12 Awesome, Elegant Holiday Cocktails

Between fighting the crowds at the mall, finding last year's wrapping paper tucked away in the basment, and trying to remember the occupations and possible food allergies of relatives you see once a year, the best part of the holiday season can be settling down with a good drink. Wanting to branch out beyond eggnog, we asked Jared Lacs, bar supervisor at Quattro, the Four Season's lounge in Palo Alto, what he would suggest. Lacs, who also works as a visual artist, created some elegant holiday cocktails that look and taste great, while helping us remember the reason for the season.

Autumn Spice
1 oz. vodka
2 oz. sparkling apple juice
.5 oz lemon juice
.5 oz simple syrup
Garnish with cinnamon stick and apple slice, serve in a chilled martini glass
This cocktail is like apple cider all grown up, a well-rounded blend of vodka, sparkling apple juice -- the Four Seasons uses Martinelli's -- lemon juice, and bit a of simple syrup (essentially, water and sugar melted together, find a more in-depth recipe here). Combine in a shaker with ice, but shake gently. The sparkling apple juice is carbonated, and giving it a too-vigorous shake could result in a messy explosion. The cinnamon stick garnish will dissolve in the drink, giving the sweet cocktail a spicy finish.

Malibu Sparkler
1 oz. Malibu rum
1 oz. grapefruit juice
Dash of grenadine
Fill the glass with champagne or sparkling wine and garnish with a sliced strawberry
"Anytime you're at a holiday party, you want to have champagne," says Lacs. The sparkler uses the tartness of the grapefruit juice to cut the sweetness of the rum and champagne. When pouring the bubbly, keep a close eye on it and add it in gently -- champagne has the tendency to run over the edge of glass. Added bonus: because of the grapefruit juice and rum, one could, if one was so inclined, go with a less expensive sparkling wine without worrying about that cheap champagne taste.

Frosted Pink Lemonade
2 oz. Absolut Citron vodka
.5 oz. Cointreau
.5 oz. Peach schnapps
1 oz. limoncello
1 oz. Sour mix
.5 oz lemon juice
Dash of grenadine
Rock sugar rim
Garnish with lemon twist, and rapsberry coulis swirl
A drink that Lacs brought to the Four Season's, the Frosted Pink Lemonade is a drink that you can wow your guests with. For limoncello, an Italian lemon liquor, Lacs uses a special batch made by chefs at the Four Seasons. If you're not lucky enough to have a team of trained professionals backing you up, there's several store-bought brands, such as Caravella, Massa, and Piemme, that will work fine. For the rock sugar rim, pour out a layer of rock sugar onto a plate, wet the rim of the martini glass, and gently rotate the rim over the sugar. For an added decorative touch, a raspberry coulis (find a recipe here) can be swirled around the inside of the glass before pouring in the cocktail.

Cinnamon Creme
2 oz. Bailey's Irish Cream
.5 oz. Goldschlager
.5 oz. butterscotch schnapps
Chocolate syrup swirl
Rim of chocolate syrup and shaved chocolate
Garnish with shaved chocolate
This is a rich, luxurious drink, meant to sipped slowly. With a base of Baily's Irish Cream, it's perfect for satisfying a holiday-inspired sweet tooth. The Goldschlager will give the mix a heady kick of cinnamon, while the butterscotch schnapps rounds and mellows the mixture. For the rim, coat the edge of the glass in chocolate syrup (Lacs uses Hershey's), and then dip on into a layer of shaved chocolate. For the chocolate swirl, simply layer a spiral of chocolate syrup in the martini glass before before pouring in the cocktail.

Candy Cane
1.5 oz. vodka
.5 oz. peppermint schnapps
.5 oz. creme de cacao
Crushed candy cane rim
Garnish with minature candy cane
"If you don't like peppermint, this isn't the drink for you," says Lacs. But if you do, we've found the perfect Yuletide libation. Don't forget the creme de cacao, which will help warm the flavors of the vodka and schnapps. As an added bonus, if you let the candy cane garnish sit in the drink for a few minutes, the red dye of the candy will settle into the bottom of the glass, giving it a two-tone look that's both holly and jolly.

