In the spirit of the holidays

The holiday season often becomes about to-do lists, gifts, decorations, food and events — many of which are done to put a twinkle in others’ eyes.

Making it look effortless is part of the charm, too.

So, as things get checked off lists, it’s time to take a festive break with these holiday cocktails made with care and joy.

Spice and ice are nice

E.J. Droessler, owner of L.May Eatery in Dubuque, offered a surprising twist on both the holiday cocktail and the Moscow Mule. His Pear Cardamom Mule blends locally sourced honey, fresh juiced orange and smoked cinnamon with a seasonal Mule mixture of ginger beer and pear vodka. Cardamom bitters and candied cranberries top off the dazzling holiday effect. This iced cocktail is a refreshing antidote to hours of planning festivities or to the flush of festive socializing.

A light take on hazelnut and chocolate

At Caroline’s Restaurant in the Hotel Julien Dubuque, lead bartender Robert Cousins created a holiday cocktail that is popular in and around Rhode Island. The White Angel melds flavors of chocolate, hazelnut and cream, but it is neither too heavy nor too boozy. Instead, it’s a delicate balance of Crème de Cacao, Frangelico, half-and-half and nutmeg that brings to mind a snowy, Northern holiday season. Whether celebrating or taking a to-do list breather, this cocktail lets you sit, back, relax and take in the magic of the season.

Vive pumpkin

If you find yourself shopping or taking part in revelries in Galena, Ill., stop at Miss Kitty’s Grape Escape for a pumpkin martini that easily could be on a dessert menu. Miss Kitty shakes up pumpkin Kahlua, butterscotch liqueur, vanilla vodka and cream and pours the delicious result in a chilled martini glass. If that seems like enough, you are mistaken. She also drizzles it with caramel and gives it a sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice. It reflects the cool decadence of the season, and you’ve earned it.

Something a little different

While in Galena, stop at the Blaum Bros. Distilling Co. for a quirky take on holiday cocktails. Owner Matthew Blaum offered the Improved Monsieur LaPadite (a nod to Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds”) that bartender, Shawn Deisinger, said is an interesting taste you “can’t put your finger on.” It mingles the sweetness of the bourbon with a spicy kick from hot pepper vodka and adds flavors of Swiss chocolate, white chocolate, molé bitters, cream and grated nutmeg. If the season is about both comfort and surprises, this one leans to the surprising, from the hot pepper warmth and the cool, sweet creaminess.

Spirits of Christmas past

At Pepper Sprout in Dubuque, Russ Cole, front of house manager, harkened back to yesteryear with a couple of holiday options. The Apple Bourbon Martini uses apple bourbon and adds homemade honey syrup infused with the holiday trifecta of cinnamon, clove and nutmeg. For a more dessert-like option, there’s the classic Grasshopper Martini with vodka, Godiva chocolate liqueur, mint and cream that Cole created as homage to his grandparents. He remembers, at the holidays, the kids might sneak a little taste of what the adults are drinking. This is a chance to feel like that kid again.

Ooo la la … Oui, merci

Planned in line with a fashion trunk show at Wicked Dame Wine + Bar in Dubuque, co-owner Kim Hackett offered a festive cocktail that is elegant. She and bartender Max Valenciano created the Coco Chanel, a refreshing and pretty blend of Crème de Cacao, pomegranate vodka, spritzer, red wine and cranberry topped with rosemary, sugared cranberry and a spritz of wine. The cocktail is a nod to the fashion world and also to Hackett’s grandparents in the Northeast who always had scented cloves and fruit at the holidays. The cocktail is as crisp and refreshing as it is an instant, stylish classic.

Whether you’re in the mood to celebrate your merry-making accomplishments or to celebrate with family and friends, these cocktails are at your service. They’re creatively made, delicious and memorable and just the sight of them is sure to put a twinkle in your eye.

Angela Jones is a freelance writer from Dubuque.

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