Toast to Christmas

By Kevin Tankersley

Foley’s new book is a guide to holiday cocktails

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree…cocktail.

The second day? Turtle dove martini.

Then a three French hens cocktail, four cardinals cocktail, rings of gold and so on, through the dozen days from December 25 to January 5, according to “Drinking with Saint Nick: Christmas Cocktails for Sinners and Saints,” a new book by Michael P. Foley. It’s his follow-up to “Drinking with the Saints,” which came out in 2015.

“The publisher was looking for a sequel, and I was interested in one as well. They said, ‘Well, how about a holiday book?’ And so I thought, yeah, that makes sense, because we weren’t able to do [a cocktail] every day of the year with ‘Drinking with the Saints,’” Foley said. “It was already 450 pages. So even at every other day, it was still pretty hefty. There were spots to fill in during the Advent and Christmas seasons. And so that’s what we decided to do.”

“Drinking with Saint Nick” is smaller, both in dimensions and the number of pages — coming in at exactly 200 — “but it is definitely more detailed regarding Advent and Christmas,” said Foley, who is associate professor of patristics in the Great Texts program in the Honors College at Baylor University.

The book includes cocktail recipes and beer and wine suggestions for each day of Advent, from December 1-24; the Golden Nights, December 17-23; the 12 Days of Christmas (and “The 12 Days of Christmas” carol); as well as Epiphany and The Time Thereafter.

In all, there are 445 suggestions for beer, wine and mixed drinks and 113 cocktail recipes, “including 15 never before in print, and most of them invented just for this book,” Foley said. Many of the recipes were suggested by friends, and three were contributed by Andrew Anderson, the head mixologist at Balcones Distilling. Two of Anderson’s creations show up in the chapter about the 12 Days of Christmas carol and correspond to the three French hens and 10 lords a-leaping.

“That was kind of like a fun bonus chapter because it’s technically not the church calendar, but the 12 Days of Christmas is such a fun song. And it was fun making those pairings,” Foley said. “And that’s where Balcones was really helpful because there were two drinks in particular that I just could not get inspiration for it. And I emailed Andrew Anderson at Balcones, and he was fantastic.

I wanted something manly for the 10 lords a-leaping, and he used [Balcones] Brimstone and a very smoky tea syrup and it is intense. [Brimstone] is already a really smoky, strong whiskey. It’s one of their more intense whiskeys. And then he made this simple syrup with this really, really smoky black Chinese tea that’s smoked over pine wood. And so that’s smoky, and the whole thing is really intense.”

As he was in “Drinking with the Saints,” Foley is very precise with numbers in “Drinking with Saint Nick.” Drinks that are mixed in a cocktail shaker are to be shaken 40 times. Other recipes call for drinks to be stirred 40 times.

The number 40 “is the biblical number for penance and a good mortification prior to your reward,” Foley writes in the chapter “How to Use This Book.” “And those cool bar spoons with the spiral handles make it easy to stir and spin the spoon at the same time for maximum effect.”

Foley said he received many drink suggestions from followers on the “Drinking with the Saints” Facebook page, “and I don’t think I got a single dud.”

For each recommendation, he and his wife, Alexandra, would try out the recipe — “She’s my main tester,” he said — especially when they had friends over. Foley’s favorite drink from the book, he said, is White Lady, which combines gin, vodka and Cointreau with a few other ingredients. (That full recipe and four others can be found in the Food & Drink column of this magazine on page 131.) The drink is in honor of the mother of Jesus, and, Foley writes, “given the Blessed Virgin’s total purity, who is more worthy of a drink called a White Lady?”

There’s another version of the White Lady recipe in Foley’s earlier book, and a priest friend of his, Father Robert Johansen, said that drink was merely “OK.” So he provided Foley with a recipe for a White Lady cocktail that dates back to pre-Prohibition days and involves beating an egg white for five minutes.

“It’s absolutely phenomenal,” Foley said. “It packs a punch because it’s an ounce of gin and ounce of vodka and an ounce of Cointreau, plus lemon juice and powdered sugar and egg white, but it’s just this amazing balance of tart and sweet, and it’s extraordinary. It’s a sipping cocktail, so you’ll feel the effects, but you’re not going to chug it. And it’s so delicious. Just sipped slowly, it’s conducive to moderation.”

In fact, in the five suggestions of How to Drink Like a Saint in the preface to the book, “with moderation” is the first. “Moderation is not only the morally responsible thing to do,” Foley writes, “it is also the more pleasant.”

Other ways to drink like a saint include with gratitude, with memory, with merriment and, lastly, with ritual, “specifically the ritual of toast,” Foley said, as the book includes numerous toasts that can be shared as glasses are lifted.

From the chapter on “The 12 Days of Christmas,” a suggested toast on the first day — December 25 — with the partridge in a pear tree cocktail: “A most happy birthday to our true love, Jesus Christ, who deigned to be born this day to take the Devil off our scent. Merry Christmas.”