It’s crazy out there. Possibly you have not quite been in the Holiday spirit to this point, but you are there now. And even if you have been in the spirit, this is the time when it does not get old. It gets nice. Or naughty. Or both – lucky you.

Special holidays, like Christmas, or the “holiday season” (choose your preference), require special responses from the liquor cabinet. Oh sure, you could just go the champagne route, and there’s no down-side there. You’ve put much emphasis on getting the home in order and decorated, then you’ve actually spent a few bucks on presents for friends. Maybe you’ve even splurged a little on yourself. Good for you.

So let’s add a little holiday cheer to the drinks’ selection. Your drinks need to not only taste good; they also must look good. Let the party begin even before the lips touch the glass.

(By the way, in case you missed them, over the past few weeks, previous Happy Hour columns have featured egg nog, hot toddies and champagne/sparkling wines, all pertinent to this time of year.)

Brandy Alexander is a cocktail suitable for any time, but right now it seems a particularly appropriate drink. It’s a smooth, creamy mouthful of refreshment, not too sweet and taking full advantage of its main ingredient, cognac. Many folks do not like cognac straight up, yet I don’t know anyone who does not appreciate a well-made Brandy Alexander.

Brandy Alexander

2/3 oz. cognac (you may want to try the new Pierre-Ferrand 1840, which is perfect for cocktails)
2/3 oz. crème de cacao, dark
2/3 oz. fresh cream
1 pinch nutmeg

Shake ingredients, with ice, in a cocktail shaker. Strain and pour into a chilled cocktail glass. Sprinkle nutmeg onto the drink.

I’m not an appreciator (such a word?) of martinis. Maybe you could just drink the vodka or the gin right out of the bottle and not fool with the shaking, etc. As you can tell, I just don’t “get it.”

But if you have folks that are not resolute about the specifics of how their martinis are made, or if you have some friends who would appreciate a bit of whimsy, this drink can be a lot of fun.

Candy Cane-tini

½ oz. peppermint schnapps
1 oz.  fine quality vodka
1        peppermint mini-candy cane

Shake schnapps and vodka with ice in a cocktail shaker. Strain into martini glass. Place the candy cane into the glass. The drink will turn slightly pink to light red and the flavor will be of the candy cane. Festive.

Sometimes when you arrive at a party or a holiday gathering, there is an aperitif served, just to get the party going. In this case, the drink is served in shot glasses, which “wets the whistle” and puts you in the holiday spirit. Literally.

Gingerbread Man

1 part    Bailey’s Irish Cream
1 part    Goldschläger
1 part    butterscotch schnapps
1 part    fine quality vodka

Combine all ingredients into a cocktail shaker. Add ice. Shake and strain, pouring into shot glass.

As you can see, most of these drinks were not just chosen for their seasonal qualities, but they are also no-fuss recipes with few components. Nothing slows a party down like waiting for a six-ingredient/eight-part drink to be prepared. Sometimes the guests start reaching for the beer. Here’s another really easy recipe:

The Snowflake

While the drink calls for anisette, which literally means “little anise,” you may want to substitute absinthe, which won’t be quite as sweet, and will pack just as much alcohol wallop.

1 oz   anisette (or absinthe)
1 oz   white rum
1 oz   extra-dry vermouth

Combine ingredients into cocktail shaker. Add ice, shake and strain into cocktail glass.

Thanks to www.drinknation.com for their wonderful line-up of Christmas and holiday drinks and recipes, including those featured above.

Should your holiday celebrations be afternoon affairs, or if you are seeking something early in the morning, I recommend to you my favorite morning drink, a change of pace from a really spicy Bloody Mary or a cold flute of champagne. Brandy milk punch is a terrific drink made to perfection here in New Orleans at a number of fine restaurants, including Brennan’s on Royal Street, and really not embraced in other cities. Don’t know why.

My friend Chris McMillian, mixologist and cocktail historian at Bar UnCommon on Common Street (get it?) over in the Renaissance Pere Marquette Hotel, brings us a recipe for this delightful concoction. Oh, and next time you see Chris, congratulate him on being named Bartender of the Year by New Orleans Magazine.

Brandy Milk Punch

1 ½ oz   fine quality Brandy
1 oz       simple syrup
½  bar spoon high-quality vanilla extract
2 oz       half-and-half
Grated nutmeg

Pour first four ingredients into a pint glass. Add ice and ingredients into shaker, top with glass and shake vigorously until well-mixed and frothy. Add cubed ice to rocks glass, strain contents of shaker over ice. Top with nutmeg to taste.

It’s a wonderful holiday season in New Orleans. We’ve already hosted the R&L New Orleans Bowl, and we await the Sugar Bowl, Saints’ Playoffs and BCS National Championship, with the beginning of Carnival and New Year’s celebrations thrown in, just because we can.

Wishing you and your loved ones a very Merry Christmas!