Spring gatherings are often about getting back out of the house, celebrating the earth’s fecundity, and looking forward to a bit more sun in the sky. Summer gatherings are often cookouts, celebrations of the great outdoors, and enjoying weather that’s tailor-made for food and fun. But as we get into the last few months of the year we run into a slew of gatherings that are often indoors, reflective, thankful for good harvests and loved ones, and where interesting cocktails dominate the post-dinner festivities.
As you might have noticed, I’m a bit of a whiskey drinker, and I tend to mix drinks with what I know and enjoy the best. Recently, a coworker asked me if I could highlight something a little bit outside of my usual whiskey-centered routine. Over the past few years wine cocktails have been slowly coming back into fashion, so it seems like a good time to uncork a nice vintage and turn it into something all dressed up for a good holiday party.
Let’s get a few things out of the way before we get too deep into this. First of all, I don’t have the same depth of knowledge of wines as I do whiskeys and beers. I know the basics, and I know what I like, and that’s been enough to get me through so far. With almost endless varieties and nuances, and a history that goes back over 8000 years, it’s almost foolish to try and go about learning everything about wine. Learn what works for you, and then experiment with the edges of that comfort zone. Secondly, when it comes to holiday gatherings, especially those with an enormous meal and a house packed full of guests, I like to keep my cocktails simple.
In 1933, the Waldorf Astoria hotel had a cocktail recipe book ready to hit the presses as soon as we got past that ridiculous Prohibition era of American history. In 1934, as their cocktail bar got back into full swing, The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book became one of the most important cocktail guides ever published in America, preserving over five hundred drink recipes that easily could have been lost during that embarrassing chapter of teetotalism.
Like many of us, I spent my 20s living carefree and fearlessly, heading out on adventures that I can now only look back on fondly. Just after the holidays in 2001 and into early 2002 I was in Manhattan. It was a strange time to be there – people were still nervous and unsure, and perhaps still a bit frightened, but the holiday season helped build a sense of citywide hope and celebration. On New Year’s Eve a friend and I hopped on a PATH train to Hoboken to buy some grain alcohol. Bad call, by the way. Though I’ve enjoyed the elevated, refined, cocktail treatment that moonshine has contemporarily, over 20 years ago it still occupied the “there’s really no reason you need this” shelf at the liquor store. We took the PATH back to the Village, and began our brown-bag walk from party to party.
Somewhere along the way we met two sisters, schoolteachers visiting from Kansas, and they decided to roll with us for the rest of the night. A little while later we met a rosy-cheeked biker from Wisconsin who had undertaken an incredibly dangerous solo run to enjoy winter in New York. He said he was staying in a hotel with a great bar, so we followed his lead. We ended up at the Waldorf Astoria. Underdressed hippie-punks who had already saddled up into a barstool, it was too late to back out. We drank a round, paid the exorbitant tab, and decided to move on to somewhere with drink prices that better aligned with our wallets.
The five of us walked a couple miles south and decided to try our luck at a Latin bar in the East Village. We accidentally crashed a private party, but nobody there seemed to mind – they waved us in, poured us some drinks, and invited us all out onto the dancefloor. We danced, laughed, and drank until about 3 in the morning, at which point we bid farewell to the folks we would never see again as we walked toward the train that would get us home. People come and go in the city. Businesses pop up and shut down. Traffic is incessant. With the constant buzz and evolution, city life can often feel episodic, untethered, moving from face to face and place to place. We seek out those new excitements, and we also seek out those consistent classics.
The Bishop is a classic cocktail—one first discussed in The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book—and as I have set foot in the Waldorf Astoria precisely once, I thought perhaps I’d share that story. Something that seeks a middle path between the excitement of the new and the reliability of the classics. I’ve always been a fan of the scenic route. As with many cocktails, we could spend all day talking about the variations, substitutions, and historical evolutions of The Bishop, but for the sake of tasting the past, let’s go ahead and mix one up similar to how the Waldorf would have 90 years ago.
3oz Bacardi rum
1oz dry red wine
1tsp simple syrup
1/2tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
Shake with ice until cold & serve in a wine glass
As it turns out, my wine glasses are rather large – so I went ahead and made a double.
Get your rum and wine into an ice-filled shaker
Add some nuance with simple syrup and fresh lime juice
Shake until it’s ice-cold and then strain into a wine glass
Garnish and enjoy
You now have a deliciously boozy wine with hints of citrus. It’s a simple cocktail to mix up, and it’s an excellent change of pace from your standard mixed drinks, or from your standard glass of red.
And now for a twist. One interesting thing about The Bishop is that the ingredients can be inverted into a party-worthy punch. Now, I’m not going to tell you how to live your life – if you feel like maintaining the 3-parts rum to 1-part wine ratio for your punch, go right ahead. Just make sure you have plenty of space for your guests to sleep over, because they’ll be at their limit pretty fast. But for the rest of us, grab a punchbowl and get ready for a unique and entertaining drink.
1 bottle dry red wine
6oz Jamaican rum
4 barspoons superfine sugar
Fresh juice from 1/2 lemon
1 sliced orange
Stir it up in a punchbowl or pitcher
Serve with or without ice, and get your party started
Some families spend the holidays running a 5k or playing flag football. If there’s anything I’m thankful for, it’s that my family spends every fall and winter holiday focused on food and drink. And thankfully for everyone, The Bishop is quick and simple enough that you can mix one up in a few minutes whenever you’re looking to sip on something a bit outside of the norm. From family gatherings, to work parties, to just relaxing by the fireplace, no holiday is complete until you have a good drink in your hand.