Nutcracker 1.5 oz. vodka
.5 oz. amaretto
.5 oz. white creme de cacao
Crushed Butterfinger rim
Garnish with maraschino cherry
While all the cocktails Lacs served up were superb, this one in particular hit some great notes. It looks fantastic -- the cherry at the bottom reminds us of Rudolph's nose. It tastes great, a full-bodied blend of amaretto, vodka, and white creme de cacoa that warms you up like a crackling fire. Add in a rim of crushed Butterfinger candy bars -- "My favorite candy," admits Lacs -- for taste and crunch texture, and you've got a home run cocktail for the holidays.

Christmas Sour
2 oz. Midori
1 oz. limoncello
2 oz. sour mix
Garnish with maraschino cherry
"This is a great drink for someone who doesn't like the taste of liquor," says Lacs. Midori, a sweet melon liquor, can bit a bit cloying on its own, but the limoncello and sour mix help keep the sugar in check. Meanwhile, the bright green liquor and the red maraschino cherry add a great visual note to any gathering.

Honey Toddy
1.5 oz. brandy
1 oz. honey
1 oz. amber liquor
.5 oz. lemon juice
Garnish with twist of lemon, cloves, and cinnamon stick
When the weather turns cold, people turn to hot toddies. Seen as a way to warm up, as well has having potential medicinal properties, it can be a great cocktail or a way to get over that winter cold. Both the cloves and cinnamon will gain potency the longer they steep in the drink, so resist the urge to sip right away. The best things come to those that wait.

2 oz. rum
1 oz. Lillet Blanc
1 strawberry, 1 lychee, muddled in ice
.25 oz. simple syrup
.5 oz. lime juice
Garnish with strawberry
The secret to this drink is muddling a strawberry and lychee fruit in a shaker of ice. Muddling is a bartending technique of crushing fruit or herbs to release the flavors. While pros will use a large wooden "muddling stick," you can use whatever you have handy -- just make sure the strawberry and lychee fruit is nicely mashed by the end of it. Lillet Blanc is a French aperitif wine, and will add a bright note to the proceedings. After shaking the concoction, be prepared to wait a moment while straining, as the chunks of fruit will slow things up a bit.

Aspen Eve
3 oz. coffee
1 oz. Frangelico
.5 oz. Navan vanilla cognac
Garnish with whipped cream, dash of nutmeg, and coffee beans
Meant for drinking after coming down off the slopes, the Aspen Eve still works for those without a lift pass. Navan, a vanilla cognac, adds a surprising tone of earthy sweetness against the bitterness of the coffee, while the Frangelico avoids the harsher burn of whisky that a traditional Irish coffee can have. Have a can of whipped cream standing by to top the drink off, and you've got a dark, delicious holiday pick-me-up.

Southern Nog
4 oz. eggnog
.5 oz. white chocolate liquor
1 oz. Southern Comfort
Garnish with chocolate flakes
Is there any drink more associated with the holidays than eggnog? The Southern Nog ups the ante a bit, adding in Godiva white chocolate liquor and some good old Southern Comfort. Lacs has the chefs at Four Seasons make up homemade eggnog. If you're feeling industrious, you can make your own -- a good recipe can be found here . If not, Chipwich, Axlerod, and Bordens all make good eggnog you can buy in a carton.

Lavandah 1.5 oz. vodka
1 oz. Lillet Blanc
1 oz. lavender simple syrup
.5 oz. lemon juice
Garnish with sprig of fresh lavender
This is a subtle and understated cocktail. Lavender, which is one of the few herbs hardy enough to survive cold winter temperatures, holds the drink together. You'll need to make your own lavender simple syrup, which you can do beforehand. Simply take 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water, and about 3 cups dried or fresh lavender. Bring the mixture to a boil, and then let it cool. The lemon juice will help bring out the taste of the syrup, while the Lillet Blanc will stop the vodka from overpowering the drink. Balance a sprig of lavender on the rim for an elegant finishing touch.
A senior associate editor at Zimbio, writing about entertainment and current events.