Sheri Parr loves Halloween. So in midsummer Parr begins planning the frightfully spooky cocktails she'll serve at her bar - the Brick at 1727 McGee - during Halloween weekend.
This year she'll serve up ahoy-matey rum drinks for Friday night's Pirate Night. On Saturday, Poison Apple shots (apple-flavored vodka), Zombies (fruit juices, rum and apricot brandy) and Vampire Kisses (black cherry vodka and grenadine) will quench the thirsts of guests rocking to the Haunted Creepies, a local band that plays only on Halloween and Friday the 13th.
"The cocktails are like cooking," she says. "It's fun to have an excuse to make something up, and there's so much to play with - the blacks, the reds, the oranges, the Vampires, the Monsters, the Zombies."
Halloween isn't just about candy for kids anymore. More than ever, adults are playing dress-up, throwing at-home parties and concocting tricks and treats of their own. According to a recent survey by the National Retail Federation, consumers will spend about $3.3 billion during what is now a monthlong celebration of ghouls, goblins and ghosts. "People have always decorated as much for Halloween as for Christmas," says James Mellgren, Berkeley, Calif.-based author of The Bar (Ten Speed, 2005), a primer for folks who want to learn the art and craft of cocktails. "Gradually the interest moved to food - to spider cupcakes, that kind of thing."
An interest in Halloween food coincides with the resurgence in cocktail culture. The Zombie, around since the 1930s, is a classic Halloween cocktail. The Bloody Brain, on the other hand, is a relatively new but especially gruesome-looking cocktail based on Bailey's Irish Cream.
"When Halloween rolled around, people said, `Let's entertain with spooky-looking cocktails, with funky names,'" Mellgren says.
Mellgren credits Martha Stewart for spurring the Halloween craze, which has, in turn, led to cocktails designed for the holiday.
"Her Halloween shows were unbelievable - so over the top," he says. "She did a great punch, with frozen hands and a face floating in it that was very clever and very spooky. The overall sense is that people are really more and more interested in cocktails, and more of them are making them at home at party time."
Laura O'Rourke, owner of the Culinary Center of Kansas City, saw interest increase in learning how to craft cocktails at home several years ago when the center offered "Easy Bartending for Home Bars."
"Baby boomers don't just want a rum and Coke or gin and tonic anymore. They want something a little more grown-up. They want a Manhattan. They want a well-made martini. And they're entertaining at home," says O'Rourke.
For a Halloween party she is catering, O'Rourke is serving blood orange martinis. Last year's cocktail of choice? A black martini, made with black vodka.
Serving a couple of cocktails or a punch is much simpler than stocking a full bar, Mellgren says. He suggests people design their cocktail menu just like they would their party food. Using a recipe they can practice beforehand or make them in batches. They can also enhance the color or float creepy things in the drinks for added effect.
Vodka started the trend toward flavoring and coloring, with different flavored vodkas. Others followed suit and now consumers will find all sorts of flavored and/or colored spirits, from vanilla cognac to black tequila. Today, flavored vodkas make up 12 percent of total vodka sales, and the number is growing.
Dean Phillips, president and CEO of Phillips Distilling Co., says colored spirits aren't necessarily new. His family-run business launched flavored vodkas in the 1950s. "What is old is new again," Phillips says. "Whether we're talking about automobiles, clothing or cocktails, consumers are looking for something novel, new or fresh. People are looking for other colors and concepts, which led to rapid growth in all categories of spirits - rums, tequilas, whiskeys."
In recent years producers of spirits have gotten in the spirit of the holiday by coloring their products with seasonal colors. There's Vampyre's blood-red colored vodka, Gecko's black tequila (100 percent blue agave tequila colored black) and UV's orange-colored and orange-flavored vodka.
Expect that number to increase as distributors experiment with more flavors and colors. "We have an appropriate color in the line for every holiday: red cherry, green apple, ivory vanilla and mandarin orange," says Phillips.
Rob Chirico, author of The Field Guide to Cocktails (Quirk, 2005), marvels at the variety of what's available on the market. "It's a question of eye appeal. As long as people drink, we will see many more of these (wildly colored) concoctions," he says. Packaging also has become an important factor, for marketing and aesthetic reasons, especially during the holidays.
"There's a vodka from Switzerland that comes in a deep, deep red bottle. It looks like something from a field hospital, like it should be in an emergency room full of plasma ... Alcohol is a design element," Mellgren says.
Mellgren and Chirico are using new types of garnishes to add color to their drink concoctions. For example, Chirico serves a Manhattan with something black in it, like a piece of licorice. Mellgren likes wrapping twinkly lights around the base of the punch bowl to highlight the ghoulish colors.
"All that gory stuff is great for Halloween," Mellgren says. "It would gross people out any other time of the year, except for Halloween."
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Here are five cocktails - including a recipe for a Zombie punch - that will set the mood for this year's howlin' good time.
This martini is deeply blue-green, with a purplish-red layer on the bottom.
