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Natural Awakenings National

Holiday Cheer: Special Drinks Help Make a Party Memorable

Oct 31, 2012 12:13PM ● By Judith Fertig

This year, glasses of choice holiday cheer might help everyone feel jollier the morning after, as well as during festive gettogethers. As party hosts or guests, we can stock or bring gluten-free beverages and organic spirits, wines, mixers and cocktails that avoid sugary syrups to help keep our “fa-la-la” spirit going stronger and longer.

Leave it to award-winning author A.J. Rathbun, a Seattle-based wine and spirits expert, to steer us away from ingredients that can turn naughty on those that are nice. He leads us off with some of his favorite beverages.

Organic Spirits

In the category of organic spirits, Rathbun likes Square One organic vodka, Casa Noble tequila and Juniper gin. “Also, if you can find their products,” he advises, “great organic and sustainably made spirit-makers from the state of Washington include Bainbridge Organic Distillery, Side Track Distillery, Sound Spirits and the Woodinville Whiskey Company.”

Organic Wines and Bubbly

“Much like spirits,” Rathbun says, “you may have to do some research on wines and sparkling wines, and then find the finest organic options in your area.” Some good choices for organic wines include Nuova Cappelletta, from Italy’s Piedmont region and Snoqualmie wines from Washington State. Also, the Organic Wine Company of San Francisco imports a variety of organically produced French Languedoc wines. For a sparkling wine, Rathbun suggests La Cantina Pizzolato’s prosecco, produced in Italy’s Vento region.

Organic and Low-Sugar Mixers

Keeping the artificial ingredients to a minimum in mixers is important, too. “I strongly suggest Rachel’s Ginger Beer,” says Rathbun. “It’s not sugar-free, but is organic and gluten-free. Also, FeverTree mixers (tonic water, bitter lemon, ginger ale and ginger beer) are all natural—again, not all sugar free—and amazing. Organic or fresh-squeezed fruit juices also make good mixers. Monin has a sugar-free pomegranate syrup that can substitute for grenadine.”

Gluten-Free Spirits, Wine and Beer

Rathbun found that small-batch distillers that use local and organic ingredients assure customers that they’re getting the real thing, with no unwanted extras. Koval, in Chicago, for instance, offers a naturally gluten-free millet whiskey that’s distilled from organic grain, and then aged in oak barrels made in Minnesota, deemed free of even trace amounts of gluten.

Other gluten-free alcoholic beverages can include wines, vodka, tequila, brandy, bourbon and scotch. By contacting the maker or company directly, gluten-free fans can find out more about their beverage of choice. Captain Morgan’s spiced rum, for example, which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau permit to be designated as glutenfree, is not labeled as such on the bottle.

Musician Dave Matthews’ Dreaming Tree wines of Sonoma County, California, tout lighter bottles for a smaller carbon footprint, labels made of 100 percent recycled paper and sustainably grown corks. He recently partnered with The Wilderness Society.

Gluten-free beers are appropriately labeled and include Sapporo, a Japanese beer brewed from rice; Green’s, a British beer made from a blend of sorghum, buckwheat, millet and brown rice; and O’Brien’s, an Australian beer using a blend of sorghum, millet and rice. Gluten-free beer lovers can also check locally for micro-brewed options.

Crafting a Holiday Cocktail

Signature cocktails have become a holiday specialty of Andrea Currie, who recently appeared on the Discovery Channel’s Craft Wars. “A cocktail is kind of like a dessert,” says the San Diego, California, creativity specialist. “You don’t have one every day, and when you do have one, you want it to be really, really good.” Moreover, she adds, “When you make cocktails by hand, you get to control the ingredients.”

Currie blogs and crafts at, with her husband, Cliff. His becoming gluten-free three years ago prompted her to develop her gluten-free Mistletoe Mojito, using rum distilled from sugar cane, rather than grain. Pear juice, fresh strawberries and mint combine for a fresh-tasting and festive concoction.

Signature cocktails can build excitement for holiday get-togethers, notes Rathbun. “Plan on serving only two or three signature drinks, plus having wine, beer and a nice non-alcoholic option,” he suggests. “If you start mentioning these drinks on the invitations to whet people’s appetites, you give your celebration more personality from the get-go and help ensure a memorable holiday party.”

Award-winning cookbook author Judith Fertig blogs at




“The best, and most simple, way to have better cocktails is to use fresh juice,” says author A.J. Rathbun. This recipe is adapted from his Champagne Cocktails.

Yields 4 servings

6 oz (4 jiggers) white grape juice, preferably organic
Chilled prosecco, preferably organic
Frozen green or red grapes, preferably organic

1. Pour 1½ oz (1 jigger) of the grape juice into each of four flute glasses.

2. Fill glasses almost to the top with prosecco. Carefully drop one or two grapes into each glass and serve.

Variation: Change the white grape juice to strawberry juice or strawberry purée and garnish with a fresh (not frozen) strawberry instead of a grape, to transform this into a Rossini.

Gluten-Free Mistletoe Mojitos

Andrea Currie developed this signature holiday cocktail for gluten-free celebrants. Currie recommends using natural pear juice, found bottled at health food markets.

Yields 2 servings

3 large mint leaves
2 fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
3 oz (two jiggers) spiced rum
4 oz (½ cup) pear juice or nectar
Ice for cocktail glasses
Splash of carbonated lemon-lime beverage
Slices of fresh pear and mint sprigs for garnish

1. In a cocktail shaker, muddle the mint and strawberries with rum, using a wooden muddler or a wooden spoon.

2. Add the pear juice and shake.

3. Pour into cocktail glasses filled with ice and add a splash of carbonated lemon-lime beverage.

Organic Royale

Chicago’s Koval distillery advises that if kobuso juice, made from a Japanese citrus, isn’t available, just squeeze in a little fresh lemon juice to taste.

Yields 1 serving

4 oz chilled organic hard cider
½ oz chilled Koval Organic Chrysanthemum-Honey Liqueur
½ oz chilled Yakami Orchard Single Orchard Kobuso Juice
5 drops bitters

1. In a chilled champagne flute, combine the chilled chrysanthemum-honey liqueur and the chilled kobuso juice, then top if off with hard cider.

2. Add drops of some favorite bitters.

3. Stir and serve.

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