Read This: Peterson's Holiday Helper: Festive Pick-Me-Ups, Calm-Me-Downs & Handy Hints to Keep You in Good Spirits

There’s plenty about the holidays that might drive you to drink, from being stuck in the middle seat on a flight that’s unmoving on the tarmac for an hour due to bad weather to houseguests who take “Make yourselves at home” a bit too literally to endless bouts of wrangling wrapping paper and ribbon.

Luckily, author and “therapeutic concoctionist” Valerie Peterson has the cure for what ails you all season long, from Thanksgiving through the turn of the year. Her book Peterson’s Holiday Helper: Festive Pick-Me-Ups, Calm-Me-Downs, & Handy Hints to Keep You in Good Spirits will cheer you up the moment you crack its cover, even before you’ve mixed a drop.

Peterson’s Holiday Helper : Your cocktail-filled guide to seasonal sanity

Peterson’s Holiday Helper: Your cocktail-filled guide to seasonal sanity

Nostalgia, Cheekiness, and Booze

Part of what makes Peterson’s book so charming is the design, with its riot of vintage holiday photos of families, decorations, barware, and festivities. Flip through the pages and you’ll find it hard not to feel like there’s a glittery tinsel tree or footie pajama-clad kid just over your shoulder.

Also amusing are Peterson’s (mostly) tongue-in-cheek tips for holiday survival, including suggestions for what to say if you forget a co-worker’s name at your company Christmas party, pointers on successful re-gifting, and suggestions on which holiday movie to watch based on your mood. (Feeling homicidal? Go for Lethal Weapon.)

But, of course, the heart of this book are the drink recipes. All of the nostalgia and cheekiness would be for naught if the recipes were duds, but luckily that’s not the case.

From Holiday Chore Chasers to Socializing Spirits to Aftershock Therapies

Peterson divides her recipes into seven chapters, each focused on a particular holiday ritual or activity. Full-of-Tradition “Toasts,” for example, takes common seasonal traditions and tweaks them into modern cocktail form, while Present-ation Potions runs with the theme of drinks to sip while dealing with all things gift-related.

Liquid Misteltoe: Your key to surviving the company holiday party.

Liquid Misteltoe: Your key to surviving the company holiday party.

But really, the best way to use this book, in my opinion, is simply to flip through and find a recipe that grabs you.

Many of these drinks fall on the sweeter end of the spectrum, with the kinds of richer ingredients you might be more likely to sip during the cold months, but these aren’t just sugar bombs. By and large, the recipes balance out the sweetness with citrus, brandies, and other ingredients that offer structure and backbone.

Try These

Of the recipes from Peterson’s Holiday Helper I’ve tried, my favorites are the Emergi-Gift Coffee Liqueur and the Fruitcake Fizz. The coffee liqueur is just what the name suggests: a formula for mixing up your own java-based sipper, using fresh ingredients (strong brewed coffee, vanilla beans). I’ve made and gifted this liqueur several times, and it’s always delicious. Plus, by making your own, you can experiment with different kinds of coffee, different levels of sweetness, and so on.

The Fruitcake Fizz takes the flavors of that beloved/reviled (depending on your perspective) holiday baked good and translates them into a tall drink based on cherry and regular brandies. Not too sweet and not too tart (and also not actual fruitcake you have to pretend to like), this is a delicious, easy-sipping drink.

Fruitcake Fizzes: Bring on the brandy, hold the terrifying Technicolor fruit.

Fruitcake Fizzes: Bring on the brandy, hold the terrifying Technicolor fruit.

One for You, One for Them

This sweet book is reasonably priced enough that you can easily pick up a copy for yourself (which you should definitely do if, like me, you love cocktails, irreverent humor, and midcentury nostalgia) and grab a few as gifts for the hosts/hostesses you’ll encounter this season, or for anyone else who might need some boozy support over the holiday season.

Butterscotch + scotch + coffee = Christmas morning bliss.

Butterscotch + scotch + coffee = Christmas morning bliss.

Pair the book with a bottle of something festive, and/or some charming vintage seasonal barware, and you’ve got an awesome gift that’ll keep you from being the reason your gift-ee goes running for a Dark and Snowy or a Snubbed Reindeer during “the most wonderful time of the year.”

As always, whether you’re sipping a delicious cocktail to celebrate with friends or to unwind after a traumatic encounter with the line to see the mall Santa, please tipple responsibly.

I Made You a Thanksgiving Cocktail: Cherry Pie Sour

We don’t always think of cocktails and Thanksgiving as being an obvious match. In many cases, if you’re drinking on Thanksgiving (and I hope you are, responsibly), you’re probably drinking wine, as its lower alcohol content makes it easier to sip throughout the day without winding up too tipsy for turkey.

But cocktails definitely have a place at least somewhere in the day. A lower-octane aperitif like a sherry-based cocktail or a spritz would be a great match with appetizers, and if there’s a happier pairing than mixed drinks and pie, well, friends, I can’t imagine what that might be.

Pie + Cocktails = <3

Having pumpkin pie? Something with allspice dram would be delicious with pumpkin or sweet potato pie—the Lion’s Tale gets my vote, especially as its backbone of lime juice helps it balance out the sweetness and richness of the pie.

