Holidays on Ice: Give the Designated Driver Something to Cheer About

We’re baaaaack! (Cue that old Elton John classic—you know the one, from the time before he became a Sir and had to watch his mouth.) Actually, I’m just darting in here because someone – and you know who you are – blew a deadline and left us stranded without a Monday entry. Let’s just say that we hope you feel like a heel, dragging us from our deathbed like this. Well…perhaps we’re exaggerating a bit, but it’s rude just the same.

Nevertheless, we’re eager to warm up the ‘ol fingers to write about something that’s concerning us right here, right now: the temptations of holiday drinking. Lest we trigger every hypocrite alarm within ten miles, we’ll admit that we’re not averse to a drink or three—blame our Scots/Irish heritage, combined with our Italian grandfather’s native reverence for the vine. So, in accepting of our wassail-positive tendencies, we’ve made a few holiday resolutions: we try to partake within reason, and we never drive after drinking. This goes a long way in explaining why we just love having houseguests.

Sticking to your responsible drinking rules is tough at this time of year, when liquor companies are dusting off their yearly Cold Duck campaigns, holiday parties getting under way, and the mistletoe is being hung. For us, boozy parties and dinners are prime temptations to drink more than we should, act as we shouldn’t, and perhaps risk some lives by getting behind the wheel.

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The best solution to holiday partying is the standard designated-driver idea, where some noble soul elects to remain church-pew-sober while all of his friends get red-faced, loose-lipped and boozy. This idea has some problems. First — obviously — none of our friends are that noble. After all, who wants to nurse five Pelllegrino-and-limes, only to ferry six drunken idiots home? Plus, from the drunken idiot point of view, the sober presence of the designated driver is a bit of a buzzkill. Imagine–you’ve just told the punch line to your filthy joke to screams of laughter, only to catch the eyes of the DD – who simply looks mournfully down at his Diet Coke. There has to be a better way.

There is. Instead of subjecting your long-suffering DD to multiple Diet Cokes or Pellegrinos, choose to do your holiday partying in restaurants that serve decent non-alcoholic drinks. And by decent, we mean drinks so festive, pretty and tasty that those dull old boozehounds will actually get jealous when they arrive. This way, the double D’s feel as festive and celebratory as the drinkers, and everyone has a great time.

Our favorite place not to imbibe is at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Who needs an aperitif from that nasty, shrewed-faced old Veuve Clicquot (whose grumpy, mercenary visage scowls from her every champagne cork), when you can have Blue Hill’s lovely fauxpagne of elderflower syrup and soda? This sparkler has a similar flavor to the hyper-trendy alpine elderflower liqueur, St. Germain — except that without all the heavy alcohol notes, the Blue Hill version is lighter and, somehow, prettier.

Then, when the courses start arriving, switch to Blue Hill’s preferred non-alcoholic quaff, Gewurtzraminer juice from Navarro Vineyards in Mendocino, CA www.navarrowine.com. The story behind this drink is that a regular, alcohol-containing maker of wines found herself pregnant and missing the wine’s flavor—hey presto, non-alcoholic juices made at the vineyard from her actual wine grapes. And, unlike the sweet, flat flavors of other non-A brands (like those of that supermarket darling Ariel), Navarro’s juices are carefully balanced between sugar and acid—this means they pair well with food, even of Blue Hill’s quality.

And it doesn’t end at dessert. While, sadly, Blue Hill’s tisane service is ended for the season (where the living herbs are spectacularly wheeled into the dining room to be snipped tableside, then added to your personal glass teapot as it merrily glows over a burning tealight), non-imbibers can always go for a palate-refreshing pot of tea. Comfort yourself knowing that while the boozers are killing their tastebuds with fire-water digestifs, you’ll be able to actually savor all that Blue Hill’s pastry team can supply. Designated Drivers can actually pity those poor, blunted boozers.

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Another option is have your holiday celebration at Lejends, where the Caribbean penchant for home-brewed, non-alcoholic herbal drinks is carried on with gusto. Look for fiery, house-made ginger beer whose eye-popping intensity is a revelation after a lifetime of wan, American-style ginger ales. Or, go for the sweet and herbal brewed sorrel drink, whose rich, ruddy color and hard-to-place flavor is every bit as exciting as a trendy, well-made cocktail.

Meanwhile, at Temptation Tea House, bubble tea is on hand to satisfy the oral fixations of any Designated Driver. Here, hot or cold teas—ranging from matcha (powdered green tea), black tea and fruit-flavored green teas—are offered alongside one of our favorite non-alcoholic quaffs, pearl or bubble tea. Our favorite version is Temptation’s milk black tea with almond flavor. In it, hot, sweet, marzipan-tinged black tea is made even better by large (marble-sized), neutrally-flavored tapioca balls. The fun comes in sucking up the black, chewy tapioca balls through your outsized straw. It’s as satisfying as smoking a cigar. Also look for agar teas, which come sporting cubes of seaweed-based gelatins in trippy, psychadelic fruit flavors and colors.

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