The 12 Drinks of Christmas – Eleventh Drink

Here we are on Christmas Eve with the penultimate drink on our list for this penultimate day of the Christmas season. I am pretty sure that the only reason people ever work through lists like this is for the opportunity to use penultimate correctly and I am contractual obligated to do so. I hope you will forgive the repetitiveness. I have a lot rituals that go with this day, most of which did not quite work out in Covid world. It is kind of hard to do some good for random strangers while actively avoiding contact with people as much as possible, but we were able to do some good and now it is time to relax and reflect a bit. So in that spirit, please join me for this eleventh of The 12 Drinks of Christmas. Sing along at home, if you like, because, “For the eleventh drink of Christmas, Uncle Monkey made for me, the Horwich Hall”.

I really like Christmas. I do. I know this does not make me special, at least in christianesque or secular or pagan cultures. The thing that I love even more than Christmas, is Christmas Eve. Seriously. Christmas Eve is all about potential. Tomorrow morning, in a flurry of activity, all of the presents will be opened, the mysteries will be solved, the magic revealed. Months of anticipation swept up with the discarded wrapping paper and tossed in the bin. The hopes and dreams of what Santa will bring will be replaced with reality and the bittersweet truth that even when you get what you want, sometimes, desiring a thing is much more wonderful than having a thing. But, not tonight. Tonight there are still those boxes of mystery under the tree. The lights still twinkle in so many households. Tonight, friends and family gather to share the spirit of the season. This night, more than any other, is the true meaning of Christmas. The promise of tomorrow, dreams still to come, the giddy anticipation, the end of the season relaxation, after every gift is wrapped and the last cookie is baked. A quiet glass of something before the fire, with the lights on the tree for company.

I usually go out alone on Christmas Eve. Have for years. I’m not sure how or why this evolved into a mostly solitary day for me, but it has been this way for a while and the wife and kid humor me and my many idiosyncrasies. I do a little last minute shopping, try to spread a little cheer, help where I can, but mostly, I just watch people. It is the one day of the year I go to a mall, willingly. Not to shop, but to see the smiles on people’s faces, especially just before closing, when everyone is about to get to go home and begin their holiday. It is kind of like the end of Love Actually, if you take some time to stop and just watch people, you will see that love and kindness is all around. Maybe it is amplified by everyone subliminally realizing that this is the last “public” day of the season, savoring those last few moments of magic or maybe everyone is just trying to be extra good for Santa. Whatever, it is a lot of us are at our best on Christmas Eve and I love that.

This night is generally spent with our chosen family of dear friends, a group with it’s own quirky traditions, a lot of history and even more love. We enjoy mulled wine, eat all the fanciest cheeses, make all the jokes that we hope the kids don’t understand yet and generally just feel appreciative for this long life together. Baz Luhrmann was right, the older you get the more important it is to be around people who knew you when you were young. I miss that this year. Like so many of our traditions we have had to forego this year, it just doesn’t make sense to risk the ones we love most. Usually, as we make our way back home and I begin my late night ritual by listening to The Pogues classic, if troublesome, “Fairytale of New York“. Once I get home and everyone else is fast asleep, I sit up by the tree and watch Lawrence of Arabia. I don’t know why, I’ve done it so long I don’t even remember starting. Sometimes, I make it all the way through, sometimes I don’t, but for me it isn’t really Christmas until I see the single greatest film edit of all time. I often have a smoky scotch on a single rock while I watch. It may be hard to believe here 250+ days plus into our “Cocktails From Quarantine” but I rarely drink at home. I love to make them and I love great cocktails, but I have never been a big home drinker. Weird, I know, but tonight’s drink is different. I really enjoyed this one, so I will quit looking back and share it with you.

You know I have a thing for drinking teacup cocktails and this time, it actually makes sense. Not only is this an Earl Grey based cocktail, but it is actually served hot, so wins all the way around. The drink was created by Souther Teague of New York’s Amor y Amargo and was named after the Northumberland home of Prime Minister Charles, the Second Earl Grey, the guy they named the tea after. In addition to inspiring tea blends, he also authored the Great Reform act of 1833, which led to the current democratic form of government in the UK and the act which abolished slavery in 1834, so clearly the dude was busy.

This is, essentially, a built drink and the first step is to make Earl Grey tea syrup. This is super easy, especially here in the south. Basically you are going to make a cup of hot tea, with way too much sugar in it, or as my grandfather would have said, “a cup of hot tea.” You are going to have a few minutes here for quiet reflection as you make your tea syrup, so why not put on a little music? If I might be so bold as to suggest a selection, I would recommend Tim Minchin’s “White Wine in the Sun” a perfectly lovely Christmas song that I heard for the first time today. At first, I thought it was kind of jokey, but the more I listened the more I related and by the time I got around to “the people who’ll make you feel safe in this world” I was crying happy tears. I can’t believe I had never heard this song before today. I am still not sure why I didn’t write it. Though if I did , I would have probably made it clearer that while the family of people who “make you feel safe”, can be, it doesn’t have to be the one assigned to you at birth, you get to choose them. Anyway, now that you have your music going, put the kettle on and bring six ounces of water to almost a boil and then pop in a teaspoon of Earl Grey tea. I am fond of Twinings or Republic of Tea, but any quality tea will do. Let that steep for five minutes, before straining out the tea and then add 1/4 cup of sugar and stir. There you go, you now have enough earl grey syrup to make two drinks So, it’s do that.

In an exquisite, pre-warmed teacup, I chose an old favorite, the Lenox Montclair Presidential with Platinum trim, add 3 ounces of your hot earl grey tea syrup, 2 ounces of Cognac, I chose Hennessy; and 2-3 stabs of Regan’s Orange Bitters. Stir gently, preferably with a silver spoon and top with some freshly whipped heavy cream. Garnish with a dehydrated lemon and serve.

This is perfectly lovely all the way around. To be honest, it is really just a sweet cup of tea with a lovely cognac kick, but when it comes at you through that blanket of freshly whipped cream it goes from the ridiculous to the sublime and I just love it. This may be a perfect drink for Christmas Eve introspection. Curled up by the fire, sipping earl grey with a kick is a good way to end the day. Tomorrow, I fully intend to have a white wine in the sun with my family, but tonight, with the snow gently falling, the lights on the tree twinkling, I’m gonna raise my teacup to El Ahrens and be thankful for another beautiful Christmas Eve. Stay safe, stay hydrated and stay festive, my friends.