There’s more to holiday imbibing than a festive table decked with eggnog and mulled cider — more than stockings hung with care and stuffed with mini bottles. It’s time to cheers to the old and celebrate the new. So why should the drink in your hand be relegated to the blasé?
“Presentation is very important,” says Wild Common general manager Simon Stilwell. “If all you’re afraid of is someone having to do a little extra work, that shouldn’t stop you from doing it.”
Since September, Stilwell and his team have been putting in the extra work, curating a special 12 Cocktails of Christmas list that is available only through the month of December.
Using the restaurant’s regular cocktail menu as a guide — drinks are either ‘wild’ or ‘common’ — Stilwell and team decided to define their dozen cocktails as ‘naughty’ or ‘nice.’ While one may consider the naughtiest drinks the booziest, at Wild Common, the naughty drinks veer more untraditional (think tequila and tiki), and the nice drinks all boast some kind of adherence to theme (gingerbread and hot toddy).
With a background in organic chemistry, Stilwell is all about the process, the way certain spirits interact with citrus, chocolate, sweet, bitter. After he makes sure it tastes great, he makes sure it looks great, too. Here’s a rundown of the dozen drinks, with notes on how they came to be. We’ve starred our very favorites.
Gin ‘n’ Juniper*
Gin, pommes, juniper smoke
From The Aviary: Holiday Cocktails, this drink is made with a juniper branch smoked table-side on a wooden board. The glass is then placed on top of the smoke, capturing the rich, vegetal flavor. “We like the idea of smoke in a lot of beverages,” says Stilwell.
[image-3] Santa’s Summer House
Roasted pineapple, tiki spice, three rum blend
“The fun challenges of being here versus New York or Philly or D.C., the weather ping pongs around,” says Stilwell. “It’s actually more fun to cover this wide spectrum — I didn’t get pigeonholed, we can do fun stuff like tiki based cocktails and put fall spice in there.”
Marshmallow infused whiskey, vermouth, blended bitters
Served in a flask (don’t all the best carolers BYOB?) the Caroler’s Courage is a “play on a Manhattan,” says Stilwell. He notes, “if there was one drink that was moderately dangerous to produce…it was this one.” Let’s just say it involved liquor, marshmallows, and a blowtorch. Nailing the smoky, roasted-over-the-fire taste was worth it, though, says Stilwell.
Naughty & Nice
Tequila, pomegranate, lime, chili
Here, Stilwell leans into the Lowcountry’s oft-warm winter trend. Plus, “tequila is all the rage.”
The Coal Abides*
Vodka, hoodoo, cream, ‘coal’ ice cubes
A White Russian infused with a heavy dose of peppermint may sound like a saccharine disaster, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that this creative cocktail was one of our favorites. Served in a whiskey glass, the creamy liquid is poured over a chunk of black ice — coal. Activated charcoal gives it this extra naughty hue.
Praline Old Fashioned
Pecan praline infused rye, orange, bitters
Another twist on a classic, the pecan praline reminds you that this is, in fact, a holiday concoction.
Pumpkin Spiked Latte
House-made coffee vodka, fall spices, milk syrup
Stilwell wasn’t kidding when he said presentation is key. For this riff on a Starbucks PSL, Stilwell ordered plastic cups that resemble the ubiquitous Sbux vessels. Instead of boxes for decaf or regular, milk or no milk, the little squares feature each of Easton Porter’s properties — as on-brand as it gets. To make the drink, Stilwell went straight to the source, infusing vodka with Starbucks coffee and fortifying it with Cathead Distillery’s hoodoo chicory liqueur. [image-4]
Mexican Spiced Chocolate
Tequila, cacao, coconut water, spiced maple
“This Mexican spiced chocolate is going to flavors people expect around the holidays, but not presenting it as a hot chocolate,” says Stilwell. While hot cocoa can be too sweet and rich, Stilwell’s chilled version has a good bit of spice, “to really wake you up” and dark, bitter chocolate to contrast the sweet, spiced maple.
Aged rum, ‘gingerbread,’ almond liqueur
Adorned with a candied piece of ginger(bread man), this cocktail is “more of a boozy forward sipper,” says Stilwell. The warming ginger and spice flavors make it nice, but this is perhaps the booziest of the bunch, so sip slowly.
Ramona Blood Orange, fruit, spices, and ginger
Stilwell is a big fan of Ramona canned wine — “I think cans are the direction a lot of wine and spirits are headed, it’s more economical to ship, cheaper to produce.” Plus, canned wine is now actually good. The mulled wine can be served hot or hold — be sure to hold onto it until you get to the bottom, where all the boozy fruit resides.
Hot (or cold) Toddy*
Whiskey, apple, Earl Gray Combier
Served in a tea kettle and teacup, Wild Common’s toddy can be enjoyed hot or cold. It’s less sweet than a typical toddy, and the Earl Gray adds a nice touch of citrus. The tea kettle doubles down on the proper theme, plus, “it’s just fun,” says Stilwell.
Vodka, preserved cranberry, lime, soda
The Poinsettia, an easy-sipper reminiscent of a Bramble Smash, is perhaps Wild Common’s most Christmas-y looking cocktail, decorated with a spear of candied cranberries and sprig of mint. “Everything you do in a restaurant … you’re seeing and smelling before tasting,” says Stilwell. “It’s fascinating to me how chefs take a lot of time constructing a dish, but so few bars think about the whole experience. The real difference is the presentation.”