Going the pecan route? Bourbon is an obvious candidate. A smooth one neat or as the base spirit in a highball would be delicious, as would a bourbon Manhattan with pecan or chocolate bitters instead of the traditional Angostura.

But it’s definitely fruit pies that are my favorites, and they’re what inspired the cocktail I created this evening: the Cherry Pie Sour.

Cherry Pie Sours, ready to make your Thanksgiving dessert even better.

Cherry Pie Sours, ready to make your Thanksgiving dessert even better.

A Whole World of Sours

Most of us think “whiskey” when we think “sour,” but you can use pretty much any spirit in a sour. (After all, what’s a Margarita but a tequila sour, and what’s a Gimlet but the same idea with gin?) Mix a spirit, acid (citrus), and sweet, and you’ve got yourself a sour.

Inspired by the sour’s flexibility, I riffed on the classic whiskey sour, subbing half of the whiskey (rye, in my recipe) with Cherry Heering, replacing lemon juice with lime (lime + cherry are a happier pairing in my book), and ramping down the simple syrup a bit due to the sweetness of the Heering.

I ended up with an easy-sipping drink with a nice sweet/sour balance (just like a good fruit pie), an interesting undercurrent of rye (as a stand-in for pie crust, kinda), and a fetching deep-red hue.

The basic template here is super flexible: use a different kind of brandy (Calvados, applejack, pear…) if you’ve got a different kind of pie. Mix and match the citrus. Use an infused simple syrup for an extra layer of complexity. Add egg white if you like your sours richer. Make this cocktail your own.

And if, like me, one of your Thanksgiving pleasures is eating pie for breakfast the next day, mix one of these up, serve it on the rocks with some club soda to lighten it up a bit, and raise a glass to all you have to be thankful for.

Cherry Pie Sour

Makes 1 drink

1 oz. rye whiskey

1 oz. cherry brandy (I used Cherry Heering)

1 oz. lime juice (use lemon or half and half if you prefer)

3/4 oz. simple syrup

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a coupe glass. Enjoy with pie.

My Thanksgiving Drinks Plan

I considered traveling for Thanksgiving for about a New York minute, then promptly reconsidered and decided to host a potluck Friendsgiving for any of our peeps in the Bay Area who are also sticking close to home. Yes, I have to clean the house and make sure we're well stocked with enough plates, silverware, and glassware (um, not really an issue on that last one), and I'll be cooking a few things, but the potluck-ish-ness of this feast means the entirety of the meal doesn't fall on me. 

In the spirit of keeping things simple and low-stress, I'm also keeping the liquid part of tomorrow's menu straightforward and unfancy. Here's what's on tap.

Booze-less Options

We'll have a handful of kids joining us for Thanksgiving, but even if we didn't, I'd plan some fun stuff that doesn't have alcohol in it, because it sucks to be the person who's not drinking for whatever reason and has only water or milk to choose from. 

I always keep a stash of interesting soft drinks on hand (holla, San Pelligrino!), so those will come out, along with sparkling water with "spikers" like lemon and lime juices and simple syrup. But the centerpiece will be this Sparkling Apple Cider Punch from Liz DellaCroce of the Lemon Bowl. Will there be a bottle of bourbon next to the punch bowl for those who want to go that route? Yup huh. I'm all about choices.

Wine and Beer

I'll have a couple bottles of wine on hand (because I always do), but in general, I'm leaving this category up to my guests. I generally try to have one bottle of red and one bottle of white at the ready when things kick off, just in case the person responsible for bringing more of either of those gets stuck in traffic, but beyond that, my friends will decide where we go on our wine journey.

And to round things out, the friend who knows the most about beer (and also happens to be German) will bring a 6-pack or two for those who want to go with brew tomorrow.


Thanksgiving is not the time for me to hang out behind the bar mixing drinks, but I'm also kind of constitutionally incapable of having a party of any kind that doesn't include at least a few cocktails. So in addition to the spikeable punch, I'm going to put out the makings and recipes for a couple of dead-simple drinks that guests can make themselves:

The Paper Plane: equal parts bourbon, Aperol, Nonino, and lemon juice, and 100% delicious

The Paper Plane: equal parts bourbon, Aperol, Nonino, and lemon juice, and 100% delicious

  • Sam Ross' classic Paper Plane, with equal parts bourbon, Aperol, Amaro Nonino, and lemon juice
  • The Applejack Old Fashioned from Julie Reiner, which replaces rye with applejack and sugar with maple syrup, and is basically autumn in a glass.

After-Dinner Drinks

Is there any meal that calls out for after-dinner drinks as much as Thanksgiving dinner? I'm gonna say no—which is why tomorrow will be the time when I pull out from my bar everything that's a dessert wine, a cordial, a liqueur, a digestif, or an amaro and let everyone choose their own adventure. There will also be tea, coffee, and hot chocolate for the non-tipplers, those whose livers start to cry uncle, or those who just want to mix things up a bit. 

2016 has been a doozy for many folks, so I'm even more excited than usual to be able to bring together a bunch of people I dig for a day of eating, drinking, talking, laughing, and generally being reminded that there's still plenty of awesome in the world. However you're celebrating tomorrow, I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving and plenty to be grateful for in the year ahead!