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.





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.