Yes, the holidays are upon us, and as the days get shorter and temperatures move lower, there’s nothing quite like a festive glass of spirits to keep the dark and the chill at bay. Holiday parties and events bring good cheer and fellowship — just when we need them most — helping stave off that inevitable longing for spring.

When we decide to throw a holiday party, we all concentrate on our party menus, but we can up the ante significantly with fabulous drinks that fit the holiday theme. Holiday cheer comes in myriad guises, from great Christmas classics such as eggnog, to festive punches and spectacular New Year’s champagne cocktails.

Eggnog is a favorite at this time of year, and the classic recipe is always appreciated. But the Mexican version of eggnog, called rompope, is well worth trying. It’s available commercially, but can also be made from scratch. Rompope is generally made with eggs, milk, vanilla, sometimes ground nuts, and alcoholic spirits — usually rum, brandy or bourbon. The nuns of Puebla are said to be the first to have made rompope on this continent, imitating the rum-based Spanish version that was introduced by the conquistadors. Our chefs are always pushing the envelope, dreaming up new ways to delight their customers, and rompope is high on their list of holiday libations.

I spoke with several local restaurateurs to see what festive drinks they were concocting for the holidays. They were full of ideas and eager to share some of their very original creations.

Chef/owner of Aldaco’s Mexican Cuisine, Blanca Aldaco is the quintessential party hostess, known for her ability to enliven any gathering. During the holidays, Aldaco likes to do her own riff on the traditional rompope. She recalls that her maternal grandmother had “at least two small servings daily after dinner,” and admits she is “just like her (grandmother),” loving a “slight sting on a daily basis.” She uses a product called Rompope Coronado, rum-based with vanilla flavoring, but she likes to make it “a little stronger” — and a lot more interesting! She calls it her Rompope-tini.

Blanca Aldaco’s Rompope-Tini
For the glass:
Hershey’s chocolate syrup
Ground cinnamon
3 ounces Rompope Coronado
1 ounce Presidente Brandy
1 1/2 ounces Godiva Caramel Liqueur

Draw a random design on the inside of a martini glass with the chocolate syrup. Place the glass in the freezer briefly to harden the chocolate. Remove the glass from the freezer and dip the rim of the glass in the chocolate, then gently dip the moist chocolate in ground cinnamon (just as you would for salt on a margarita). Combine the rompope, brandy and caramel liqueur in a martini shaker, add 8 ice cubes and shake vigorously a minimum of 14 times. Strain and serve. Makes 1 serving.

Executive chef at Paesanos 1604, Clark McDaniel has taken the classic Mexican rompope, woven in some good Southern bourbon and a touch of Italy, and come up with his extraordinary “San Antonio-Style Eggnog.” He makes his rompope from scratch, imbuing the custard with fresh ginger, cloves, vanilla bean and cinnamon.

Paesanos’ San Antonio-Style Eggnog
4 slices fresh ginger “coins”
4 whole cloves
1 vanilla bean
1 quart heavy cream
1 quart whole milk
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup almond paste
2 cinnamon sticks
1 cup egg yolks (from about 16 eggs)
1/2 cup Maker’s Mark bourbon
1/2 cup Don Pedro brandy
1/2 cup Amaretto de Sarrono liqueur
1 tablespoon pure almond extract
2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg

Garnish:
Whipped cream
Amaretti cookies, grated

Stud each fresh ginger slice with a clove. Split the vanilla bean with a sharp knife. Place all in a large saucepan along with the cream, milk, sugar, almond paste and cinnamon sticks. Bring to a light boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Gradually add a tablespoon or two at a time of this mixture into the egg yolks, adding about 1 cup of liquid to warm the yolks, then add the yolk mixture into the warm cream and heat to 160˚F, or until the mixture coats the back of a wooden spoon. Remove from heat and strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a large bowl. Set the bowl into a larger container of ice and water. Add the bourbon, brandy, amaretto, almond extract and nutmeg. Refrigerate until cold.

Serve chilled in (preferably) glass coffee cups topped with whipped cream and amaretti cookie crumbs on top. Makes 12 6-ounce servings.

At the Westin La Cantera restaurant, Francesca’s at Sunset, food and beverage director Philippe Wilhelm and resort sommelier Steven Krueger suggest you celebrate the holidays with these “Farm to Glass” cocktails created to accompany the menu at Francesca’s, where they’re featuring locally grown and nurtured products, including produce and meats. Working with Uncertain Farms, located in Seguin, the hotel is proving its commitment to supporting local farmers and producers, and by incorporating their exciting Farm-to-Table project with the beverage menu, Wilhelm notes they’ve created “a true South Texas-centric experience.”

