| Booze |

Holiday Cocktails

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The owners of a respected Vermont restaurant and wine bar visited T'afia last weekend to hold a holiday cocktail camp benefiting local charity Live It Big.

Sommelier Deirdre Heekin talked guests through the history of many of the spirits they sampled as chef Caleb Barber prepared each drink.

The pair stopped by the Monica Pope's place as part of a tour promoting Heekin's second book, Libation: A Bitter Alchemy.

To hear Heekin explain how she fell in love with cocktails and see a clip of several of the afternoon's drinks being mixed, click the video above.

Most of the recipes are simple. Several call for simple syrup, which is the glue in any cocktail, Heekin said. Make it by combining one part water with one part sugar (for example, one cup of each), stirred until the sugar dissolves. Honey or maple syrup aren't bad, either, she said.

Read on for the recipes.

The first two drinks were warm and rich, good for Saturday's crisp weather. Heekin suggested leaving them hot on the stove and spooning them out as guests arrive for a party (don't let the drinks boil, though; the alcohol will quickly steam off). Both were welcome offerings, the latter's spices hitting farther back in the mouth than the former.

The Hot Benefactor

Start with a hot punch glass holding 2 or 3 lumps of sugar. And 1/2 glass of hot water to dissolve the sugar, two parts dry red wine (in this case, a Texas Pinot Noir), and one part dark rum. Garnish with a slice of lemon.

Winter Sangaree

Start with a mixing glass of fine ice. And three dashes or so -- to taste, basically -- simple syrup. Pour in one small glass (two to three ounces) Port (a ruby port, in this case). Stir well, strain into tall glass, add lemon slices.

The next cocktail was a creation of Barber's, good before a meal or when suffering a sore throat. This was the most compelling mix on offer. Heekin had some history to offer on the Camparis of Turin and the Brancas of Milan, the namesake clans of the first two ingredients. The Fernet Branca is pungent, bitter; Heekin said it took her 10 years to appreciate it solo. Among its 30-odd spices and herbs are eucalyptus and mint, and they're evident in the drink. The taste shoots down the throat, then walks casually back up to the front of the mouth again. An amazing experience.

Doctor's Orders

Start with a rocks glass if served on rocks, otherwise use a cocktail or martini glass. Mix in one part Campari, one part Fernet Branca, 1/2 part gin and one part Vermouth. Add a slice of orange and bitters of your choice. Shake with ice, strain into glass.

The next drink was sweet, with a spreading spice and a pleasant finish. Heekin welcomes input on the name.

The Thin Vigil -- or -- The Priest's Necklace

Start with a mixing glass. Add two parts Vermouth, one part Amaro, a dash of Absinthe (go with Jade or St. Georges, she said), and two dashes simple syrup. Add a bit of ice to the glass, stir well and serve.

The next had the clearest feel of alcohol, lingering and sharp.

The Bonne Fete

Start with half a glass of ice. Add two dashes simple syrup, two parts gin, one part vermouth, two dashes orange bitters, and a dash of green Chartreuse. (Made by French monks who've taken a vow of silence, Chartreuse contains 150 herbs and spices. Or so says the mediator, who speaks on the monks' behalf.) Stir well, strain and serve.

Last were the two fresh-egg drinks, which Heekin wanted to cover without serving up standard eggnog. Both were a hit with the crowd. It's hard to beat the mix of warm cream and gut-warming booze on a cold night (or day, for that matter).

Jack Frost

Start by squeezing half a lemon into a mixing glass. Add one teaspoon sugar, a fresh egg, one pony (one ounce) fresh cream, and one drink apple whiskey (a "drink" is measured as "glug, glug, glug," Heekin said, smiling). Fill the glass with cracked ice and shake, then strain into high glass. Optional: Fill the remainder of the high glass with seltzer or club soda.

The Snowball

In a large glass, beat an egg well with some powdered sugar. Add eight ounces cold ginger ale or ginger beer and one pony brandy. Stir and serve.

The pair also made what they dubbed a "challenge" drink, after audience member Christy Hartman presented a home-aged bottle of honey-oat vodka, copied from a recipe on the Houston Chowhounds Web site, and asked that it be included in an experimental drink. Several audience members suggested the drink -- among the day's favorites, with a pleasant texture -- be named "Breakfast" or perhaps "Breakfat Joy." ("Honey, oats, eggs -- sounds like breakfast to me," one said). Its recipe follows:

Mix one part honey-oat vodka with ½ part apple whiskey, one pony cream, one raw egg and a teaspoon simple syrup. Add ice, shake, and serve, topped with grated nutmeg.

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