There can be no disputing the fact that artisanal spirits are all the rage. New micro-distilleries are popping up around town like morels in the spring.
Kansas City’s latest entry into the category, Lifted Spirits, located in The Crossroads, just held its grand opening. With Lifted Spirits joining other local producers like J. Rieger, Restless Spirits, Tom’s Town, and more, Kansas City-area distillery numbers are approaching double digits. Not too many years ago, that number was one — McCormick.
With the spirits boom, it comes as no surprise that craft cocktails, often featuring these local boozy beauties, especially holiday-themed versions, are also a trend. I turned to some experts for their thoughts on what they love about “mixing it up” around the holidays.
I chatted with Kenny Cohrs, lead bartender at Jax Fish House and Oyster Bar. Kenny is quite the mixologist. His cocktail made with squid ink created a metrowide buzz not long ago. Now, Cohrs is back with what he’s calling a Jax Nog Punch. “I was trying to craft a traditional egg nog, but punch it up a little bit. You know, something fun for the season,” Cohrs shared.
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Cohrs said he did research, tried different recipes, and “played around a bit,” producing several versions of the Jax Nog Punch before landing on the final blend. That concoction, with egg yolk, egg white, a bunch of spices, bourbon, and a little rum is a hit. I can’t wait to try it!
From Jacob Bower at Gram & Dun, there’s the Teeling My Sage.
“The drink was inspired by a member of the bar staff’s favorite holiday side — his father’s sage apple stuffing. It features Teeling whiskey, local apple cider, Cynar 70, honey, and a house-made sage tincture,” Bower stated.
Bower says the secret of success in this cocktail is its balance.
“The sweetness of the honey and wiskey and the crispness of the cider work to elevate the bitter notes from the other ingredients and create a balance that works across the entire palate,” Bower said.
You certainly need something to warm your bones on a Scandinavian winter night. And while Midtown is a long way from Sweden, stop by Krokstrom Klubb & Market for a glass of Olaf’s Swedish Punsch (yes, that’s the correct spelling).
Swedish Punsch dates back to 1733, according to Katee McClean. This version contains Batavia Arrack, Kronan Swedish Punsch, red rice, black tea and lemon. McLean says the Olaf part come from her ancestors. “Olaf was the son of Anders, the first generation of Krokstroms to come to America.” McLean said.
Before I move on, I have to give a shout-out to McLean’s business partner and fiancé, Josh Rogers, whom McLean says “super geeks out over the origins of Scandinavian booze.” So, there you go, Josh. I hope I got all the facts straight.
Darrell Loo, bartender of Julep KC Whiskey and Cocktail Bar also weighed in on the subject. Julep, one of the city’s great cocktail bars, has an entire list of “In Season” cocktail creations. My eyes focused in on two, the Auld Lang Syne, which is comprised of prosecco, Lillet Blanc, lemon and pomegranate, and the Noel, featuring Sazerac Rye, a sugar plum reduction and Angostura Aromatic Bitters. What’s the holiday word for yummy?
“The Auld Lang Syne was inspired by a poem. We thought what’s better than having a bubbly cocktail while we bid farewell to the old year?” Loo asked.
Meantime, the Noel, in which Julep cooks figs, prunes, dried apricots, star anise, fennel and caraway into a sumptuous syrup. Loo calls the Noel “the most festive Old Fashioned for the holiday!”
Right around the corner, they’ve introduced what they hope will become a holiday cocktail classic at Westport Café and Bar — the Clarified Milk Punch. Perfect for mixing in batches, this new bourbon and cognac-based cocktail is “deceptive in its clear appearance,” but packs plenty of punch, pun intended! Even better, Westport Café and Bar says it will keep for up to four weeks.
At The Well in Waldo, revelers will find these two inspired holiday-themed efforts: The KC Pride, an ode to Kansas City’s tailgating tradition. The drink consists of Dekuyper White Créme De Cocoa and hot chocolate.
There’s also The Grand Mayan, a south-of-the-border nod to Feliz Navidad featuring reposado tequila, ancho reyes, and hot chocolate that The Well describes as “a cohesive blend of chocolate and orange with hints of chile spice.” Ole!
Some 25 years ago, my wife and I would duck into Houlihan’s on the Country Club Plaza for a Cappucino Nut (or two) over the holidays. It was perfect way to take the edge off the cold and gray days. Though Houlihan’s has moved on from The Plaza, their special holiday creations continue.
This year, you can sample an Oak Aged Manhattan at area Houlihan’s, celebrating a classic cocktail with a modern touch.
At the Bristol and J. Gilbert’s, you will find the Ginger Spice Margarita-Sauza Hornitos tequila shaken with fresh lime juice, housemade ginger simple syrup, and chili powder. The restaurants say the drink will deliver “a little heat to warm guests up on a chilly winter day!”
Finally today, The Reindeer’s Flight from Mike’s Wine and Spirits Wine Manager Henry Feltmeyer. Feltmeyer says The Reindeer Flight is a variation on a classic cocktail that dates back 100 years.
“Hugo Ennslin was the head bartender at the Hotel Warwick in New York City, and his drink, The Aviation Cocktail, first appeared in the 1916 volume ‘Recipes for Mixed Drinks’,” Feltmeyer said. “His drink is a masterful creation, a gin-based cocktail with a bit of real maraschino liqueur, some fresh-squeezed lemon juice, and a dash of violette liqueur.”
Feltmeyer’s updated version removes the violette liqueur, replacing it with a New England Cranberry Liqueur from Leopold Brothers. The drink also features their Maraschino Liqueur and Builders Botanical Gin from North Kansas City’s Restless Spirits. Feltmeyer calls the creation a “fun and festive adult cocktail.” I concur.
While that’s not even the tip of the iceberg of holiday cocktail creations around town, I think I’ll cut it off there. Otherwise, I’ll never have time to try all of these. Cheers!
Dave Eckert is a partner with Flavor Trade, a Kansas City-based gourmet food incubator and co-packer. Before that, Eckert was the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS and AWE for 12 seasons.