Brace yourselves, for we are entering that most challenging time of year, The Lusty Season.
 
While the end-of-the-year holidays, followed by New Year’s, bring about challenges and activities to people everywhere (and we New Orleanians are not exempt from the delights/madness brought on by this celebratory time), we will then face the excitement of Twelfth Night, which signals the beginning of Carnival season.
 
2011 brings us a particularly elongated season with Mardi Gras falling on March 8, which means we will experience just about the longest Carnival season our calendar allows, 90 days of balls, parties, parades and mayhem.
 
Then less than a week after Mardi Gras, the twin feast days of St. Patrick and St. Joseph will bring us more parades and more reasons to celebrate our, or somebody else’s, heritage.
 
Don’t say you weren’t warned. And I have not even touched on the continuing party that is April with all the grand festivals, highlighted by French Quarter, Spring Fiesta and Jazz Fest.
 
Gird yourself, and prepare to meet the onslaught head-on.
 
But first things first. Let’s enjoy what is immediately before us. Cooler weather and Christmas decorations mean close friends and warm destinations. Yes, that may include the Caribbean, but for most of us it means home entertaining, Réveillon dinners, trips to City Park or Lafreniere Park to enjoy the lights and maybe changing our usual drinking habits.
 
Heavier fare is in order here. For a few hardy souls, that may mean holiday eggnog. I treat that beverage a bit like I treat fruitcake: a little, very little, goes a long way. But a little is good and reminds us, sometimes, of good times gone by. For a few of us, it reminds us of our intolerance for lactose. Whatever works for you is fine.
 
The same may be said for milk punches. This particularly perfected-in-New Orleans drink is, to my taste, much better than the ‘nog experience. I think it’s because you can actually define the liquor in the drink: bourbon for some, brandy for others, and in any case, pure delight the morning after an evening of too much good cheer.
 
Then there’s the whole category of toddies, which were probably created in England, and those folks know a thing or two about cold, damp weather. Toddies are spicy creations, sharing in common the addition of hot water to make the whole affair smell of hearth and home, assuming your home was a colonial-style structure with nine fireplaces.
 
Let me now also encourage you to break out those heavy red wines I told you not to drink in August. This is the proper time for profound bordeaux, huge syrah and in-your-face cabernet sauvignons from Napa or Alexander Valley in Sonoma, Calif.
 
You may also wish, along with holiday dining fare, to pull the cork on those aged burgundies, or head off to the Land Down Under for a big gulp of Australian shiraz. All are higher in alcohol, and that tends to warm the body with the cold, wet wind coming down off the moor. OK, so we are lacking in moors around here, but that little detail should not lessen the enjoyment of full-size red wines in cold weather.   

An important point: Fine beverages enjoyed with good friends and family (your choice if both don’t really work for you) in warm surroundings is something that cannot be matched –– except when the Saints go to another Super Bowl, and now we are talking about off-the-chart good experiences.
 
Here are a few ideas that I hope will add to the pleasure of your holiday season.
 
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night. God bless us everyone.
 
Yes, I know I mixed classic literature with light literature, but ‘tis the season.
 
Frozen Bourbon Milk Punch
As served at Dickie Brennan’s Bourbon House and named by Tales of the Toddy as New Orleans Best Bourbon Milk Punch recipe
 

Makes 1½ quarts
 
4 cups milk
1 cup Buffalo Trace bourbon
1/4  cup vanilla extract
1/4  cup simple syrup
1 pint vanilla ice cream
Dash of nutmeg for garnish
 
Combine all ingredients, and blend for 8 seconds. Garnish each glass with freshly grated nutmeg.
 
 
Spiced Cajun Toddy
As created by Old New Orleans Rum
 

1 stick butter
2 cups brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon (ground)
½ tsp. nutmeg (ground)
Pinch cloves (ground)
Pinch salt
Few drops vanilla extract
1 ounce of Old New Orleans Cajun Spice Rum
 
Mix all ingredients except rum in a bowl into a paste. Refrigerate.
When ready to serve, place 2 tablespoons into a cup. Add a shot of Old New Orleans Cajun Spice Rum. Add boiling water and/or milk. Serve.
 
 
Hot Buttered Rum
Bit jazzier than the traditional version
 
1 tsp. brown sugar
2 ounces dark rum
Hot whole milk
1 tsp. butter
Freshly grated nutmeg
 
Place brown sugar in the bottom of a warmed Irish coffee glass or ceramic mug. Add a splash of hot milk; stir until sugar has dissolved. Pour in rum; fill the glass or mug with hot milk. Float butter on top, and sprinkle with nutmeg.
 
(Excerpted from drinkˊ-ol-o-gy, The Art and Science of the Cocktail, author James Waller, published by Stewart, Tabouri, and Chang, New York, 2003.)
 
Hot (Spiked) Chocolate
Definitely not a drink to share with the whole family, assuming your family includes children.
 
1 ounce brandy
½ ounce dark crème de cacao
Prepared hot chocolate
Whipped cream
Freshly grated nutmeg
 
Pour brandy and crème de cacao into a warmed Irish coffee glass or ceramic mug. Add hot chocolate, almost to brim, and stir. Top with a dollop of whipped cream, and sprinkle nutmeg on the cream.
 
(Excerpted from drinkˊ-ol-o-gy, The Art and Science of the Cocktail, author James Waller, published by Stewart, Tabouri, and Chang, New York, 2003.)
 
The Wine Show with Tim McNally is on hiatus until Jan. 8, when it will air from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on WIST-AM 690. Thereafter, it can be heard every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.