By Jonathan Cristaldi
Well, Halloween this year is certainly going to be one for the record books. Although, if we think about it, the whole point of Halloween is to “mask-up” isn’t it? So, really, should much change given we’re in the midst of a pandemic?
Yes. This year, it’s probably a good idea to take a year off. Plan a kind of Easter-style egg hunt in the backyard by hiding candy all over and forcing the kids to waddle around the yard in their costumes while you—brilliant parent—observe the hunt with a sophisticated cocktail in-hand.
Even if you’re not a parent, like, if you’re far from parenting, but you still love Halloween, come on folks! Picture the best Halloween you never even imagined until Covid: No having to figure out where to put your mobile phone (when will costume companies figure out we need pockets for those full-body costumes?), and no having to sweat profusely in a hard-to-breathe mask (while wearing a surgical mask!), or if you’re in a colder part of the world, no having to wear your winter coat over your costume. I mean… why do we put ourselves through this self-induced turmoil every October 30?!
The solution this year is simply exciting—you’re going to make cocktails and hang out in the back yard. If you don’t have a back yard, the living room will suffice. If you don’t have a living room, don’t worry about making cocktails—figure out how to get a living room, please.
I’ve dug into my favorite cocktail books to present you with the best Halloween-inspired cocktails that will A) taste amazing B) make you feel amazing and C) get you thinking about a career in the spirit world because, after all, this is the Napa Valley Wine Academy’s “Pouring Points” blog and we really do hope these articles get you thinking about your career. Even on Halloween!
In fact, the school is offering $50 off all spirit courses Oct 30-Nov 1—just something to lift your spirits. Now, onto the cocktails!
Halloween Cocktail #1:
Art of the Punch
Perhaps the greatest cocktail book ever written is “Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails” by David Kaplan, Nick Fauchald, and Alex Day. Aside from being one of the finest cocktail books out there, the “Death & Co” theme plays well for Halloween cocktailing.
I recommend whipping up a punch for your Halloween imbibing. Namely, because it will help keep the party flowing (ahem, the party in post-pandemic times) and for the intimate party you are likely planning to host this year with your significant other, yourself, and possibly your children, it will keep the party flowing well-past bedtime.
On page 232 of the book, the chapter on punch begins: “For a punch to be authentic, the communal bowl needs to contain five elements: spirits, sugar, citrus, water, and spice. Without the spice component, it’s not technically punch.” Though, even the bartenders at Death & Co would break that rule, as demonstrated in one of my all-time favorite punches from this book below.
I served up a massive bowl of it at my daughter’s first birthday party, and perhaps, needless to say, it was a smash hit among all our mom friends. I highly recommend buying the book! It is readily available on Amazon.
Mother’s Ruin Punch (page 237)
Crafted by legendary bartender Phil Ward in 2008, he writes in the book, “This was one of our very first punches. Traditionally punch is made with some kind of spice element, satisfied here with a tea infusion, which was a real game changer for us.”
- 8 White Sugar Cubes
- 2 oz. Club Soda
- 4 oz. Plymouth Gin
- 2 oz. Cinnamon orange-tea-infused sweet vermouth**
- 4 oz. grapefruit juice
- 3 oz. dry Champagne
- Garnish: 6 grapefruit wheels
“In a pitcher, muddle the sugar cubes with the club soda until the sugar is fully broken up. Add the remaining ingredients (except the Champagne) and fill the pitcher three-quarters full with ice cubes. Stir until cold, then strain into a punch howl over 1 large block of ice. Top with the Champagne. Garnish with the grapefruit wheels and serve with a ladle and punch glasses.”
**The book’s recipe for the Cinnamon orange-tea-infused sweet vermouth recipe appears on page 281 as follows: “In a container, combine 3 heaping tablespoons of loose Market Spice cinnamon-orange tea (marketspice.com) and one 750-ml bottle of Martini sweet vermouth and stir well. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour and 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Strain through a cheese-cloth-lined sieve.”
Halloween Cocktail #2:
The Orange and The Black
Years ago, when I was living in Los Angeles, I met Daniel Brancusi, the then-Reyka Brand Ambassador for William Grant & Sons. Talk about a great job in the spirits world! Brancusi was peddling the Reyka vodka around the country and tailor-crafting cocktails for bars, in hopes they’d welcome the vodka to their coveted back-bar. Even though I was at a vodka event, we got to talking about gin and my favorite drink of all-time: the Negroni.
Brancusi later emailed me a variation on the Negroni (which offers the perfect Halloween-orange hue to pose alongside your perfectly-carved orange pumpkins). He called the drink the “Left Hand,” and as he put it, it’s really a “Boulevardier variation, which is a Negroni variation,” and without further ado, here is his recipe:
- 1 ½ oz. Bourbon
- ¾ oz. Carpano Antica
- ¾ oz. Campari
- 2 dashes Chocolate Mole Bitters
Stir over ice and strain into chilled coupe. Garnish with a brandied cherry.
Halloween Cocktail #3: No-frills, No-make-up, No-Costume Classic Martini
In Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s “The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique,” my favorite page is 210-211, which reveals a beautiful picture of a mouth-watering classic cocktail made with my favorite spirit—gin. Morgenthaler writes that “The martini is the great-grandfather of all stirred cocktails,” and in his experience, a 5:1 ratio of gin-to-vermouth offers the most pleasure to the “greatest number of martini drinkers.”
- 2 ½ oz. London dry gin
- ½ oz. dry vermouth
- Ice cubes
- 1 lemon twist or olive for garnish
“Combine the fin and vermouth in a mixing glass and stir with ice cubes. Strain into the couple glass. Twist the peel over the surface of the cocktail and drop in the drink, or garnish with the olive, to serve.”