The Simon Back Pages
Holiday Elixirs, Part IV
By The Simon Editors
Dec 24, 2007

Christmastime means family and holiday cheer. It also means drinking. Time for our annual survey of the beverages our staff will be imbibing this yuletide season.

Joe Dungan: Pomegranate-Champagne Punch 

Last year, I offered the half-assed idea of eggnog – with a shot of available spirits – as my brilliantly inventive contribution to “Holiday Elixirs.” This year, I figured I’d actually put some effort into it by coming up with something special that you might want to share with guests. Besides, according to this month’s Bon Appétit, the punch bowl is back. 

In the same issue of that magazine, the editors offer up a recipe for Pomegranate-Champagne Punch. I hope this makes up for last year’s “recipe.” I’ve paraphrased a little lest we all get sued for plagiarism: 

4 ounces of water

8 half-ounces of sugar

2 bottles brut champagne

3 half-cups white rum

5 quarter-cups of pomegranate juice

1 big-ass lemon, sliced thinner than Calista Flockhart

pomegranate seeds

mint leaves

1 ice bust of your favorite presidential candidate 

Boil water and sugar. Keep stirring until sugar dissolves, and cool until the liquid gets syrupy.  Combine rum, champagne, and pomegranate juice into the punch bowl. Put the ice block in. Pour enough syrup “to sweeten to taste.” Toss in lemon slices, pomegranate seeds, and mint leaves to add a dash of civility to a drink that, from the looks of things, is designed to do little more than get you stinking drunk. 

Sorry if that sounds weird or something, but I’m just telling you what’s in the magazine. Would you rather I have co-opted the bourbon & grapefruit juice recipe? (I’m not kidding. They have one for bourbon and grapefruit juice. I can’t think of any holiday when I’d drink that.)   

James H. Johnson: Abita Beer 

I recently moved back to New Orleans after a two-year, hurricane-inspired sabbatical, and among the joys of Louisiana living that I’d almost forgotten was the glorious surfeit of beer. Abita beer, specifically.

The brewery, located north of Lake Pontchartrain, bottles several standards, but to the locals, Abita’s real brilliance lies in its seasonals. The Abita Bock – bright, hoppy, and sheathed in a purple, green, and gold label – keeps your core warm during wet and frigid Mardi Gras parades, and summer is shaped by Abita Wheat, perfect for the, er, tail end of crawfish season. 

Folks often say that winter beers are too dark for their taste, too encumbering, too bitter, and, alas, the Abita Christmas Ale may be the overlooked seasonal, the Tiny Tim of Abita beers. Fortunately, Abita reconfigures the Christmas Ale’s recipe every year, and this year’s is thrilling.  

It is a dark ale, so the first sip has a bitterness to it, a slight depth. But then, slowly, a touch of berry flavor rises, until a bright fruitiness drives to the fore. The flavors almost seem paradoxical at first, but they intensify and intermingle as the bottle gradually empties. Like a wine, the last sip is informed by the first and all those in between – the later, warmer draws are bright and enlightened compared to that first, wintry sip. Bold, fragrant, and suddenly boisterous: it’s like Santa slugged you right in the sass trap.  

Get it while (and if) you can, though. Mardi Gras and the Abita Bock are just around the corner. 

Dave Stinton: Pisco Sour 

My parents went to Peru last year and discovered pisco, a South American brandy.  It's the star ingredient in a pisco sour: blend it with lime juice and superfine sugar, plus egg whites for a frothy top.

Add a few dashes of bitters, and you have a deceptively powerful drink. Your first one will go down like citrusy-grape Kool-Aid but leave you barely able to stand. Your second one will look like three glasses side-by-side.  It will feel like it, too. 

But what do you do with all those leftover egg yolks?  Why not make a nice avgolemono, a tangy Greek sauce of yolks and lemon juice?  Toss it over pasta and vegetables. 

I have never eaten an avgolemono and washed it down with a pisco sour.  I imagine they'd be awful together.  But if the Peruvians and Greeks can set aside their animosity toward each other this Christmas, isn't that a lesson for us all?

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