Makes 1 drink
1 1/2 ounces vodka
1 1/2 ounces Blue Curacao
3 ounces pineapple juice
1/4 ounce Chambord
Glassware: Martini glass
Pour the vodka, curacao and pineapple juice into an ice-filled martini shaker and shake until sides are beaded with condensation. Strain the contents into a martini glass. Slowly pour the Chambord down the side of the glass until it settles at the bottom. You should have a layer of Chambord at the bottom and a layer of mix at the top.
Per serving: 112 calories (1 percent from fat), trace fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 9 grams carbohydrates, trace protein, trace sodium, no dietary fiber.
This classic cocktail was created by Don Beach of Don the Beachcomber in the 1930s as a hangover cure. Its golden hue makes it perfect for the season.
Makes six (7-ounce) drinks
10 ounces fresh orange juice (from approximately 3 oranges)
4 ounces fresh lemon juice (from approximately 3 lemons)
4 ounces fresh lime juice (from approximately 4 limes)
6 ounces apricot brandy
6 ounces dark rum
6 ounces light rum
2 ounces grenadine
1/2 Angostura bitters
3 ounces 151-proof rum, for floating (optional)
Fresh mint leaves for garnish
6 pineapple wedges for garnish
Glassware: Hurricane glass or cooler glass
Fill a large pitcher with ice and add the citrus juices, apricot brandy, rums, grenadine and bitters. Stir briskly until the pitcher is beaded with sweat and frosty.
Fill the glasses with crushed ice and strain over the cocktail. If desired, float 1/2-ounce 151-proof rum on top of each cocktail. Garnish each with several mint leaves and a pineapple wedge and serve.
Double the recipe and serve in a punch bowl; this yields about 24 (4-ounce) punch cup servings.
Per serving: 278 calories (1 percent from fat), trace fat (trace saturated fat), no cholesterol, 23 grams carbohydrates, trace protein, 10 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.
From Raising the Bar by Nick Mautone (Artisan, 2004)
The Bailey's Irish Cream in this cocktail "curdles" on top and looks just like brain matter.
Makes 1 drink
3/4 ounce peach schnapps
Float of Bailey's Irish Cream
1 dash grenadine
Glassware: Shot glass or highball glass
Pour peach schnapps into glass. Add Irish cream to the center. Top with grenadine and serve.
Per drink: 72 calories (53 percent from fat), 1 gram total fat (1 gram saturated), no cholesterol, 2 grams carbohydrates, trace protein, 27 milligrams sodium, no dietary fiber.
A rosy-hued drink with a bit of sweet. Great for brunches.
Makes two 3 1/2 ounce drinks
2 ounces triple sec 2 ounces Mandarine Napoleon Liqueur (Grand Marnier can be substituted)
2 ounces fresh orange juice (from approximately 1 orange)
1 ounce grenadine
2 fresh blackberries for garnish
Glassware: Cocktail glass
Fill a pitcher with ice and add all of the ingredients except the blackberries. Stir vigorously until the outside of the pitcher is beaded with sweat and frosty.
Strain into cocktail glasses, add a blackberry to each, and serve.
Per drink: 242 calories (1 percent from fat), trace fat (trace saturated fat), no cholesterol, 31 grams carbohydrates, trace protein, 9 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.
From Raising the Bar by Nick Mautone (Artisan, 2004)
This is the ultimate Halloween cocktail - inky black and with an orange-rimmed glass.
Makes 1 drink
2 ounces Black Gecko tequila (100 percent blue agave tequila retails for about $50)
3/4 ounce Cointreau
2 1/4 ounces Mr. and Mrs. T's Sweet and Sour
Glassware: Margarita glass or highball glass
Pour the salt onto a small plate. Rub the juicy side of one of the lime wedges along the rim of the glass. Hold the glass at an angle and roll the outer edges of the rim in the salt until it is fully coated.
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add the tequila, Cointreau, and sweet and sour. Shake vigorously until the outside of the shaker is beaded with sweat and is frosty.
Fill the glass with ice and pour in the margarita. Garnish with lime wedge and serve.
Note: Margarita salt can be ordered online at www.margarita salt.com. It retails for about $2.99 for a 6-ounce tub.
Per drink: 222 calories (none from fat), no fat, no cholesterol, 13 grams carbohydrates, no protein, no sodium, no dietary fiber.
From Harry Murphy, Harry's Country Club
Halloween cocktail garnishes can be even creepier than the drinks.
Creepy ice cubes:
Freeze small plastic bugs and other crawly things in ice cubes to use in drinks.
Float a star anise:
in the drink. It will look like a five-legged spider.
Bloody eyeballs: Peel radishes, leaving thin streaks of red skin to represent blood vessels. Using the tip of the vegetable peeler or a small knife, carefully scoop out a small hole in each radish, roughly the size of an olive. Stuff a green olive, pimento side out, in each hole. Place one radish eyeball in each section of an empty ice cube tray. Trim the radishes to fit, if necessary. Fill the tray with water and freeze overnight.