With the holiday season in full force, it's definitely a "Cheers!" kind of time. For many bars and restaurants, it's the time to get creative with holiday offerings, leaving no shortage of beverage ideas to get into the spirit.
"For cocktails, it's the season for belly-warming comfort drinks," says Greg Goodrich, co-founder of Beerhead Bar and Eatery, with locations in Vernon Hills, Schaumburg, Elmhurst and Bolingbrook.
Beerhead is offering a Jolly Newton, a dark rum concoction enveloped in warm apple cider, orange essence, spice berries, cinnamon and a nutmeg topper.
Those flavors -- along with others like ginger, maple and cranberry -- are abundant right now, beverage managers say.
Hot toddies are another popular drink, says James Sweeney, beverage manager at Gene & Georgetti in Rosemont, and it's easy to add twists like hot tea, cloves and cinnamon.
Suburban eateries have worked hard to incorporate holiday drinks that pair well with other seasonal bites and main winter recipes.
"There's a mirror," Sweeney says. "We want the flavors you see in the dishes to reflect in the beverages."
For example, bar and kitchen staff worked together to create a spiced hot cider cocktail.
"The chef added apple juice and let the flavors mingle, and what came out was a fantastic simmer," Sweeney said. "You can pick what liquor to mix it with. I stuck with Captain Morgan spiced rum, since rum and cider made sense. It was a fantastic holiday drink."
Of course, having a delicious-tasting holiday drink isn't enough. The beverage also has to look good.
"The garnish always brings people to the drink," says Katy Guido of Punch Bowl Social Schaumburg. "It could have things that normally don't tickle their fancy, but with a great garnish, it could change their minds entirely."
Garnishes could be as simple as fresh fruit, cinnamon sticks, whipped cream, or crushed candy canes or peppermint candy.
Or they could be more unique. Tuscany Oak Brook, for example, offers a Manhattan featuring liquid smoke. "It gives a little warming effect during the colder holiday times," said general manager Fred Lagon. "It's all about the special ingredients that people don't have throughout the year."
The new Draft Room at King's Dining and Entertainment in Rosemont serves its signature holiday drinks in 34 oz. beer mugs that quickly capture attention, says spokesman Doug Warner.
"It's impressive," he says. "If you see those things on a tray through the bar, people are asking what they are. It captures you visually."
One cocktail features eggnog and Guinness, providing a decadent beverage with a creamy stout base. "Eggnog is such a seasonal thing, and many people have a love-hate relationship with it," Warner says. "For those who love it, it's cool to offer something that steps it up a notch, and the taste conjures a holiday feeling."
Hybrid drinks -- combining beer and wine into cocktails -- are a big seasonal trend, bar managers say. Another is sweet and spicy drink offerings.
"Traditional holiday drinks tend to be sweet and creamy with all of our favorite holiday aromas," Guido says. "This year, bartenders have decided to kick it up a notch by adding a little heat behind the sweet."
Regardless of the drink, customers appreciate the holiday details, managers say. Many may not be coming to a restaurant for a special beverage, but they're often inspired by seeing another guest's order. "That's where we see many sales, in that one new tried cocktail," Lagon said.
At holiday parties and corporate events, people are willing to explore more than they normally would, especially if the drink is on the house, Warner said. "It's cool for us to recommend drinks that allow people to step outside their comfort zone."
