Diamond in the Rough
Holiday Elixirs
By Nora Meany & Michael Abbott & Matt Hutaff & Annene
Dec 24, 2004

Nora Meany:
Being an Irish Catholic, when I think of holiday traditions I usually reference alcohol. Booze (and lots of it) is the celebratory crutch my family leans on to warm the heart, dull the senses and stomach a visit with the relatives.

But I like to "class it up" around the holidays, venturing from the pretentious imported light beer habit that I foster for eleven months out of the year. But where do I go from there? Champagne is expensive. Zima went out with the Regan administration. And any spirit-based mixed drink may lower my inhibitions to the point of seducing the mailroom intern at the office party.

And with the enforcement of ten digit zip codes, Beth doesn't need that extra hassle in her life.

But I digress...

Now, the knee-jerk answer to the question of traditional holiday libation is eggnog. Sure, it's a quintessential and festive seasonal drink. But I think I'll be indulging enough without downing a cocktail that is the caloric equal of a Big Mac. Also, call me a wet blanket but I think that holiday drinks shouldn't carry the risk of salmonella poisoning. Which is why I invite you to think outside the box to reintroduce an old favorite.

Mulled wine.

Mulled wine has been around since the English were the dominant world authority, and conveys that same feeling of classical, tasteful power. The drink is defined as red wine that has been treated with heat and seasoned. Adding to the fun, one can prepare mulled wine in advance and serve it communally in a large punch bowl. How fun is that? Dunk some apples in there, and you can multi-task your holiday drink from Halloween until Valentine's Day!

Take into consideration the historical health benefits associated with mulled wine. Back in the middle ages, the drink was believed to bestow rich health all season for those who partook. Granted, naysayers would point out that medical practices of the time also dictated that a cure for the humors was a good bleeding at the onset of sickness... But don't let that sway your reasoning. After all, I'd rather place my faith in good old-fashioned alcohol rather than "rest," "liquids" and "vitamin C."

And culturally, mulled wine has had its finger on the pulse since Capra invented the holiday family tearjerker. Remember Clarence's drink request to Nick the bartender? It was mulled wine, "... heavy on the cinnamon, easy on the cloves... "

Sure, it's not sexy. The Desperate Housewives won't wrap their mouths around them this season, I can guarantee that. But how many families do you know that equate this season with being chic? Let's face facts. Santa is an overweight spokesman that takes attention away from overbearing, right wing religious overtones. America doesn't need its fancy, big city, insert name of hip martini-esque drink craze libations! We need calm. We need reassurance. We need cinnamon sticks.

So at a time like this, when families are pushing each other's buttons, mulled wine makes the argument that we shouldn't be pushing the style envelope...

Michael Abbott:

The holiday season has somehow snuck up upon us once again, and I don't know about you, but I could use a drink.

After dealing with last minute shopping that takes half a day and those "quick" three hour trips back and forth to LAX to drop off and pick up friends and family, not just any Christmas spirit will do a holiday maddened Angelino justice.

So why not put those frequent drinking miles to work for you by sending your blood alcohol level out of this country in honor of Tokyo, the one mega city that has perverted this holiday the best by focusing on the Capitalism in Christmas.

I came across the Tokyo Tea through a small collective of established actors, filmmakers and musicians with an obsession for Star Wars known only amongst each other as "The Council." On a recent Sunday night of jazz at Guy's on Beverly Boulevard, I couldn't help but notice the festive neon green color of the spirit in each of their hands and the potent effect of it on their demeanor after a mere single serving. I had to inquire about the name of this supposed "Council Drink" and try it myself; I do consider myself a Jedi of sorts after all.

As I stepped up to the bar alongside one such notable actor/Councilmember, known only as "Solo," the bartender smiled in acknowledgment as Solo raised two fingers to order what tonight's regular drink slinger knew was to be concocted. "Be careful young Jedi, these are deadly. They look great, taste even better and will fuck you up big time," Solo tells me. And he's right.

A Tokyo Tea packs more intergalactic elixirs in a glass than Santa can carry presents in his bag. Although its origins are more stateside than eastern cultured, as a knock off of the infamous Long Island Iced Tea, this green hued holiday stress reliever finds itself to be a much more satisfying journey than its predecessor, although as equally a dangerous one. The recipe goes like this:

1 part Vodka
1 part Tequila
1 part Rum
1 part Gin
1 part Triple Sec
2 parts Sweet and Sour Mix
1 part Melon Liqueur (Midori)

Mix these mind altering vices together over ice in a glass. Pour into a shaker and give a few brisk shakes. Pour back your new found holiday friend into the glass, garnish with lemon, and have a happy holiday.

After two back to back Tokyo Teas, and some good old Holiday Spirited fun with the Council, I began to find my Jedi skills leaning towards the dark side of the force. Solo was right, the Tokyo Tea can certainly ring in the New Year with one hell of a Bonzai. One thing's for sure, after two trips to overseas this festive season, leave your keys in your pocket and take the rickshaw home.

Matt Hutaff:
My friend lay in his driveway, unwilling to move, reeking of stale beer and vomit. He was a drunken mess, and I had just spent ten minutes trying to pour him into bed. No luck... and my patience was gone.

I took his car keys and headed for home, leaving my friend shivering and gurgling on the cold pavement in front of his house. I cared not. He had tempted Fate by mocking the power of the Brass Monkey, and he was paying for his insolence.

The Brass Monkey is not a drink for the cultured or the refined. It is the unholy alliance of malt liquor and orange juice and is brewed at the curb of convenience stores around the world. To those looking to get drunk fast, there's nothing quite like pounding 40 ounces of Olde English mixed with imitation Tang. It's the low-grade ambrosia and nectar of the Ghetto Gods.

Treated with the respect and dignity it deserves, Brass Monkey bestows a great buzz with a surprisingly pleasant aftertaste. The orange juice somehow annihilates the noxious flavor of malt liquor, leaving you with something akin to a mimosa on crack. It also improves your street cred to hoist your drink of choice in a brown paper bag. Looking like a hobo has never been so hip.

Scoff at its powers, though, and you're in for a world of hurt. Brass Monkey gravitates towards people who want to relax and spend a laid-back afternoon with friends. It does not enjoy the company of obsessive-compulsive asses who bitch and moan about some shadowy Internet girlfriend or the girls at a backyard party or the snack selection or a host of other things no sane person wants to hear about.

So while I sat at a house I'd never been to, surrounded by people I had never met, Brass Monkey shone down its benevolence upon me. It graced me with a smile and a buzz; its generous size kept me from fighting for alcohol with the other partygoers. Conversely, my friend, eager as a lapdog to impress those around him, proceeded to incur Brass Monkey's wrath by reaching for beer. Brass Monkey made him pass out, made him lose control of his bowels and made him a laughingstock. And to prove there is no karma in hanging out with obnoxious jerks, Brass Monkey bade me drive him home... but then blessed me with blissful, hangover-free slumber that night as reward for my devotion.

There are those who sip wine and wonder if the bouquet is almond or chestnut. To that I shrug and ask — what is a beverage without its soul? Brass Monkey has love for all. Experience that love this Christmas.

My favorite New Year's Eve cocktail? Cognac and Ritalin.

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