Want cocktails to wow your guests this winter? Look no further. Expert in mixology KC Clarke shares her creations for a uniquely BOSS holiday.
A mixologist and a bartender walk into a bar. One heads to the kitchen to test out new, delicious combinations of ingredients your wildest imagination couldn’t even assemble. The other is tasked with recreating these for the venue’s patrons.
To those of us who are unfamiliar with what it takes to make a good cocktail, you have probably assumed that these job titles are one in the same. You’d be very, very wrong.
I had the distinct pleasure of being schooled on the difference by KC Clarke, an expert mixologist whose years of experience were on display in the ten signature cocktails she made for BOSS Magazine’s holiday cocktail list during a recent tasting.
For the uninitiated, mixology is the study or skill of preparing mixed drinks. While the definition is simple, the job presents challenges with each drop meticulously measured and poured. Each cocktail must be a balance of flavors: not too sweet, or spicy, or acidic—I could go on. The mixologist often prepares house-made syrups, bitters, or other mixes to perfectly complement their alcohol of choice. Their main goal? Keep the cocktails aligned with the bar or restaurant serving them.
By day, Clarke is in charge of the bar at Dolce. We met her at Dolce at the Highlands, a beautiful restaurant in Del Mar, California that offers farm-to-table season Cali/Italian cuisine. By night, she’s the Lead Mixologist for Crafted Cocktails, a brand focused on all-natural, agave-based cocktail mixes that offer unique and sophisticated flavors.
And like many mixologists, she started in the field as a bartender.
“I enjoyed the job, but I wanted to do something where I could keep pushing myself,” she said. “A concept that motivates me is that if you’re not evolving, you’re dying. Mixology is constantly growing and changing: nothing has to be the same if you don’t want it to be.”
The cocktails she created for us prove this point perfectly. Many of the drinks were familiar, like The Mule and the Shrub (my personal favorite), but had unexpected components. Who knew gin in a mule might taste even better than vodka?
The unexpected is territory Clarke loves. Ever think of including squash puree with rye, bourbon, and rum? Or garlic and olive oil with vodka and vermouth? We didn’t.
But this mix of culinary with cocktail has opened new doors for mixologists, and is a trend Clarke excited about.
“The kitchen and culinary influence on cocktails has me stoked. The ability to include purees and an infusion of other ingredients—to extract flavor without ruining it—brings cocktails to a whole other level,” she shared. “With bars and kitchens working closer together, I think the people on both sides are learning that these two components of the restaurant business are more alike than they thought.
“A better culture in the restaurant, one that includes collaboration between bar and kitchen, means better cocktails.”
Another trend to look out for this holiday season: a movement back to the basics.
“There is a reigning influence of classic cocktails,” said Clarke. “Going back to the foundation is never a bad idea.”
Equipping Your Bar for the Holidays
Whether you’re enjoying a hot toddy after a cold and snowy day, or need to make sure alcohol is on hand to deal with the in-laws over Christmas dinner, your holiday bar should reflect the type of party or celebration you are planning.
“When I think of fall, winter, and the holidays,” Clarke said, “I think of warmth and notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, apple, dark cherry, and real cranberries. Base spirits like whiskeys and dark rums fit the season well.”
Our tasting yielded every millennial’s dream: a delicious pumpkin spice cocktail titled Autumn Solstice. Log Cabin was a light, frothy chai tea cocktail that incorporated rye and chocolate bitters.
But when it comes down to keeping the libations flowing at your holiday get together, you may want to keep things simple.
“It depends on how involved you want to be in the crafting of each drink. Most people prefer an option like the Crafted Cocktails mixes where your guests can mix just about any type of alcohol.”
If you’re committed to impressing your guests with your newly acquired mixology expertise, making flavored syrups—like the lime and ginger infused syrup Clarke used in her signature The Mule and the Shrub cocktail—and providing big clear ice cubes, citrus garnishes, peelers, and soda water, your setup will look like that of a professional bar.
For New Year’s Eve, don’t forget your champagne cocktails.
“You don’t have to wait for New Years, either,” Clarke shared. “I love champagne cocktails for just about any occasion.”
We do too, Clarke. We do too.
- .5 oz pumpkin spice syrup
- .5 oz chai tea syrup
- .75 oz Fino sherry
- 1.5 oz Michter’s rye
*Garnish: pumpkin spice sugar blend rim
Chill double old fashioned glass.
