It was a rare treat. A chance to be a drunken fly on the wall as Missy Auge, general manager of Tanti Luce 221 (221 Shelby St., 988-2355) and Leif West, mixologist for Southern Wine and Spirits, narrowed their winter drink selection down from a worthy 15 contenders.
With the expectation of Ralphie longing to ask the Big One for his official Red Ryder, carbine-action, two-hundred-shot-range model air rifle, I anxiously awaited each sip. Trust me, when a bar describes drinks on its menu as "incredible expensive, sassy and bitter" and "dry, salty and kind of a pain in the ass," you pay attention.
"Cocktail creation is huge, and the coolest part of my job for sure," West said—a bevy of homemade infusions lined up before him, ripe for the pickin'.
"The only thing better than booze, is booze with tasty stuff in it," Auge added, showing off concoctions worthy of a dive bar on the Island of Misfit Toys, such as pumpkin spice vodka, rosemary clementine gin and spicy pear vodka—the last two infused with items found in her brother's garden.
Yes, the weather outside is frightful, so won't you get warm from the inside out with me? Here are four standouts sure to put the Yule in your log and make your chestnuts roast:
Cran Balls of Fire ($12)
A tart and sweet combo that just screams out Christmas, this drink features a frozen ball of cranberry juice melting like Frosty without his hat on in a pool of citron vodka, Cointreau and fresh lime. No, Virginia, Grandma was not run over by a reindeer. She had one too many of these and passed out in the yard.
2 oz Grey Goose Cherry Noir
.5 oz Cointreau
half fresh squeezed lime
Shake all three ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Strain and pour into a rocks glass, over a frozen ball of 100% cranberry juice. Garnish with a lime wheel.
Apple Pie Rye Hot Toddy ($12)
"It's like English breakfast tea…it'll fix you right up," Auge says of the drink made with 99-proof Taos Lightning Rye and local apples. "It's good for teething as well," West jokes. Delightful hints of ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg seal the deal and will have you seeing visions of sugarplums (among other things).
2 oz Apple Pie infused Taos Lightning Rye
Bar Keep Apple Pie Bitters
Pour the rye into a mug, ad a squeeze of lemon, a couple of shakes of apple pie bitters (I like a lot of bitters), and fill to the top with hot water. Cut a very thin lemon wheel and float it on top of the drink. Finally, drizzle the lemon wheel with local honey.
Darker and Stormier ($10)
Trying to reinvent a classic is a sure way to get on many a lush's naughty list, but West delivers with [jingle] bells on. A refreshingly effervescent mix of rum, Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur and ginger beer will have your taste buds exclaiming, "Joy to the world!" and begging for more. It's no coincidence that "Tanti Luce" means "many lights." One of these, and you'll be lit.
1.5 oz Goslings Dark Rum
.5 oz Domian de Canton Ginger Liqueur
Fill a rocks glass with ice. Pour the rum and the ginger liqueur over the ice, then fill to the top with ginger beer. Garnish with a lime wedge.
Debauch and Soda ($12)
You'd better get a designated driver for that sleigh. Dubbed "delicious debauchery" by its makers, this delectable green spirit-of-Christmas-present features local Viracocha potato vodka infused with spiced pears and served with Fever Tree club soda. Trust me, your liver growing three sizes never tasted this good.
1.5 oz Spiced pear infused Viracocha Vodka
.5 oz Belle Pear Liquer
FeverTree Club Soda
Fill a rocks glass with ice. Add the spice pear vodka and pear liquer, and serve with fevertree club soda. Garnish with a fresh bartlett pear slice.