The last time UE did a cocktail challenge, we enforced one simple rule: cocktails could use only the ingredients in my fridge at the start of the challenge. Otherwise it wouldn’t be a challenge, now would it?
So, this time around, the same rules apply. However, those who know me are aware that I’m a pretty savvy seasonal grocery shopper (if not an excessive one), so I already had a lot of super useful, whimsical Fall- and Winter-themed goodies in my kitchen. And, when I say I put pumpkin pie spice in everything… I. Mean. Everything.
Obviously, I was made for this challenge.
Here are the items I had to work with:
- Pumpkin Pie Spice – This combines cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and nutmeg, which a lot of these types of recipes call for. Autumnal spice catch-all for the win!
- Black Chai Tea Bags
- Trader Joe’s Pear Cinnamon Cider – The most yum: get off the computer and go buy some immediately, it’s seasonal!
- About a dozen hard peppermint candies
- Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Milk – You can substitute with regular milk if that’s your jam! It’s just what I had in my fridge.
- Cran-Raspberry Juice
- Pumpkin Spice Coffee Creamer
- Whipped Cream
- Vanilla Extract
- Red wine
DAY ONE: The Pumpkin Spice Russian
The Dude’s weapon of choice, The White Russian, all gussied up for the holidays. My original intention was to create a Pumpkin Spice Latte Shot, but soon realized that, much like a traditional PSL, it was a drink best consumed in joyful little sips instead of one fat swig. However, you could definitely still make these as shots if you left out the milk! You’d just combine the Kahlua, rum, and pumpkin spice coffee creamer and pour into shot glasses.
- 1 Part Kahlua
- 1 Part Rum *
- 2 Parts Almond Milk (or regular milk)
- 1 Part Pumpkin Spice Coffee-mate
- A dash of Pumpkin Pie Spice to sprinkle on top
* I realize that White Russians are typically made with vodka instead of rum, but I had a non-vodka drinker in my midst that night so I had to accommodate. It tasted great with rum though!
As with most of the drinks on this list, I would recommend garnishing this with a cinnamon stick! I just didn’t have any in the house (gasp). I know. I know.
DAY TWO: Hard Cinnamon Pear Cider
I bow down to you, simplest and tastiest of treats! Seriously, emphasis on simple. As long as you have a quality apple or pear cider on hand and some booze, you can whip up a pot of this sweet, spicy goodness in about five minutes if you suddenly decide to invite a group of SantaCon participants in from the cold.
Ingredients (serves about four people, modify proportionally to please your crowd):
- 6 Cups Pear Cinnamon Cider (or apple cider, if you prefer)
- 1 Tablespoon Pumpkin Pie Spice
- 1 Cup of Rum – I’d love to try this with spiced rum someday too. Hint hint, use that if you have it!
- ½ of a navel orange, cut into quarters with the peel on
Combine the ingredients in a pot and simmer on the stove until warm (but be careful not to overboil it!). Ladle into mugs and drink heavily. Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack is optional, but highly recommended.
P.S. This is another one that could be made all-the-more-wonderful with a cinnamon stick garnish!
DAY THREE: The Peppermintini
Okay, so here’s the only one on this list that didn’t turn out quite the way I expected. I think it could have been improved with a scoop of vanilla or peppermint ice cream, thrown into a blender. It was missing this very specific chilly, minty creaminess. I think the primary issue here was that my fancy-pants were on a little bit too tight; I tried too hard to do something complex. But I’d love to see if anybody out in Readerland can adjust some things and make this drink sing!
- 6 Peppermint Candies (or one candy cane), crushed
- 1 Part Chilled Vanilla Vodka*
- 2 Parts Vanilla Almond Milk (or regular milk)
- 1 Part Simple Syrup (combine boiling water and sugar)
- Whipped cream
* I did not have vanilla vodka, so I combined two teaspoons of vanilla extract with the regular vodka. It tasted pretty normal! I should also mention that I did a lot of research on infusing spirits to prepare for this article. It would have taken too long so I skipped it, but it was fun to learn about. Maybe next time!
Create the simple syrup in a small saucepan by combining the sugar and water. Bring the mixture to a boil then immediately crank down the heat and let it simmer for 5-7 minutes. Add half of the crushed peppermint candies to the simple syrup and let it melt. It will turn a fun pink color. Go with it. Let it cool for about 30 minutes. Stick in the fridge if you want.
If you have a martini shaker, combine the vodka, simple syrup, and almond milk and shake it up. If you don’t have one, that’s okay. You can just use a big, tall juice glass and mix it together vigorously with a whisk or a fork. Then, rim your martini glass with the rest of the crushed peppermints. To do this, wet the rim of the glass with water and then crush the rim in a circular motion against the mints till you have a nice coating.
Then, pour the ingredients into the glass, squirt on a little whipped cream, and top with any remaining crushed peppermints.
DAY FOUR: Chai Hot Toddies
This one won the battle. Took home the gold. Et cetera. This drink is awesome because you can whip it up on any chilly day; it doesn’t even have to be the holiday season! A dear old friend of mine sent me a link to a similar recipe not long ago (please note how adorably this blogger incorporated cinnamon sticks!). I modified it to accommodate the ingredients I already had (which as we know by now, shamefully did not include cinnamon sticks). I definitely downed two of these in one sitting. Too, too good.
- 1 Bag of Black Chai Tea per Mug
- Boiling water
- 3-4 Tablespoons Almond Milk (again, or regular milk!)
- 1 Tablespoon Honey
- 1-2 Shots of Whisky
- Whipped Cream
- A Dash of Pumpkin Pie Spice
Steep your Chai tea in hot water to the level of intensity you prefer for tea (longer = stronger). I tend to like my Chai very spicy and bold, so I let it sit for a solid 3-5 minutes. Then, add the honey, whisky, and milk to taste. Top with a dollop of whipped cream and your new BFF, pumpkin pie spice.
Day Five: Mulled Wine
Hey, so like… what even are mulling spices? Are they just a thing Williams Sonoma sells during the holidays every year as a stocking-stuffer-slash-last-minute-gift for your awesome wine-o big sister? (Nudge nudge, little sib!) I decided I’d find out what mulling spices actually consisted of. And you know what? They’re very similar to pumpkin pie spice. So while my mulling spices weren’t nearly as fancy as the ones Williams Sonoma sells, I saved $25 (or whoever got my letter to Santa this year).
Ingredients (serves about 4-5 people):
- 1 Bottle of Red Wine – I used a budget-friendly Pinot Noir for this exercise. Mulled wine is a great way to drink that cheapo red you’ve got sitting on your shelf—aside from, y’know, just drinking it.
- 2 Tablespoons Honey
- 3-4 Cups of Cran-Raspberry Juice (to taste)
- 1-2 Tablespoons Pumpkin Pie Spice (again, to taste) – Add more if you like a spicier drink.
- Suggestion – Orange peels simmered in the pot and cinnamon sticks for garnish
Combine the red wine and cran-raspberry juice in a large pot, set it on medium heat for about 10-15 minutes and allow it to simmer. It’s not a good idea to let this boil because of all the sugar! If you have oranges, I highly recommend adding peels or small slices to the mixture and letting them sit in the pot. Add the honey and stir in the pumpkin pie spice. Ladle into mugs once it’s at a nice, cozy temperature.
Let us know in the comments if you tried any of these and how they turned out! Our cocktail challenges are always open to interpretation.
Have a Happy Merry!
Photos by Liz Kerin