Here’s how to treat your guests to a sophisticated cocktail this holiday season
When I had hair and could still soar with the eagles in the morning after hooting with the owls at night, I spent no little idyllic time reading Henry Longhurst’s prose, lingering an extra moment on his descriptions of halcyon days playing golf for the University of Cambridge. My own salad days weren’t as picturesque, but had we been contemporaries, I think Longhurst (the man who once wrote that while in prep school he would sneak glances out the window toward Royal Eastbourne, “gazing at them — the caddies, not the golfers — with deepest envy as I peered surreptitiously up from the Greek unseen”) would have felt at home playing in the Cornball Open, a sort of Idiots’ Masters that was golf at its most egalitarian. One year it was announced the winner would receive a yellow jacket. And indeed, the champion was presented with a ring box containing a dead wasp.
The Cornball was a semi-eponymous yearly outing at a public golf course. Tournament co-chairs, my brother Jim and his good pal Bob Boland, mashed last names and twisted minds to arrive at Cornball. They were both very good players, but I would never put them into the professional drinker category. However, Longhurst himself once noted, “Golfing excellence goes hand in hand with alcohol, as many an open and amateur champion has shown.” And, there can be no doubt, he was referring to my lone major championship victory at the Cornball in the early 1980s. At the time I was a college student, caddie and short-order cook at the local bar. My Miller Lite–fueled tally was a one-over 73 — which in the Official Cornball Record Book might fall under Highest Winning Score.
Tales of Cornballs Past was playing on Corcoran TV recently as I sipped a highball and admired a one-of-a-kind drawing of Longhurst, Bernard Darwin and P.G. Wodehouse to which Mrs. Stunad grants wall space. After a few cocktails I find the image mesmerizing, as if I were a nerd (as if!) wondering if the cool guys would ever let me hang with them. In the very special episode I now describe, I tell Henry and Plum (Wodehouse’s nickname) that the first time I ever saw a bar trolley was at the Cornball when a couple of innovators put a keg of beer in the back of a motorized golf cart, where their clubs ought to have been. I actually mean it’s the first time I saw a bar cart, but they are English, so I say “trolley” and I don’t include Darwin because I’m not sure he’s fun, but what is very fun is that those guys with the keg in the cart at the Cornball didn’t mean to drive around and share it — it was just for their foursome’s consumption, although they gladly shared if you happened by. I also mention that this was the same year my brother Boomer, a pile driver by trade and a very poor golfer with a quick temper, began his round with the regulation 14 clubs and snapped them over his knee one by one until only five remained. I’m not sure what Henry and Plum thought of my story (because this is an imaginary conversation with long dead people, you see), but it did get me thinking about bar carts for home entertaining, and in particular the delicate balance one absolutely must achieve in offering a guest a cocktail this holiday season.
It has been an odd year for all of us, to say the least, and a bit of humility is in order, even in how we set up the essential holiday bar cart.
“Now is not the time to humblebrag about your $300 bottle of scotch,” says Brian Cox, North American VP, Dewar’s Scotch Whisky. “You want your family and friends to feel like they are a part of the celebration, not somehow alienated from it,” Cox adds. “What you want to strive for in your bar setup and cocktail offerings is informal sophistication. If you pull out the super expensive bottle, you might make people uncomfortable. But if you offer up new twists on familiar premium brands, that’s a voyage and a badge of discovery they can relate to — it’s you and it’s them. It’s affordable, but nonetheless a nice cut above the norm, something they can still feel like was a first for them.”
Here’s an example of what Brother Cox is getting at: I’ve been drinking Dewar’s highballs since John Dewar and me were wearing short pants together (not the same pair). But if I come to your intimate and socially distanced holiday gathering and you offer me a Dewar’s 15-year on the rocks, or maybe with a splash of Fever-Tree club soda, well, that’s a whole new but not wildly expensive world for me. And yes, please, I will have another. Say, these nuts are tasty. What type of nut are they? Not nuts, you say, but a bowl of potpourri? Go easy on the soda.
It would hardly feel like a holiday party without a few alcohol-fueled desserts within arm’s reach.
> ½ cup Eagle Rare 10 Year Kentucky straight bourbon
> 3 cups crushed vanilla wafers
> 1 cup chopped pecans
> 2 tbsp cocoa powder
> 1 cup powdered sugar
> 2 tbsp corn syrup
Mash up the wafers, pecans, cocoa and sugar in a bowl. Stir in the bourbon and corn syrup. Shape the concoction into 1-inch balls and coat in powdered sugar. (Makes three dozen.)
If sipping dessert is more your style, pour a finger or two of Eagle Rare 17 Year (see photo, left) into a short glass, enjoy your friends and laugh about your personal days of yore.