Holiday-themed drinking is upon us, yet man cannot (and definitely should not) live on eggnog alone.
Anyone looking to expand their yuletide tippling beyond eggy punches has an ally in the form of El Guapo, a Louisiana-based maker of syrups and tonics. El Guapo has a released a Holiday 2017 collection, which meshes traditional Christmas flavors with the brand’s New Orleans heritage.
El Guapo sent me several syrups and bitters for sampling. Helpfully, each of their syrups includes recipes for simple cocktails that can be made by combining the syrup with a base spirit and bitters. This is what happened:
King Cake Old Fashioned
This liquid homage to holiday cake is made by combining two parts bourbon or rum with one half part El Guapo Creole Pecan Orgeat Syrup and six dashes of El Guapo’s Chicory and Pecan Bitters (plus a garnish of cinnamon stick and orange twist, which I sadly didn’t have on hand). I chose Four Roses Small Batch as my spirit: its heat paired well with the bold nuttiness of the orgeat and the spice of the bitters. The rich, deep and roasty taste of chicory proved a great compliment to both flavors.
Santa’s Little Helper
The most aggressively festive of the drinks is made with 1/2 ounce El Guapo Candy Cane Syrup, 1 1/2 ounces vodka, rum, or whiskey, two dashes of El Guapo’s Spiced Cocoa Bitters, and a mug’s worth of hot cocoa or chocolate milk. I used Privateer Amber Rum, and Swiss Miss instant hot cocoa mix. The frothy drink tasted remarkably like those first sucks on a candy cane, fresh and minty. The spiced cocoa bitters provided a darker edge, and I ended up tossing another two dashes in to counteract its overall sweetness. That quality made this my least favorite of the three, though that fault may lie with my choice of instant cocoa rather than the syrup itself.
Coffee and Pie Martini
One and a half parts vodka, plus one half part El Guapo Sweet Potato Syrup and four dashes of the El Guapo Chicory and Pecan Bitters create a Coffee and Pie Martini. My vodka of choice for this was Ketel One. The drink proved to be quite sweet and even a little syrupy up front, but the dryness of the vodka and the seriously dark coffee notes of the bitters helped to balance out the finish. After a few sips, I tasted the sweet potato syrup straight and discovered that it tasted like creamy, straight-from-the-can pumpkin pie mix. I tasted the drink again, and realized its purpose: it tastes at first like a sweet bite of pie, then a sip of bitter coffee: dessert and a pick-me-up in one glass.
Old Fashioned w/ Holiday Pie Bitters
This was not one of the cocktails prescribed by El Guapo’s bottling, but just the result of me throwing six dashes of their Holiday Pie Bitters (made with pecan, pumpkin, apple and sweet potato) into a rocks glass with Putnam’s New England Rye and a sugar cube. I’d describe this Old Fashioned experience as akin to biting into a pie with a warm, liquid, whiskey-filled center. The bitters have a warming, nutty quality that’s like bottled between-the-crust magic.