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6 Holiday Cocktails to Get You in the Spirit


Photos by Kyle Bergman


High rye, high corn, wheaters, small batch, single barrel, cask strength. If you want to impress your friends this holiday season, you not only need to serve them an amazing cocktail, you need to drop some behind-the-scenes bourbon knowledge on them: For one, bourbon production is the most highly regulated spirit production in the world. It has to be made in the U.S., where its history dates back to the late 18th century.  (Bourbon was named after a county in Kentucky—where 97 percent of it is made.) Bourbon must be distilled from a grain mixture made of at least 51 percent corn, it can’t be stronger than 160 proof, and it must be aged in new oak barrels that have been charred on the inside. Oh, and another thing? It tastes out-of-this-world delicious with honey sage syrup and lemon juice.  

Bourbon Sage Sour     

Bourbon Sage Sour

2 oz. bourbon
.75 oz. lemon Juice
1 oz. honey sage syrup

Measure out ingredients into a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously, and strain into a rocks or lowball glass with fresh Ice. Garnish with a fresh Sage Leaf. And Enjoy

  • Sub Recipe for Honey Sage Syrup: Combine 1 cup of water and 1 cup of honey into a saucepan over medium heat. Stir to dissolve the honey and add 2-3 sage leaves. Cook over low heat for 5 minutes, cool and strain sage leaves out. Keep refrigerated for up to two weeks.


Aquavit, a spirit principally produced in Scandinavia, means “water for life” in Latin. Basically, it’s to the Scandinavians what gin is to others, a potato-based spirit infused with herbs and spices, including caraway, fennel, citrus, or dill—depending on whether you’re in Norway, Sweden, or Denmark. In the Nordic kitchen, aquavit pairs well with fish, sharp cheese, and heavy meat dishes. The theory is that the herbs and spices help you digest, while the higher alcohol content helps you break down rich food.  

Tattersall Aquavit and Tonic

Tattersall Aquavit & Tonic

2 oz. Tattersall Aquavit
.75 oz. Blue Henn Tonic Syrup
Soda water

Garnish with either citrus or favorite herb.

In a highball or Collins glass, fill with ice, aquavit, and tonic syrup. Add soda, stir, and garnish (my favorite is Thyme)

  • Blue Henn Tonic Syrup is a Minnesota Organic Product available at South Lyndale Liquors and other craft retail stores. It can be found in the non-alcoholic or mixers sections.


Described by whiskey expert Heather Greene as “big, bold, and spicy … a lot like spicy curry with hints of sweet,” rye whiskey was the most popular grain distilled by American farmers before Prohibition (George Washington was rumored to be a big fan). Minnesota is a significant producer of rye. If you want to support a local company, try the J. Carver Rye Whiskey—the grains are grown on nearby farms and the whiskey is produced at J. Carver Distillery in Waconia.

Apple Cranberry Sipper

Apple Cranberry Sipper

2 oz. rye whiskey
1 oz. cranberry juice
1 oz. apple cider

In a lowball glass, measure ingredients and fill with ice. Stir and garnish with a skewer of dried cranberries. Enjoy!


The Caribbean and Latin America produce most of the world’s rum (there’s a theory that the word “rum” comes from the Latin word for sugar, saccharum, because rum is made from molasses or sugarcane juice—and, well, Minnesota isn’t exactly known for harvesting sugarcane), but that doesn’t mean we’re off the map altogether when it comes to spiced rum. Alander Spiced Rum is distilled in small batches at Far North Spirits distillery, located just 25 miles from Canada in the northwest corner of Minnesota.  According to their website, All rum spices are purchased whole (no extracts or flavor-house oils) and infused by hand: whole bean vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice and cloves. A hint of espresso lends a surprising depth of flavor. Making rum in Minnesota may sound audacious, but then we believe fortune favors the bold.” 

Alander Alexander

Alander Alexander

1 oz. Far North Alander Spiced Rum
.75 oz. maple syrup
.5 oz Grand Marnier
1 oz Limoncello Crème Gioia Luisa

In a cocktail shaker, measure all ingredients and fill with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a cocktail or martini glass. Garnish with nutmeg or cinnamon.

  • Limoncello Crème, a cream-based Limoncello, is available at South Lyndale Liquors and other craft retail stores. My preferred brand is Gioia Luisa.
  • Alander Spiced Rum is a Minnesota Spiced Rum from Hallock, in northern Minnesota, near the Canadian border. The flavor focuses on baking spices.

Allander Maple Sour

Alander Maple Sour

2 oz. Far North Alander Spiced Rum
.75 oz. lemon Juice
.75 maple syrup
½ ea egg white

In a cocktail shaker, measure all the ingredients and shake without ice for about a minute. Then add ice and shake vigorously one more minute. Strain into your favorite cocktail or martini glass. Garnish with a cinnamon stick.

  • Alander Spiced Rum is a Minnesota Spiced Rum from Hallock, in northern Minnesota, near the Canadian border. The flavor focuses on baking spices.



Whether you’re “sippin’ on gin and juice,” enjoying a G&T, or drinking a martini; gin is one of the most versatile drinks you can order. It’s a neutral grain spirit, aka pure grain alcohol—not too different from flavored vodka. The main difference is that gin is infused with botanicals. In addition to juniper (giving gin that “Christmas tree” taste that people either love or hate), it can be made with coriander, sage, rose, cucumber, nutmeg, lemon, citrus peel, cinnamon, licorice, almonds, even cassia bark, before it’s redistilled. Each distiller uses a different recipe, so no two gins taste exactly alike. It’s an acquired taste, and so much more complex than “licking a pine cone.”    

Rhubarb Sour

Rhubarb Sour

2 oz. Tattersall Gin
1 oz. rhubarb syrup
.5 oz lemon juice

In a cocktail shaker, measure out the gin, rhubarb syrup, and lemon juice. Add ice, shake and strain into a rocks or lowball glass. Garnish with a rosemary sprig.

  • Sub Recipe Rhubarb Syrup: Combine 1 cup of granulated sugar and 1 cup of water in a saucepot over medium heat. Stir to dissolve sugar and bring to a simmer. Slice 1 stick of rhubarb and add to sugar and water solution. Simmer for 5 minutes, cool and strain rhubarb out of syrup. Refrigerate for up to two weeks.
  • Tattersall Gin is a local gin from Minneapolis, available at most retail shops.
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Minnesota Monthly's Taste Blog answers your restaurant and dining questions, dishes on latest discoveries, reflects on breaking news, and generally brings the plate to the page with a skilled crew of experts: Learn more about the Taste bloggers.

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