Every year, it surprises me. It really shouldn’t, but Christmas is sneaky. You’d think Thanksgiving would alert me. Or the overnight eruption of evergreen and twinkles in every public place. Or the annual resurrection of Michael Bublé. But no — my psyche is stubborn, and it refuses to entertain thoughts of trees, stockings, presents, or awkward dinners with the in-laws until the very last minute. I’m certain it’s pathological. Even as the Elf on the Shelf gets up to increasingly complicated (read: panicked, early morning) shenanigans, I go about my routine until, the weekend before the big event, I realize that I have shopped for no one, I have no idea what I’m cooking, and my liquor supply is scant. I need help.
So this year I turned to professionals who know how to plan for a holiday full of cheer, properly underpinned by good drink. If there’s a place in this town where a guy can get decent advice on how to survive the holidays with booze, it’s The Usual. Knowing that, of late, my Christmas cheer has come in the form of cheap grocery store wine purchased with the last dregs of my crippled bank account, I asked my favorite bartenders in town for advice about how to do it better.
My first problem is always how to handle Christmas Eve. Invariably, I’m coerced into an evening at an older relative’s church, where I’ll need to stay alert and engaged through the service before making polite, charming conversation with people I don’t know at all. Here, Brady Roberts has perfect advice. He buys his parents a bottle of good tequila — think Espolon Silver — from which he makes the family classic margaritas to sip alongside their tamales. Since he’s slinging the drinks, he doses himself with a couple of extra shots, just to ensure that he’s good and limber for that inevitable what-are-you-doing-with-your-life? conversation with his former youth minister.
Perhaps Christmas Eve won’t involve church this year. Perhaps your family adventure is contained to Christmas Day. In that case, I humbly submit that Jason Pollard has the plan for you. Jason spends the night before Christmas at Poag Mahone’s with his wife, drinking Coors Original and doing shots of Tullamore Dew. Since he accidentally proposed there on Christmas Eve a decade ago, it’s become their tradition. Let’s be clear. I’m not advocating that you impulse-buy yourself into marriage, but there are worse ways to ensure a Christmas-morning hangover than a few rounds of darts backed with yellow bellies and Irish whiskey.
Now, on to Christmas Day. For breakfast, I’ll be following Brad Cannon’s advice and pairing a snifter of good cognac — Pierre Ferrand 1840 should work — with Haystacks, that weird chow mein noodle-and-butterscotch cookie in every Southern Grandma’s repertoire. Following that, I’ll load Matthew Rager’s soon-to-be-famous concoction of Powers and Green Chartreuse into a flask. It should get me through the inevitable Trump/Brexit discussion that always hits right before dessert.
And since it wouldn’t do to show up for Christmas dinner empty-handed, I’ll also be paying homage to The Usual by bringing a batched half-gallon of Dave Wondrich’s Black Tea Punch to share. It’s an easy recipe: Dissolve a cup of demerara sugar muddled onto lemon peels into five cups of brewed tea, and add a cup of lemon juice followed by a bottle of cognac and a half-bottle of Jamaican rum. Over ice and topped with nutmeg, it’s sure to make my family forget for one more year that I’m really not all that good at Christmas.