As a kid I never understood why grown-ups would talk about “getting through the holidays” like it was some sort of difficult trial. What could be difficult about a time filled with presents and snow days and candy canes? A lot, as it turns out. Pressure to keep the whole family happy, pressure to create perfect snow globe memories for the kids, pressure to put in a good showing at the work Christmas party … it all adds up to a wonderfully glorious time that can be super stressful. What better than a festive cocktail to take the edge off and usher in a celebratory glow?
I’ve been working in hospitality and catering for over a decade, and the holiday party season is the pinnacle of our year. I work with hosts to plan splendid soirées, considering every detail from flowers to linens to parking and custom cocktail menus. We make sure there are gluten-free, vegan and dairy-free options for our guests. Until recently I’d never put much thought into offering fun and delicious liquid alternatives for my guests who need or want to forego alcohol, which can be especially difficult during the holidays.
In reality, however – and despite what you may hear on country radio or during Supreme Court confirmation hearings – everyone does not, in fact, drink. Countless people choose to abstain for countless reasons, and offering a delicious non-alcoholic drink is a fun and simple way to make all your guests feel welcome and a part of the celebration.
Last year my sister, Anne, made the brave decision to give up drinking altogether. It was a decision she made for herself and her kids – alcoholism runs in our family and she wanted to change the narrative. I’ve been thinking about her over the past few weeks as we’ve headed into the holiday season, hoping that she was doing ok amidst the crush of boozy parties.
A few days ago she sent me a text. It was the day of her husband’s work holiday party, a swanky affair that she’d always looked forward to in the past. They’d gotten a nanny for the kids and booked a fancy hotel to make the most of the weekend.
“We checked in and there’s a bottle of champagne and two glasses waiting with a welcome note from the hotel :(”
My heart sank. “Well, that’s the work, I guess,” I replied. “Look at a picture of your kids.”
I thought of her throughout the evening. Being confronted with an enticing bottle of bubbly was not exactly an ideal start to her night. The next day, I gave her a call to see how the night had turned out.
The party occupied several ballrooms, each with one or more bars set up. At every one there was a prominently displayed drink menu offering two “mocktails” and one alcoholic cocktail. “It made me so happy,” my sister explained. “I had come to almost dread grown-up parties. It’s hard enough to not drink the rest of the time, but during the holidays, when everyone else is sipping champagne, your bland glass of seltzer can make you feel like you’re missing out on an intrinsic part of the celebration. It sounds silly, but being offered a festive drink made me feel like I was supposed to be there rather than feeling like a teetotaler crashing someone else’s event.”
Fast forward three days and Anne was on her way to another holiday fête: an annual gathering of parents, kids and Santa Claus at a friend’s brownstone. Inspired by her experience at the last party, my sister arrived at the party with her own festive mocktail in lieu of the standard bottle of wine. Maybe, she wondered, there were others who would appreciate a zero-proof alternative. And indeed there were – one mom who would normally enjoy a glass of wine but had recently been diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder. A dad who had an important early morning work presentation. Several others just wanted to try the sparkling ruby concoction with pomegranate arils bobbing at the surface.
Anne graciously sent me the recipe for her delicious and refreshing spritzer. Guests may do a double-take and ask if you’re sure it’s non-alcoholic – this is a great wine substitute. It also supposedly promotes weight loss, but regardless, it’s super tasty and an excellent replacement for an after-work glass of wine.
2 ounces 100-percent pomegranate juice
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
8 ounces seltzer (or to taste)
Serve on the rocks or neat.