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Holiday Elixirs 2: Sparks, Sangria and Cider
By The Simon Editors
Dec 23, 2005

Time for our annual roundup of drinkin'!

Matt Hutaff: Sparks

I admit it — I'm no sophisticate with regards to alcohol. My formative drinking years involved coffee tables built entirely of Natty Light 12-packs and garbage can-brewed Jungle Juice. When The Simon enlisted me to talk about the perfect Christmas drink last year, my response was Olde English and Tang.

I still stand by that decision. Unlike fine wine, my bouquet has not mellowed one iota. True, I've sipped a variety of the better beverages — bourbon, brandy, a bottle of rum or two and some vino — but the white trash haze in the back of my brain eventually wins out. The drink I'd press into your hands at this year's holiday festivities? Sparks.

The only preparation needed is for your mind, because it's about to be blown. Sparks is that rare hybrid of Red Bull and low-grade malt liquor, all in one battery-shaped can. Feeling a little run down? Sparks picks you up and sets your head spinning at the same time. Itching to get toasted but buzz around your posh gathering like a hummingbird? Look no further — Sparks can do it all.

Dress it up with Riedel and be one of the true Cognoscenti. Half the people at my Christmas party did the same when they discovered Sparks was a featured beverage. These people are lawyers, intellectuals and movie moguls... but when push came to shove, they bypassed the chardonnay for a drink you'd be priviledged to find in the sleaziest liquor store.

Maybe they know something you don't. Throw some Sparks down your gullet and find out.


Joe Dungan: Olde English Wassail

When the editors of The Simon asked me to write up a little piece about my favorite holiday drink, my first thought was beer. (Actually, that's the same thought I have whenever anyone asks me any question.) I'd like to argue that beer is the best holiday drink because you don't have to wait until December to find it everywhere. But I figured this wasn't a very satisfactory answer.

So in the interest of something more seasonal, let's go with Olde English Wassail. Basically, it's apple cider with cinnamon cloves, orange slices, and lots of sugar. And maybe some other stuff. Couldn't tell ya'. Put it all in a big pot on the stove, boil it until the sugar dissolves, and let it simmer, for, uh, a long time. Serve hot in a mug with a shot of favorite hard stuff. It goes well with rum, bourbon, brandy, turpentine, or just about anything else you want to toss in to give your holiday season an extra dash of enjoyment.


Russell Brown: Annene's Sangria

Nothing says "happy New Years" to me better than a huge, steaming, overflowing vat of paella. For my birthday this year, I splurged and purchased a 35 person pan and special propane-powered grill that ensures the r ice will be equally heated all the way around. As has become a tradition, a group of my high school pals will gather this year to see if the paella has improved. I'm betting it has...

And so, to accompany the perfect New Years meal, must be the perfect New Years drink. Many people know sangria as simply red wine from a box and chopped fruit, the annoying stuff you're served at tapas bars that usually ends up as just a big chunk of pineapple sitting in a glass. There never seems to be enough booze, and you wind up trying to suck whatever alcohol you can, working around the fruit chunks to get to the sweet stuff.

But this past September (at my birthday paella feast) my friend Annene introduced me to a real sangria, and made me realize that it is the nectar of the gods. Arriving at my doorstep with mutliple bottles of liquor, she proceeded to measure out the ingredients, stirring it all like a sorceress. A dash of this, a dash of that, a wedge here, a wedge there — it was perfectly orchestrated. When complete, Annene warned me: It tastes great, but like any good mixed drink, it's dangerous.

Annene's sangria was spicy, like a hot night in Seville, but also refreshing, like an afternoon on the beach in Malaga. You could practically hear the shouts of the bullfight or the strains of the flamenco guitar as you sipped it down. The fruit was perfectly sliced into small chunks — large enough to be noticed, but not overwhelm, a sip of the beveridge itself. I finally understood what all this sangria talk had been about: This was the real thing.

As the evening went on, shouts and cries for more sangria were heard from the guests. We were all pleasantly drunk, the effect crept up you. For me, red wine generally produces an unhappy warmth, a clamminess, when you drink too much. But this sangria was the perfect high: You felt jolly, but not overwhelmed, hot but not feverish.

So at New Years, I will attempt to mix my own sangria. Annene's out of town, but I spied some of the ingredients she used. A dash of this brandy, a swig of that mixer, some fruit chopped into ever-so-small pieces. It's a learning process, but maybe this will be a new New Year's tradition: The quest for the perfect sangria.

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