Three Exceptional Holiday Cocktails from Torrence O'Haire

How the Chicago Bartender Finds Inspiration in Hospitality, Food, and Music

If you’re familiar with the Chicago bar scene, you might have run into Torrence O’Haire in a number of places.

You might have attended a cocktail event he has hosted on behalf of his company, Royal Dutch Distillers (Rutte Gin, Mandarin Napoleon, among other brands).

If you went to culinary school in the city, he might have been at the head of your Wine Professional/Sommelier Class at Kendall College School of Hospitality. Or you might have seen him guest bartending at Elixir Lounge in Andersonville.  

If you’re lucky, however, you were invited to O’Haire’s home, attending one of his many dinner events for industry professionals.

“I do most of my entertaining at home... to get to know local professionals on a much warmer and more personal scale than ‘yet another dreadful networking event’.”

O’Haire has held nearly every role in the service industry over this course of his 15-year career,  from busboy to chef, sommelier to cocktail competitor, teacher to brand ambassador. No matter where he is stationed, his mission has always been to develop warm, personal relationships with his guests.

It is his sense of hospitality that has brought him success so far, and it’s also at the core of his three exceptional holiday cocktails.

Serving Hospitality for the Holidays


Hospitality is more than just good service. It’s about creating a experience, and it’s a critical component of being a great holiday host.


“Make someone feel incredible,” says O’Haire. “Make them feel wonderfully well-cared for, repair their wounds, make them laugh, warm them, nourish them, and send them blissfully home.”


O’Haire tries to weave this holiday hospitality into the DNA of his cocktails, starting with the  selection of the base spirit.


Take his original “Clara’s Waltz”, a cocktail inspired by The Nutcracker that features genever instead of its more popular cousin, gin. The reason for choosing genever over gin was as much about the experience as it was about the flavor profile.


“Think of genever as a gin that tastes and feels like a chilly autumn day,” he said, “It's also flavored very lightly with hazelnuts and walnuts, so there's an additional richness to its palate.”


The “Clara’s Waltz” cocktail embodies a familiar and important memory from our childhood: the moment when we were first treated like an adult. For Clara in the The Nutcracker, it was the night she attends her first “grown-up christmas party”. Whatever that moment was for you, O’Haire’s cocktail captures the emotion perfectly.


“This is a blend between a semi-dry classic ‘adult cocktail’, with a little whipped-cream-holiday-sweetness to delight your inner child.”


How to turn a song into a cocktail


When your focus is on creating experiences and not just cocktails, you realize that inspiration can be found everywhere during the holidays… even in a song.


O’Haire’s second holiday cocktail, Sugar Rum Cherry, is the perfect example. It is inspired by Duke Ellington’s jazz rendition of “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies”. The song feels boozy and familiar, yet unpredictable and exciting, much like the drink itself.

 


It would be easy to say that O’Haire’s years of experience and formal training are the reason why his cocktails hit the perfect holiday note. I would say it is more than that.


O’Haire starts with the question: “How do I make this person feel happy?” and builds his drinks around the answer.


Sometimes the answer is a childhood memory, sometimes a song, sometimes an over-sized holiday meal. In the end, he doesn’t measure his success by the awards he wins, but the friendships he makes along the way.


That should be your goal this holiday season as well. Here are three cocktails from O’Haire that are sure to help you succeed.

Clara's Waltz

Torrence O'Haire

Ingredients

  • 2oz Old Simon Genever
  • .5oz Lustau Cream Sherry
  • .25oz Tempus Fugit Creme de Cacao
  • .25oz St. Elizabeth Allspice dram
  • 1 drop vanilla extract
  • 1.5oz very softly whipped cream (pourable)

Method

Combine spirits in a mixing glass with ice. Stir well and strain into a chilled coupe. Carefully pour a thick layer of soft cream onto the surface of the drink. Top with fresh nutmeg and serve with christmas cookies.

Garnish:

Freshly grated nutmeg, and a spice cookie on the side

Glassware:

Coupe

Story Behind the Cocktail

This is a careful blend of classic cocktail construction with celebratory holiday flair, and most importantly, a seasonal-yet-unusual blend of flavors, shying away from expected and playing up the nuttiness of Old Simon with earthy, sweet vanilla-chocolate-spice, while still keeping the cocktail from getting overly sweet.

Inspired by the young Clara's waltz in the Nutcracker (my childhood christmas favorite), where the young girl experiences her first "grown up christmas party". This is a blend between a semi-dry classic "adult cocktail", with a little whipped-cream-holiday-sweetness to delight your inner child.

Sugar Rum Cherry

Torrence O'Haire

Ingredients

  • 1.5oz Ron Mateuselem 12yo Rum
  • 1oz Mandarine Napoleon
  • 1oz fresh orange juice
  • .75oz Carpano Antica
  • .25oz fresh lemon juice
  • 1 heaping spoonful black cherry jam
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 2 dashes Cherry bitters

Method

Combine all ingredients in a shaker tin, fill with ice, and shake hard until chilled and frothy. Fine-strain into a tumbler filled with crushed ice. Cut a broad curl of orange peel and stud with whole cloves. Garnish with cloved peel and a few brandied cherries.

Garnish:

1 orange peel strip, studded with 1 clove, and a brandied cherry

Glassware:

Old-Fashioned

Story Behind the Cocktail

Utter christmas party fun; balanced, not overly sweet, seasonal in flavor without being predictable. Rich, caramelly rum, perfumy orange-scented cognac, spicy vermouth and deep cherry notes make this a fabulous celebration-drink.

Organic inspiration from my favorite spin on our family's Christmas classic: The Nutcracker. Duke Ellington's jazz version of "The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies", titled "Sugar Rum Cherry" is a perfect holiday piece for a fabulous holiday bash, and the title and feel inspired my punch.

White Witch

Torrence O'Haire

Ingredients

  • 2oz Rutte Dry Gin
  • .75oz Dolin Dry Vermouth
  • .25oz Rothman & Winter Apricot Liqueur
  • .25oz Lazzaroni Amaretto
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters
  • 1 dash Regan's Orange bitters

Method

In a mixing glass, lightly muddle rosemary with liqueurs. Add ice and remaining spirits and stir well until chilled and diluted. Strain into chilled coupe, and garnish with a rosemary skewer, warmed until smoking with a match.

Garnish:

One cranberry, skewered on a lightly charred rosemary twig

Glassware:

Coupe

Story Behind the Cocktail

Clean, mostly dry, light notes of spice, winter fruits, and resin and the deep spicy aromatics of Rutte's dry gin (a product with which I'm presently obsessed). A culinary-inspired holiday cocktail for people that tend to eschew holiday cocktails.

This was strictly culinary inspiration, as I make a winter chutney of dried apricots, toasted almonds, and rosemary for roasted meats. Thinking of something that would present those same wintry flavors, but stay clean, dry, and lightweight inspired this classically-constructed martini variation.

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