Coat outside of rim with pumpkin spice sugar blend about 1 inch down the side of the glass. Place 2-inch ice cube in glass.
Whip all ingredients in cocktail shaker. Strain into prepped glass. Serve.
Move Over Manhattan
- 5 oz Drambuie
- 1.5 oz Michter’s US-1 Original Sour Mash
- 1 oz VSOP Cognac
*Garnish: orange twist
Stir all ingredients with ice in mixing glass.
Double strain up into chilled coupe or martini glass.
Express oils from twist over top of drink.
- .5 oz lemon juice
- 1.5 oz brandy
- 1 oz Rhum agricole
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- 2 oz sparkling apple cider
*Garnish: cinnamon sugar apple slice
In cocktail shaker, combine all ingredients except sparkling cider.
Whip, then strain, over crushed or regular ice in Collins glass.
Fill to top with sparkling apple cider.
Garnish with cinnamon sugar apple slices.
- .5 oz Crafted Cocktails’ Pear Shrub
- .75 oz Fino sherry
- 1 oz Brooklyn Gin
- 4 oz prosecco
*Garnish: Lemon verbena plume or caramelized lemon twist
In cocktail shaker add pear shrub, sherry, and gin. Shake and
strain into champagne flute. Top with prosecco.
Place verbena plume into top of glass OR release oils from
twist through flame over top of flute.
The Mule & The Shrub
- .5 oz Crafted Cocktails’ Ginger Shrub
- .75 oz ginger lime syrup
- 2 oz gin
- 4 oz soda water
- 2 drops Angostura bitters
- 5 mint leaves
*Garnish: mint plume
In shaker add shrub, ginger lime syrup, gin.
Clap mint leaves in hand and add to shaker.
Add small amount of ice and whip.
In Collins glass or mule mug, fill with ice and prime bottom of glass with 2 ounces soda water. Strain ingredients from shaker over ice and soda, add more soda, bitters and mint plume for garnish.
- .5 oz Carpano Bianco Vermouth
- .75 oz Yellow Chartreuse
- .75 oz Sipsmith Gin
- 1 oz St. George Pear Brandy
- lemon oils
*Garnish: lemon twist
In mixing glass add all ingredients with ice. Express oils from a lemon twist into mixing glass and discard. Strain all ingredients into martini glass or coupe.
Garnish with lemon twist.
Between the Knees
- 3 Agrimontana Amarene Candied Sour Cherries coated in their syrup
- 1 thin sliced wheel orange with pith and rind removed
- 2 dashes The Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters
- 3 dashes The Bitter Truth Orange Bitters
- .5 demerera simple syrup
- 2 oz Casamigos Anejo Tequila
*Garnish: cherry and orange twist
In mixing glass muddle cherries, orange, and simple syrup. Add tequila and bitters and ice and stir until chilled. Strain over 2-inch cube into rocks glass.
Release oils from twist and place twist inside glass.
- .5 oz cinnamon syrup
- .5 oz Michter’s rye
- .5 oz Basil Hayden’s bourbon
- .5 oz Fino sherry
- 1 oz Dos Maderas 5+3 rum
- 1 oz house-made squash puree
*Garnish: crispy sage. allspice and sugar rim.
Prep glass by chilling. Coat outside of rim 1 inch down with allspice and sugar mixture.
Combine all ingredients in cocktail shaker with a few ice cubes and whip. Strain over ice into Collins glass.
Garnish with crispy sage leaves.
- 1 oz chai tea syrup
- 1.5 oz Michter’s rye
- 2 oz The Republic of Tea chai tea (hot)
- 2 oz foamed milk
- 2 dash The Bitter Truth Chocolate Bitters
*Garnish: cinnamon powder or stick.
Layer from top down into warm mug. Garnish.
Alice in Wonderland
- .25 oz rinse of Carpano Bianco Vermouth
- 3 oz olive oil rinsed vodka with rosemary infusion
*Garnish: oven roasted Castelveltrano olives, oven roasted rosemary, and garlic confit
Rinse mixing glass with .25 vermouth. Pour vodka in glass and stir over ice until chilled. Strain into chilled martini glass.
Garnish with roasted olive, rosemary, and garlic confit.