Among the holiday offerings at some local restaurants:
Gene & Georgetti
9421 W. Higgins Road, Rosemont, (847) 653-3300, geneandgeorgetti.com/gene-and-georgetti-rosemont/
• Hot Toddy: Jack Daniel's Fire Whiskey, Jack Daniel's Honey Whiskey, syrup, lemon juice, garnished with a cinnamon stick
• Wintermint: Baileys Irish Cream, Rumple Minze Peppermint Schnapps, cream, topped with whipped cream and drizzled with caramel
• Spiced Hot Cider: Captain Morgan Spiced Rum, Chef's Hot Cider, garnished with an orange peel
1415 22nd St., Oak Brook, (630) 990-1993, and 550 S. Milwaukee Ave., Wheeling, (847) 465-9988, tuscanychicago.com/
• Jack Frost: Jack Daniel's Whiskey, simple syrup, cranberry juice, splash of orange juice, mint and garnished with an orange slice
• Holiday Mule: Tito's Vodka, pomegranate juice, lime juice, ginger beer and dash of honey, with a lime wedge garnish
Beerhead Bar & Eatery
641 E. Boughton Road, Suite 110, Bolingbrook, (630) 739-3000; 100 N. York St., Elmhurst, (630) 433-2337; 888 N. Meacham, Schaumburg, (847) 517-8300; and 1270 S. Milwaukee Ave., Vernon Hills, (847) 955-1900. beerheadbar.com/
• Jolly Newton: Dark rum with warm apple cider, orange essence, spice berries, cinnamon and a nutmeg topper
• 12 Beers of Christmas: featuring Elf Winter Warmer (Dark Horse Brewing Co.), Fistmas (Revolution Brewing Co), Great Lakes Christmas Ale (Great Lakes Brewing Co.), Peppermint Bark Porter (Two Brothers Brewing) and Jingle Java (Bent River). There are also special food pairings and holiday swag bags for customers.
Mago Grill & Cantina
115 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights, (847) 253-2222; 641 E. Boughton Road, Bolingbrook, (630) 783-2222; and 100 W. Higgins Road M-05, South Barrington, (847) 844-4400. magogrill.com/
• Champarita: A goblet-sized margarita with a split of champagne
• Manzanita margarita: Patron Tequila infused with apple and cinnamon, and mixed with apple cider and fresh lime juice
The Draft Room at Kings Dining and Entertainment
5505 Park Place, Rosemont, (847) 233-0099, kings-de.com/rosemont/promotions/the-draft-room
• Egg Nog Stout: Guinness beer, dark rum, Godiva chocolate liqueur and eggnog topped with whipped cream and chocolate shavings
• Apple Pear Tart: Anthem pear cider, cinnamon whiskey and apple liqueur topped with a cinnamon sugar rim, a fresh apple slice, whipped cream and a cinnamon stick
Punch Bowl Social
1100 American Lane, Schaumburg, (224) 836-9080, punchbowlsocial.com/location/schaumburg
• The Mistletoe: Jack Daniel's whiskey, McClary Bros. Michigan Cranberry Shrub and Teakoe Kodiak Mountain Mint tea with house-made pear syrup, served in a vintage punch bowl
244 S. Main St., Naperville, (630) 305-0230, sullivanssteakhouse.com/
• Hibiscus Cosmopolitan: Hibiscus, a kick of cranberry and unexpected flavor
310 Yorktown Center, Lombard, (630) 627-6800, rasushi.com/
• Spiced Apple Blossom: SKYY Honey Crisp Apple Vodka, St. Germain liqueur, Wild Turkey bourbon, lime sour, Angostura bitters and apple juice, garnished with cinnamon sugar, apple slices and a cinnamon stick
• Black Cherry Collins: Sailor Jerry spiced rum, Black Cherry Real puree, pineapple juice, lemon juice and club soda, with a lemon wheel and Luxardo cherry garnish
• Peartini: Absolut Pear vodka, St. Germain liqueur, Creme de Nigori sake, lemon sour and pear slices
RAM Restaurant and Brewery
9520 Higgins Road, Rosemont, (847) 692-4426; 1901 McConnor Parkway, Schaumburg, (847) 517-8791; and 700 N. Milwaukee Ave., Wheeling, (847) 520-1222. theram.com/
• Imperial Winter Rye: A festive IPA featuring El Dorado and Centennial hops and Crystal rye
Multiple locations across the suburbs. olivegarden.com/
• Merry Cranberry: Deep Eddy Cranberry Vodka and amaretto, cranberry-pomegranate juice, glitter dust and a sparkly sugar rim