he forges a compromise with the French Détente.

1 oz. gin

1 oz. cognac

1 oz. lemon juice

1/4 oz. simple syrup

Champagne

Shake all with ice and strain into a chilled champagne flute; top with a little champagne and garnish with a lemon twist.

Millennium Cocktail

Created by Dale DeGroff to celebrate the turning of the calendar in 2000, the Millennium remains a perfectly appropriate cocktail for New Year's Eve. It is a crowd pleaser for many types of drinkers.

1½ oz. VSOP cognac

1 oz. orange curacao

1½ oz. unsweetened pineapple juice

Dash of Angostura bitters

Flamed orange peel (see note on Ritz Cocktail)

Nutmeg, for grating

Combine the cognac, curacao, pineapple juice, and bitters with ice, and shake. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish by flaming the orange peel over the drink and dusting with freshly grated nutmeg.

Hard Holiday Cider Punch

Created by Austin's award-winning mixologist Bill Norris, of Fino restaurant. This is a great cold-weather punch for fans of classic whisky drinks such as the Old Fashioned.

2 cups rye whiskey

2 cups bourbon

1 cup Paula's Texas Orange liqueur

4 cups fresh apple cider

3 cinnamon sticks

Juice and peels (no pith) of 3 lemons

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced

10 dashes of Fee Brothers Aromatic Bitters or Angostura Bitters

1 cup boiling water

Using a vegetable peeler, remove the peels from the lemons over your punch bowl, being careful to avoid pith. Set aside fruit. Add cinnamon, sugar, ginger and bitters to bowl. Top with boiling water and stir to dissolve sugar. Using a muddler lightly crush all ingredients and allow to steep until water begins to cool.

While it's cooling, juice and strain the lemons. Stir in rye, bourbon, the orange liqueur, lemon juice and cider. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour and strain out solids.

Serve on the rocks with a cinnamon stick for garnish.

Cossmousseau

Created by Austin-based mixologist Will Earls. A variation on the popular Cosmopolitan that Earls describes as being "almost crystal clear, a drink that even the toughest of tough guys can carry around at a party."

1 1/2 oz. regular vodka

3/4 oz. triple sec or Cointreau

3/4 oz. white cranberry juice

Additional white cranberry juice and fresh-squeezed lime juice for ice cubes

2 fresh cranberries

Make ice cubes from 3 parts white cranberry juice to one part lime juice. Pour the mixture into ice cube trays, then drop two fresh cranberries into each slot. Freeze.

Shake first three ingredients with plain ice and strain into a chilled martini glass or in a pitcher for a large group. Garnish with the cranberry/lime ice cubes.

Rio Doble

This is an all-Texas version of the classic Papa Doble, which is also known as the Hemmingway Daiquiri. It is a light and refreshing drink that celebrates Texas-made spirits and the fabulous Rio Red grapefruits, courtesy of David Alan. Hemmingway enjoyed his daiquiris double-duty; this recipe serves one.

1 1/2 oz. Treaty Oak Rum

1/2 oz. Paula's Texas Orange liqueur

3/4 oz. fresh-squeezed Rio Red grapefruit juice

1/2 oz. lime juice

1/4 oz. simple syrup

Shake ingredients vigorously with ice and strain into a chilled Champagne flute. Garnish with a lemon twist.