My 2017 Cocktail Resolutions, Part 1: Balance Boozy with Light

I'm not exactly a master of keeping New Year's resolutions (let's not count how many years I've vowed to drink 64 ounces of water a day—though I'm still trying to stick with that one), so I tend not to make many of them.

However, this year I figured I'd try something a bit different: instead of going for the usual, I'd set goals related to cocktails. Hello, motivation! And to keep things even more interesting, my plan is to work on one resolution per month, rather than making a whole batch at the beginning of the year and then having to try to keep them all going at once.

So join me on this year-long adventure of (let's be honest) completely softball goal setting and achieving. First up: lightening up.

Un-Dry January

Many people aim to take a month off from drinking after the holidays, which has spawned the idea of dry January. First of all, were I to lay off the hooch altogether, I'd pick a month without 31 days (hello, sweet 'n' petite February). But second of all, unless I had a compelling medical reason not to drink (or consume carbs, or enjoy chocolate, or start every damn day with coffee), trying to go cold turkey for a full month would just make me feel grumpy and resentful.

However, that doesn't mean there's nothing to be said for taking it a bit easier this month as a way of resetting and rebalancing after the holidays. 

Keeping Level

This tasty sipper is the Apparent Sour from bartender Bobby Heugel. Three ingredients, lots of deliciousness.

This tasty sipper is the Apparent Sour from bartender Bobby Heugel. Three ingredients, lots of deliciousness.

Enter The Art of the Shim: Low-Alcohol Drinks to Keep You Level, by Dinah Sanders. Sanders argues that while delicious high-test cocktails—that is, those made from full-proof spirits (whiskey, vodka, gin, etc.)—are delightful, sometimes they're not quite right. Maybe you're having a drink before or after a dinner that includes lots of wine, for example, or maybe you're enjoying some day drinking. In both cases, hitching your wagon to Manhattans may leave you tipsier (and fuller) than you want to be. So, shims to the rescue.

Shims are cocktails made with amari, vermouth, sherry, cordials, or lighter liqueurs that don't pack the same punch as full spirits (think Chartreuse, allspice dram, and the like). These aren't necessarily simpler cocktails than their boozier kin; they're just less alcoholic. As Sanders writes, the goal of a shim is "more drink, less drunk."

Test Run

There are a few dozen recipes in this book, each categorized by Kind (such as Spiritous Dry or Juicy Bubbles), Mood (Spicy & Stimulating, Lively & Cooling), and Era (Prohibition, Years of Reform). They also run the gamut from exceptionally easy to bartender-ly involved (i.e., involving homemade spiced syrups and the like). 

I picked one of the easiest in the book, Bobby Heugel's Apparent Sour, because I had just come off a five-day hellscape of a cold and was feeling lazy. But while the cocktail took only slightly more than zero effort on my part (shake Aperol, St.-Germain, and lime juice; strain; consume), it had a delicious complexity, and, as the name suggests, was pleasantly tart. 

It also had the benefit of not wearing me out as I sipped it while I made dinner. Bonus.

I'm not going to claim I've gone completely without boozy cocktails this month, but it has definitely been nice to take things in a lighter direction for a few weeks. And in the two remaining weeks of January, I have plenty of more complex shims to choose from in Sanders' book. 

It's all in the name of sticking to my goals.



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!