Story by Dave Eckert
Most of you know that I’m more of a wine guy, but craft cocktails seem to be creeping into my life on a more regular basis, and I can’t say that’s a bad thing. With that in mind and with the holidays on our doorstep, how about some thoughts on the flavors and spirits that brighten the holiday season? I’ll start with the insights of two seasoned pros, both of whom ply their trade at downtown hotels: Brent Grider-Osborn at The Hotel Phillips and Eric Willey at The Ambassador.
I asked them what gets them motivated from a cocktail prospective around Thanksgiving and Christmas? Grider-Osborn weighed in first. “Flips, Manhattans, and Punches. For the last few weeks, Hotel Phillips has been at the peak of wedding season which reminded me of the saying. ‘Something old, something new, something borrowed,’ So, I’ve been using this saying as a starting place for seasonal cocktail creations,” Grider-Osborn shared. When it comes to the holiday season he thinks of spirits and cocktails that remind him of tradition, comfort, family, and friends, citing spirits like American Bourbon and Island Rum infused with aromas of baking spice, pipe smoke, and wood. “I also think of incorporating ingredients such as egg, dried fruits, tropical fruit, baking spices, and citrus,” Grider-Osborn said.
I asked Grider-Osborn for some specifics on what he was contemplating, cocktail-wise. I got three delightful drinks I can’t wait to try. “First, a Flip – classic eggnog incorporating flavors of fruitcake, chili, rum, dried fruit. Second, a Classic Manhattan incorporating Bourbon, sweet Italian Vermouth, and Luxardo cherries. It puts me in mind of a fireplace or of fresh cut pine wood. Third, is a Classic Punch with aromas and flavors of Port wine or Sherry, apple brandy tropical fruit, citrus, honey and chili, and maybe Vermouth or Amaro,” Grider-Osborn mused. Enough musing. Let’s get to mixing!
A mere five blocks away, I found Food and Beverage Director Eric Willey contemplating seasonal cuisine and drink as well. “For Thanksgiving, I ditch the notion of pumpkin spice lattes and instead reach for the bourbon, apple, and mulling spices. For the lighter side, I love to take good local cider for an Apple Cider Mimosa. For a take on a familiar classic, try an Apple Cider Mule,” Willey suggested. With the cooler weather finally here, Willey says there’s nothing better than warming up around a campfire with a Hot Mulled Cider with Bourbon. For a little more finesse, Willey says you can opt for a Bourbon and Spiced Pear Cocktail.
And, if you think Willey’s Thanksgiving cocktail creations sound good, wait till you here what he has in store for Christmas. “The first thing that comes to mind during the holidays is celebration, and to celebrate there’s nothing better than a champagne cocktail with sugar cubes and angostura bitters and lemon. When I think of Christmas, I think of the color red. My absolute favorite red cocktail would be the Italian inspired Negroni. And, while some shun the idea of eggnog, I think this rich and indulgent beverage spiked with bourbon is the perfect way to satisfy your indulgence,” Willey offered. And, should you ever happen upon Willey indulging in a sleigh ride, you’re sure to find him sipping on hot cocoa spiked with peppermint Schnapps.
For a final cocktail conversation, I headed into Westport and a stop at one of the metro’s premier cocktail bars – Julep. There, on a rainy, chilly day, I visited with owner Beau Williams to hear what he had in mind for the winter months ahead. “We call it whiskey weather around here, and it fits for us, that’s for sure,” Williams said. “The brown spirits seem to fit in nicely this time of year with the cooler temperatures.”
Not only are the cocktails a bit heavier at Julep as we head into winter, they’re also a bit spicier, and definitely seasonal, according to Williams. “Apple cider is something we love to play around with this time of year. I love to use it in cocktails. Then there are flavors like pears and vanilla; all the notes we love to play with in the fall and winter.”
Williams says he doesn’t see much difference between fall cocktails and winter ones as the seasons generally overlap much in the way spring and summer seem to in Kansas City. So, look for lots of bourbon and whiskey-themed drinks when you visit Julep and remember it will only be a few months before the light and refreshing libations will reappear as we herald in the spring. Meantime, sip those brown spirits, cozy up to a fire, and enjoy the holidays in our great little big city. Cheers.