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Highclere Castle Christmas Cocktail

With many forgoing large parties for more intimate gatherings, this holiday may be the rebirth of the cocktail party. According to a 1917 edition of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, it’s a concept that we have Mrs. Julius S. Walsh Jr. to give our thanks. Also laying claim to the libation celebration is Alec Wauch of London. We’ll raise a glass to both because it’s the season for fellowship—as well as fun and fancy.

It’s also time to pull out the good china, crystal, and silver (OK, paper and plastic work just as well.) and spread cheer. In one of my favorite books, Christmas at Highclere, the Countess of Carnarvon shares her family’s official holiday drink: Highclere Castle Christmas Cocktail. The pretty, festive drink’s aroma and taste are the epitomai of Christmas. The fabled mix of yuletide scents of cinnamon and clove not only adds to the cocktail’s flavor but also makes the house smell wonderful during preparation. For a non-alcoholic version, substitute soda or tonic for Champagne. I made the switch for our young nieces, and they were delighted.

This holiday, let’s get back to celebrating—and leave the driving to the car services.

Ingredients—Spiced Syrup

9 oz cold water

4 oz sugar

3 cinnamon sticks

4 whole cloves

Peel of ¼ orange


2 oz spiced syrup

1 oz cranberry juice

Red sugar for garnish (available in most baking departments)

Highclere Champagne (or any good Champagne)

Directions for Syrup

  1. Combine water, sugar, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and orange peel in a saucepan, then bring to a boil over low heat, stirring gently.

  2. Continue to cook the mixture until it reaches the consistency of syrup, about five minutes—after it reaches a boil.

  3. Remove the cinnamon, cloves, and orange peel, and set syrup aside to cool.

Directions for Cocktail

  1. Pour a small amount of cranberry juice on a saucer so that it's not deep, and do the same with the red sugar. Dip the rim of a Champagne flute into cranberry juice and then into the red sugar. Do this several hours before serving to allow the rim mixture to dry and harden.

  2. Put the syrup and the rest of the cranberry juice into the glass and top with Champagne.


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