i stared at my friend, aaron, long and hard. i stared at him hoping that if i did so long enough, the 12-pack he held in his arms would disappear.
"dude," i croaked. "natty light?"
"it's got bubbles!" he proclaimed.
it was another bleak-looking new year's eve in omaha, neb. my visits home during winter breaks in college always started with so much promise, and ended with so many townies. i knew that i didn't want to end up at a local bar that night. i also knew that i wasn't going to drink frothy swill.
a second trip to the store, this one chaperoned by yours truly, led us to the liquor aisle of the dodge street albertson's. somewhere between the end aisle display of christmas-themed smirnoff bottles and the champagne section, inspiration struck. i was going to make sure that this new year's eve would be memorable, at least drink-wise.
i started piling bottle after bottle into the grocery cart, summoning the memory of any and all wine-related concoctions i could.
"uh, are we opening our own bar?" aaron asked.
i held my hand up to his face, silencing him immediately. he had already created enough havoc.
finally back at his apartment, i assembled the bottles and ingredients in his kitchen and went to work. one by one, guests arrived, and i slaved away over improvised cocktail recipes. every guest had a custom-made concoction-and a wide smile. my work was being appreciated.
by 3 a.m., the last of the stragglers had shuffled out and aaron and i sat, exhausted on his couch, sipping a nightcap we invented called "the neon classic."
"good work, hombre."
i simply nodded a silent response and downed my bright green drink. the new year was already looking full of promise, hope and, above all else, booze.
looking to add a little zip to the usual list of hackneyed holiday beverages? consider the following unusual cocktails:
champagne cocktail: start with a chilled champagne flute. drop a single sugar cube in the bottom of the glass. pour two drops of bitters onto the cube and let it soak into the sugar for a few seconds. my favorite type of bitters to use for this is the new orleans-born peychaud bitters. they are bright red and have a flavor unlike anything else. if you can't find peychaud, angostura bitters will also work. after soaking, fill the flute up to the top with sparkling wine. it is entirely unnecessary to use actual champagne for this. cava or prosecco will do nicely.
mulled wine: in a piece of cheesecloth, add 12 cloves, four cinnamon sticks and the zest of one orange. tie the cheesecloth tightly with butcher's twine. in a medium saucepan, add a magnum of medium-bodied red wine (zinfandel is perfect for this recipe, actually) and a cup of ruby port. add the sachet of spices and heat over a medium flame. do not let the wine come to a boil. let the wine steep for 30 minutes then turn the heat down to the lowest setting possible. ladle servings into mugs and shave fresh nutmeg on top.
french 75: fill a highball glass up to the top with ice. also, fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add a two-count pour of gin (don't be cheap-it's the holidays), a teaspoon of superfine sugar and a one-count pour of lemon juice. give it a couple good shakes, but don't bruise the hell out of it. strain the mixture into the glass, halfway. fill the rest of the glass with sparkling wine. garnish with a lemon twist.
the neon classic: fill a plastic cup (washed or unwashed; it's the end of the night and you're already drunk, so it doesn't matter) up to the top with ice. pour in equal parts cheap gin and mountain dew. drink quickly. take four aspirin with a tall glass of cold water and pass out in front of the television.
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