Holidays on ice: Asheville bartenders mix up seasonal cocktails for the home bar

FELIZ NAVIDAD: Mixologist Joaquin Gomez grates fresh nutmeg for the finishing touch on a La Gourdita pumpkin-spice cocktail at downtown Latin restaurant En La Calle. The simple but festive drink blends rye whiskey, spiced pumpkin juice, lemon juice and maple syrup. Photo by Jack Sorokin

It’s that time again. Time to open presents you will probably return in a week, then linger around a dinner table gorging and struggling not to bring up the uncomfortable topic of politics.

It seems to me that the best way to sufficiently lubricate oneself through the holiday season is with proper cocktails. There’s no need to pound straight whiskey; this is a time to be festive and imbibe proudly of good concoctions made from quality ingredients. Fortunately, some of Asheville’s finest barkeeps have stepped up with some offerings for the seasonal Festivus bar.

La Gourdita

En la Calle has been one of the most well-received bars to pop up in Asheville this year. This Limones expansion blends fresh Latin flavors with craft cocktail traditions that go beyond the margarita.

The holiday season is “a time for giving, and, if you made Santa’s nice list, a time for receiving,” says bartender Joaquin Gomez. “It’s a time when family flocks in and peace and love are the themes of the day.  But let’s be honest — it doesn’t always work out that way, does it?  You’re hosting, Uncle Mike insists on talking politics and Na-Na keeps wandering off down the driveway, thus, Christmas is a time for drinking. too.”

The best prescription for the holiday blues, he says, is En La Calle’s pumpkin spice martini, La Gourdita — an easy-to-make  yet interesting soon-to-be classic. “Imagine if summer apple pie and the Great Pumpkin made sweet, drunken love brightened with fresh lemon juice. That’s our kind of Christmas booze,” says Gomez.

2 ounces rye whiskey
2 ounces pumpkin juice (En La Calle prefers Natalie’s Orchid Island Juice Co.’s Pumpkin Apple Spice)
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce grade B maple syrup

Pour all ingredients into a shaker, shake and strain into martini glass. Grate a little fresh nutmeg … el fin.

Autumn sweater

Zambra has been slinging seasonal tipples for over a decade, and a favorite on its list has been owner Peter Slamp’s Autumn Sweater. Named for the Yo La Tengo song, Slamp says the drink was inspired a couple of years ago by a trip he made to a local tailgate market in search of fresh ingredients for a fall cocktail menu. “I tend to work backwards and start with the fresh stuff then come up with the spirits and mixers, etc.,” says Slamp.

The bounty of local apples and apple jams, jellies and butters seemed like a perfect fit for the drink’s base, he says, and he knew he wanted bourbon to be the spirit. “And from there it’s a balancing act — what is going to be sweet, what is going to provide the acid, bitter component, etc. After a lot of trial and error as a result of ratios and ingredients, I came up with the final result,” he says. “I tried to take it off the menu after that season and had so many requests we made it a permanent drink.” Slamp says his bartenders even persuaded him to put the drink on the menu at Slamp’s now-closed North Asheville restaurant, King James Public House.

1 1/2 ounces bourbon
1/2 ounce Combier Orange liqueur
1/2 ounce Aperol
1/2 ounce lemon juice
2 bar spoons local apple jelly
Dash of apple bitters

Fill shaker tin with ice and all ingredients; shake and strain over rocks or a large whiskey rock. Garnish with two apple slices and fresh grated nutmeg.

Long way around the sea

I am always a sucker for flips, fizzes and most any other creamy, egg-based cocktail, particularly around the holidays. Apple brandy is also always a good way to add some seasonal flair to most any style of tipple. This year, I’ve been making a spiced tea syrup to accompany the deep flavors of Fee Brothers Black Walnut Bitters. The cocktail is named after indie rock band Low’s Christmas tune about the three Magi taking the long route home in order to avoid Herod’s rage.

2 ounces Fair Game Apple Brandy
1/4 ounce Averna (substitute Fernet Branca if you prefer something drier)
1/4 ounce spiced tea syrup (see directions below)
Dash of Fee Brothers Black Walnut Bitters
1 egg white

Dry shake egg white to froth before adding other ingredients. Fill shaker with ice and shake all ingredients until tin is frosted. Double-strain into a coup glass or martini glass and garnish with either a cinnamon stick or dust with grated cinnamon.

Spiced tea syrup:
1 cup demerara sugar
1 cup Earl Grey tea
5 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick

Add Earl Grey tea to a French press, then add clove and cinnamon stick before adding hot water. Once tea is ready, measure off one cup and pour into a pan. Add one cup of sugar and transfer the cinnamon stick from the French press. Heat, stirring until sugar dissolves and continue until it has turned dark brown. Strain and bottle. Refrigerate.


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About Jonathan Ammons
Native Asheville writer, eater, drinker, bartender and musician. Proprietor of Follow me @jonathanammons

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4 thoughts on “Holidays on ice: Asheville bartenders mix up seasonal cocktails for the home bar

  1. boatrocker

    For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to figure out what booze would mix well with Ovaltine (nod to a Christmas Story).

    • luther blissett

      If you’re just spiking a cup, then probably dark rum. Nothing spectacular.

      • boatrocker

        O course you see that- I suggested that 2 comments ago.
        Make a big batch and hide a decoder ring in the bottom – duh!

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