Holiday Cocktails to Keep Your Spirits High

A special time of year calls for special drinks. Try these alcohol optional seasonal favorites from NC food and drink experts. (The Good Brigade/Getty Images)

By Emiene Wright, Sarah Ovaska

December 23, 2021

Charlotte tastemakers share recipes for sorrel, horchata, coquito and more, to keep you toasting through the New Year.

Holiday cheer comes in many forms, including liquid. 

We’ve listed traditional winter-themed drinks from chefs, mixologists and experts around North Carolina. Feel free to use the recipes as a starting point and include your own spin with garnishes and add-ins. Which will you try? 

Sorrel, A Drink With Mass Appeal

This festive drink made from hibiscus flowers appears across the African diaspora, in Ghana as sobolo, Jamaica as sorrel, and the American South as red punch. The exact recipes vary, but the profile is immediately recognizable: Served cold, with a deep red color, sweet yet tangy taste, fruit at hand, and a little kick from spices or, in the South, ginger ale. 

The following recipe is courtesy of Bernard Singleton of Nebedaye Farms in Indian Trail. The company specializes in ancestral agriculture and produces most of the ingredients listed, as well as a fermented sorrel wine.


Hibiscus (dried or fresh), 1-2 cups

2 cinnamon sticks

1 bayleaf

1 tbsp. allspice berries

1 tbsp. nutmeg

1 whole orange, sliced (skin-on)

Pot of water

Boil all ingredients together until hibiscus flowers begin to fade. The liquid should be a very deep, rich maroon. Let sit until cool. Strain and refrigerate. Optional: rum, bourbon or other alcohol. 

Horchata and Coquito, an NC Chef’s Favorites 

Horchata has lineage in Spanish and North African beverages, but this rice-based version originates in Mexico. A type of drink known as aguas frescas (refreshing water), it’s enjoyed year-round. Chef Edwin Cruz of Edwin’s Organix shared the recipe for horchata. He also shared a simple formula for coquito, a Puerto Rican holiday drink, below. 

Born in Mexico, Cruz has fond memories of his mother soaking the rice for horchata. But he wasn’t introduced to coquito until he immigrated to Charlotte. 

“I wish I’d learned about coquito sooner,” he joked. “Food brings people together, and I like living in the US because you can learn from everyone’s traditions.”   


1 cup long-grain white rice

1 cinnamon stick

4 cups room-temperature water

1 (12 oz.) can evaporated milk

1 (14 oz.) can of sweetened condensed milk

½ cup whole milk (can sub coconut or oat milk for vegan options)

1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract 

Optional: granulated white sugar to taste

Pour the rice and water into a blender, blend until rice just begins to break up, about three minutes. Let mixture stand at room temperature for at least three hours. Strain into a pitcher and discard the rice.

Stir the three milks, vanilla, cinnamon and sugar into the rice water. Chill and stir before serving over ice.


3 cans evaporated milk

1 can condensed milk

1 can cream of coconut (Not coconut milk!)

2 cinnamon sticks

Rum to taste

Whisk the milks and cream of coconut together in a bowl. Blend the coconut cream if necessary to avoid lumps. Add rum to taste. Place cinnamon sticks in a one-liter glass bottle with a secure top. Pour the coquito mix into the bottle. Keep refrigerated and serve in small glasses.

Christmas Traditions with Homemade Eggnog

Eggnog has its season, and that season is right now. Many opt for premade eggnog bought at the store, but it’s not too difficult to whip up your own if you couldn’t find any at the store. 

This recipe comes to us from

Egg Nog

2 cups milk

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

6 large egg yolks, separated

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup bourbon or rum (optional)

Whipped cream (optional)

Mix milk, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla in a saucepan over low heat, until it comes to a low boil. Separately, whisk egg yolks and sugar in a bowl until the yolks are pale. Slowly add the hot milk mixture to the yolks in phases, and whisk until combined. 

Pour the mixture back in the saucepan and cook over medium heat (but don’t boil) until it’s thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. 

Take off the heat and mix in any heavy cream or alcohol, if you opt for those. Refrigerate until chilled, then enjoy! You can top with whipped cream and a dash of cinnamon. 

Some Like It Hot  

Sometimes you want a holiday drink that warms you, and nothing fits the bill like a classic hot buttered rum. The iconic drink takes no time to throw together, is perfect enjoyed around a roaring fire, and impresses guests as soon as the frothy head hits their lips. 

Tamu Curtis, proprietor of The Cocktailery in Charlotte, provided the recipe, and the reason it’s one of her favorite yuletide drinks. “With the butter, cinnamon and nutmeg, it just feels like a Christmas cookie.”

Hot Buttered Rum


4 oz. spiced or dark rum

4 tbsp rum batter

Boiling water to fill glass

Buttered Rum Batter:

4 tbsp room-temperature butter

2 tbsp light brown sugar

2 tbsp powdered sugar

2 tsp cinnamon 

1 tsp ground nutmeg

4 tbsp softened vanilla ice cream or canned coconut milk 

Mix first 5 batter ingredients until smooth. Add ice cream or milk and stir. Pour the rum over the mixture and stir, then dispense into a glass with a handle. Fill with boiling water and enjoy. Excess batter can be frozen for use later.


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