“Farm to Glass” Sparkling Cocktails use Blanc de Blanc, brut sparkling wine from Gruet Winery in Albuquerque, N.M. To these cocktails, they add various seasonal farm-fresh produce and mixers. The sparkling wine comes in half bottles that hold about 12 ounces. Krueger suggests if serving just two people, you use the half bottles and serve as a “duet” — just enough for two glasses. This ensures that the wine is fresh and lively when served. This is preferable to using full-sized bottles that, once opened, begin to lose their bubbles.

Their “Jalapeño Bubbly” is champagne with a kick, made with a dash of Uncertain Farm’s “Bob’s Cowboy Candy” that’s made with jalapeños, sugar and ginger. The sweet and spicy combination makes for a lively cocktail. Where can you buy Cowboy Candy? Online, of course, at www.mcirclem.com. Go to Products and scroll to the end. You can also contact farmer Bob Mishler’s Web site. It will let you know where to find the farmers’ markets that Mishler attends: www.uncertainfarms.com.

Francesca’s Jalapeño Bubbly
1, 2, 3 or 4 slices Uncertain Farm’s Candied Jalapeño *See Note
5-6 ounces of sparkling wine or champagne

*Note: Wilhelm suggests controlling the heat level by adjusting the number of slices of Candied Jalapeño that you use. They find that one slice adds flavor and aroma, two make the heat noticeable, three give it a serious jalapeño kick, and four are only for true chile enthusiasts.

Francesca’s Sparkling Pomegranate “Arillus Real,” has seven seeds, or arillus. Wilhelm tells us that “the seeds are a casing called aril or arillus, and real is Spanish for royal, thus signaling the origins of the drink — the familiar Kir Royal.” The festive ruby red pomegranate juice is lovely when paired with the smooth golden champagne. It belongs on everyone’s holiday menu.

Francesca’s Sparkling
Pomegranate Arillus Real
7 pomegranate seeds
1/2 ounce pomegranate juice, chilled
5 ounces of champagne or sparkling wine

Place the seeds in the bottom of a champagne glass. Add the pomegranate juice, then follow with champagne or sparkling wine. Makes 1 serving.

The Rio Grande Mimosa features the excellent fresh ruby red grapefruit from the Rio Grande Valley — a new twist on the usual champagne and orange juice mimosa. Using grapefruit juice makes the drink less sweet.

Francesca’s Rio
Grande Mimosa
6 or more Rio Grande Valley grapefruit
5 ounces champagne or sparkling wine

Squeeze the juice from fresh grapefruit, retaining at least some of the pulp to provide some texture to the drink. Regulate the amount of pulp to taste. Pour the juice into ice cube trays or other holiday-shaped (snowmen, Christmas trees, Santa) molds and freeze. To prepare the drink, place about 2 ounces of the frozen grapefruit juice in a glass and pour 5 ounces of champagne or sparkling wine over top.

Enter Philippe Placé’s romantic red-hued Coco Chocolate Lounge & Bistro with its rococo chandeliers and red velvet booths, and you know in your heart that good times are in store. Placé unabashedly admits to creating a space that appeals especially to women, as well as to the chocoholic in all of us. His innate sense of humor comes through with the holiday drink he shares with us.

For Christmas, Placé has created Mrs. Santa’s Sin. Well, not ALL that sinful, since it’s largely made of guava juice, spiked with orange and raspberry liqueurs and a touch of champagne. Surely she has earned it by Christmas Day!

Coco’s Mrs. Santa’s Sin
3 parts guava juice
1/2 part Triple Sec
3/4 parts Sourpuss Raspberry liqueur
Raspberry chipotle sugar
(Coco purchases the raspberry sugar, available at Williams-Sonoma, and adds a bit of chipotle powder)
1 part champagne, chilled

Combine the guava juice, Triple Sec and Sourpuss Raspberry liqueur together and shake vigorously. Dip the martini glass rim in raspberry chipotle sugar, pour the guava mixture into the glass, and top it off with champagne.

For New Year’s Eve, Placé does a bit of magic with his molecular mixology, creating his exquisite Champagne Pearl cocktail. He combines 6 ounces of Veuve Cliquot champagne with the 1/2 ounce Cassis Molecular Pearl. Using his molecular technique, the cassis forms tiny spheres or pearls that dance in the champagne. Better drop into Coco that night, unless you happen to have your own molecular kit. Can’t think of a better way to usher in the New Year. May your holidays be happy and spirited.

Author: Pat Mozersky

Photographer: Vernon Wentz