There is never a shortage of seasonal get-togethers at Christmastime. One thing that most holiday parties have in common is alcohol. Some have it in abundance, and the really good ones have warm alcohol-tea drinks served in glasses or for offer in giant punch bowls. And to allay the conscience, keep in mind that medical studies (conducted by very sober scientists and doctors) have revealed that alcohol can be a healthy choice when consumed in moderation.
In permanently chilly locales like Japan’s Hokkaido island, the American far north, and the upper reaches of Canada, warm tea concoctions laced with whiskey, rum, wine, beer, vodka and other potent brews are par for the course. Many legendary British explorers of the 17th and 18th centuries braced themselves and their crews with tea and booze mixtures during long, stranded winters above the Arctic Circle while in search of the Northwest Passage (they never found it, by the way. Norway’s Roald Amundsen got there first).
Japanese soldiers who gallantly fought against, and defeated, the Tsar’s troops in the 1904 Russo-Japanese War fortified themselves for battle with matcha tea and sake. Indeed, that Japanese stalwart of culinary history, matcha tea, boasts a colorful lineage as a combinative with everything from Asian whiskies to Russian vodkas. But enough history! For now, it’s on to the modern versions of the best alcohol-with-tea drinks for the holidays. Herewith:
Ginger Matcha Party Monster
Popular at resorts in northern California, Washington and Oregon, this sweet party treat is showing up as a warmed punch-bowl favorite alongside campfires and in ski lodges.
To make 12 cups, boil 6 pints of water and then let it cool for about 5 minutes. Add 6 tablespoons of matcha tea and mix well. Then, add the juice of two lemons, one-half cup of honey, 2 cinnamon sticks, and 8 ounces of rum. Individual servings can be reheated in a microwave if they get too cool in the serving bowl, but this stuff usually goes fast.
Cranberry-Lemon Holiday Hoopla
Various permutations of this concoction have been around for years, with a few modern efforts based upon green tea, but the original used black tea only. Take your pick, and follow these directions:
Prepare 4 cups of hot tea with either black or green teabags. Into a large pot on the stove, add the tea and one-half cup of sugar with 3 cups of unsweetened cranberry juice. After the tea and cranberry juice are completely mixed with the sugar, heat everything on a low setting until it is very warm but not boiling. Add 4 cups of weak lemonade and 1 cup of vodka. Mix well until the entire mixture is warm but not too hot to drink. Makes 12 cups.
Winter Tea, Amaretto-style
This simple tea and amaretto drink is at least a hundred years old and probably originated in Italy in the 1500s. One of Leonardo da Vinci’s students figures in the story of the invention of amaretto, a drink steeped in history and romance.
To prepare one serving of this delicious, warm drink, simply combine 6 ounces of your favorite hot tea with 2 ounces of almond amaretto liqueur. Top it with whipped cream and serve in a thick mug to keep it nice and warm.
Warm Winter Whiskey and Bitters
If you recognize this drink recipe, that’s because it is a long-standing holiday favorite at bars all over the world. It goes by various names, notably called the Colonial Boy. Variants are created by using different kinds of tea and calibrated amounts of sugar. The best use a high-quality black tea, expensive Irish whiskey and a top brand of bitters. It’s simple to make a single serving.
Combine 6 ounces of very hot black tea with 1 ounce of Irish whiskey, 1 teaspoon of sugar and a few drops of bitters. Enhance the effect by perusing a book about Irish history before preparing the second serving.
Classic Hot Tea Toddy
There must be thousands of hot toddy recipes. Here’s a really good one that uses brandy and lemon, and is perfect for a cold winter night when the wind is blowing violently and all the kids are asleep. Drink it and you’ll soon join the children in dream land. Here’s how:
Prepare 6 ounces of your favorite tea. Note: matcha or black tea works quite well in this recipe. Add 1 tablespoon of honey, one squeeze of a fresh lemon, and 2 ounces of a quality brandy. Drink. Sleep. Dream (perchance).
Happy Holidays Hot Honey Tea Grog
One of the oldest known combinations of alcohol and tea, grog comes in innumerable varieties. Here is one that uses two kinds of alcohol, plus nutmeg and cinnamon. Popular for centuries in Britain and North America, grog drinks are usually heated in a saucepan (as is this one) and invite experimentation with spices and other ingredients. An authentic “campfire” tradition, grog is easy and fun to prepare. The recipe below makes one serving but can easily be expanded for large parties.
Prepare one cup of your favorite tea. Add it to a large saucepan along with a few cloves, a tablespoon of honey, a dash of nutmeg, 1 ounce of rum (the darker the better), and 1 ounce of cognac. When everything is mixed and heated well, pour into a large cup and add some freshly ground cinnamon. Grog is the go-to party drink for campers in the Great Northwest of Canada.
For summer tea drinkers, there are many more options. Cold tea drinks are joined with countless iced favorites from the bar. Winter revelers might have fewer choices but that does not dampen the raw pleasure of sipping a warm beverage that combines the best of seasonal tea and holiday alcohol recipes.
Amateur practitioners who want to create their own holiday tea-and-alcohol drinks can derive inspiration from many of the summertime iced drinks. Just leave out the ice and serve hot. That formula usually works, but be careful to note whether a particular bar drink calls for green or black tea because most of the better recipes are calculated to bring out the tea flavor based upon the kind of alcohol used.