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Greensboro’s Ten Best holiday drinks…

by Brian Clarey

Clarey’s holiday favorite

Everybody who knows me knows I like the sauce’… and I’m not talking Bernaisse here. And the holidays are a great excuse to bend the elbow. I try to stay away from spirits these days, but when I was a younger man and not as prone to holes in my stomach this was my favorite holiday drink: pour a cup of coffee and add to it a nice shot of Bailey’s and another of anisette (Sambuca or Ouzo will also do nicely). It’s got the bite of coffee, the smoothness of the Irish cream and a subtle licorice flavor that makes your belly warm. It doesn’t really need whipped cream, but what the hell’… it’s Christmas.

Green Valley Grill

622 Green Valley Road.; 336.854.2015

The restaurant’s wine director Julia Schiavone says that Green Valley Grill is offering a flight of four sparkling wines to celebrate the holidays. ‘“Bubbly is always festive this time of year,’” she says. They’re pouring a French Champagne, Perrier Jouet, an Italian Prosecco, Casal Nova, Segura Viudas, a cava from Spain, and a domestic sparkling wine, Mumm Cuvee Napa. The bubbles will tickle your nose.

Red Oak Brewery

714 Francis King St.; 336.299.3649

Eggnog is for children and sissies. And for some, wine is just a little too’… precious. Regular people drink beer, and the Red Oak Brewery knows this fact well. For the holidays they’ve brewed Blackbeard Bock, a traditional Bavarian double bock lager with notes of roasted malt and a deep brown color. But be warned: with 8 percent alcohol content this is not for beginners and they enforce a three pint limit.

Brandy Alexander

I discovered this classic cocktail during Mardi Gras 1989 when after five days of constant drinking the beer was giving me heartburn bad enough to bring me to my knees. Back then we made them with brandy, dark crème de cacao and milk shaken lightly and sprinkled with a bit of nutmeg on top. This was before Godiva chocolate liqueur was introduced, which is what I use to make them now, and I still like them with a little extra brandy, which can take the edge off of a cold night.

Carolina Coffee

400 State St.; 336.333.9557

Booze is not for everybody, but everybody should be able to have a liquid treat at holiday time. At Carolina Coffee proprietor Robert Hedrick says he’s mixing up eggnog latte this season and also hot cider with cinnamon, caramel and dark brown sugar. ‘“We only use real apple cider,’” he says, ‘“the stuff that’s been pasteurized.’”

Ramos Gin Fizz

This one’s a classic from the days when a cocktail was a work of art, invented in New Orleans way back in the 1880s and brought to my attention by the best bartender in town, Atom Scott, a Crescent City expatriate now working at Café Giovanni on the Jamestown border, when he reminded me that I used to drink them at the Pontchartrain Hotel. It’s a mixture of gin, sugar, lemon and lime juice, cream, soda water and egg whites with just a few drops of orange flower water. They are awesome, and probably illegal in North Carolina because of the raw egg.

Hemingway’s Downtown

213 S. Elm St.; 336.275.6367

I was honored when Jeff Schleuning, owner of Hemingway’s Downtown, asked me to help name his holiday drink specials. One, a concoction based on vodka infused with peppermint candy, was easy ‘— I took a taste and immediately dubbed it the ‘Candy Striper.’ The other, utilizing vodka and chocolate mint candy, was a little tougher but I believe we left it at ‘Dirty Santa.’

B&B

Ooh, do I love Benedictine and brandy. Benedictine liqueur was first crafted in 1510 by monks who lived under the patronage of the Duke of Normandy. The modern version is made with 27 herbs and spices, including hyssop, melissa, cinnamon, tea, thyme, coriander and nutmeg. Brandy, also French, is just good brown booze. Put them together and you’ve got a warm fuzzy right in the pit of your stomach, though once I put them together and totaled my mother’s car, but that’s a story for another day.

Solaris

125 Summit Ave.; 336.378.0198

YES! Weekly graphic designer Lisa Ellisor, who tends bar at Solaris, made my wife a Red Hot Martini the other night that was very well received. Lisa says she used vanilla vodka and cinnamon schnapps, chilled like only a professional drinkmaker can do, and strained into the classic glass with a red hot candy melting at the bottom as a garnish. I don’t drink sweet stuff like that, but it made my wife very giggly.

Poinsettia

Yeah, yeah’… I know a poinsettia is the red flowering plant that old ladies like to give each other at Christmas, but it’s also a drink that old ladies like to guzzle come holiday time. It’s a variation on a mimosa: start with a nice Champagne flute and fill it with some bubbly ‘— you don’t need to bust out a bottle of Dom Perignon or Cristal for this one; the cheap stuff will do. Then add cranberry juice to color and flavor. When I worked behind the bar I would garnish these with an orange peel twist (which, you should know, is very different from an orange wedge). And I wouldn’t serve the grannies more than two of them lest they start whipping out pics of the grandkids.

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