Sipping Season

In this season of entertaining, I met up with a master mixologist to learn how to turn some classic mixed drinks into spirited new cocktails.

As we approach the holidays, I started to think about cocktails and how they can set the mood and tone for a festive gathering.

All my close friends, and the bartenders from restaurants that my husband John and I frequent, know when it comes to cocktails, I love the classics. A couple of my favorites are a Tito’s Dirty Martini or a refreshing Negroni. But it can be fun to mix it up a little bit too.

I like to take a seasonal color, for example, and let that determine my cocktail for a gathering. For a golden cocktail, I would choose a rum- or tequila-based drink; for a red cocktail, I look to incorporate sweet vermouth, cranberry juice or Campari. The colors really strike people and that theme can carry throughout the party.

To up my cocktail game and craft some special cocktails for the season, I reached out to professional mixologist Shelby Goelz, of Dunedin, who has a national following and has been a frequent guest presenter at the Ocala Culinary Festival.

The Country Club of Ocala, where I live, graciously granted us access to the Clubhouse Bar, where Shelby and I had a fun time putting a new spin on some timeless classics.

One of the things I loved learning about Shelby is that she knows about blending spirits like I know about combining spices and ingredients to create a special dish. I learned how you can substitute different liquors to create a cocktail that complements the season and also that when a cocktail contains citrus it should be shaken and not stirred so the citrus can blend in with the liquor instead of standing alone, which can make it acidic.

We also talked about how providing one special pre-made cocktail—along with wine and beer—can cut down on the chaos and cost of hosting a party.

So, whether you are planning a socially distanced gathering of friends and family, a festive dinner for two or even a virtual cocktail party, these delicious cocktails will be a welcome addition.

Before she arrived in town, I sent Shelby a list of a few of my favorite cocktails.

“That is where I typically start my journey in developing drinks,” Shelby offers. “Whether it is a specific liquor, flavor profile, ingredient or ratio, there is always something to be inspired by. I took Jill’s cues and added a fun little seasonal element to craft lovely fall and holiday inspired options.”

“Jill mentioned a Negroni and, being Florida based and sub-tropical, the rum variation of Man About Town immediately came to mind and I added a touch of spiced Tiki style bitters,” she adds. “We stirred the ingredients in a cocktail pitcher versus shaking them. This is a traditional technique when making cocktails that do not include citrus or do include delicate spirits that are easily ‘bruised,’ such as vermouth.”

Shelby told me that since cranberry is a big tradition around the holidays, she was inspired by Ocala’s deep horse history in creating a custom cocktail for us named Yippee-Ka-Yay! She added a southern twist with a little vodka or, as she notes, “if you are feeling frisky, a little white whiskey/moonshine and cinnamon.”

In creating the Bear Hug, Shelby took inspiration from a traditional Old Fashioned, which I love. The Bear Hug features a boozy bourbon base, with a hint of sweetness with the pecan-infused maple and a touch of Cynar instead of bitters to round it out.

“This cocktail is just delicious and makes you feel warm and cozy inside,” Shelby says, “like a big ol’ bear hug on a cold night.”

Shelby also created an oh-so-holiday Champagne Cocktail by combining one of her favorite cognacs, a touch of orange liqueur and baking spice bitters, and topping it with bubbles and an edible elegant gold leaf garnish.

Shelby started her beverage career in Chicago and has worked with such famous chefs as Grant Achatz and Jeannie Pierola. In addition to beverage development, she has done event planning, catering and bar directing and managing.

She is a frequent traveler and loves to find and incorporate regional or local spirits into her arsenal, such as ice wine and whiskey in Canada, absinthe in France, vermouth in Italy and wine barrel finished whiskies in California. She says Florida has some amazing options and used products from St. Augustine Distillery and St. Petersburg Distillery in our session.

If you don’t already know, it’s worth mentioning that right here in Marion County we have Fish Hawk Spirits and James Two Brothers Distillers.

I loved the cocktails Shelby and I created together. It’s always fun to have a cocktail that creates or enhances an “experience.”  I know I will have the ingredients for a Bear Hug prepped and ready to serve my family and friends at our next gathering. That will be a sure way to feel all warm and cozy even when it gets chilly outside.

Champagne Cocktail

.75 ounce Cognac Park cognac
.75 ounce St. Petersburg Distillery Tippler’s orange liqueur
.5 ounce fresh lemon juice
2 dashes Tiki style bitters
Small pieces of edible gold leaf

Shake over ice and strain ingredients into a Champagne flute, decorated with gold leaf (put a small amount of honey on the rim, then apply gold leaf with small tongs). › Top with prosecco, cava or Champagne.


2 ounces St. Petersburg Distillery Vodka (corn vodka or white whiskey)
.75 ounce fresh lemon juice
.5 ounce honey syrup
.5 ounce cinnamon bark syrup
1/8 teaspoon Amaro Averna or Cynar liqueur
10 cranberries
1 egg yolk
Cinnamon sticks

Muddle cranberries with honey syrup. › Add other ingredients, with ice. › Shake over ice. › Strain over fresh ice. › Garnish with cinnamon stick.

Honey syrup: Combine equal parts honey and hot water. › Stir until incorporated.

Cinnamon bark syrup: Combine 1 cup sugar and 2/3 cup hot water. › Stir to incorporate. › Add 2-3 sticks cinnamon. › Allow to infuse for 1 hour. › Strain for use.

Bear Hug

1.5 ounces Buffalo Trace bourbon
.75 ounce pecan-infused maple syrup
.75 ounce fresh lemon juice
.5 ounce Hamilton Pimento Dram liqueur
1/8 teaspoon Cynar

Shake over ice. › Strain over fresh ice. › Garnish with toasted pecans (from syrup making).

Pecan-infused maple syrup: Mix 8 ounces dark maple syrup and 1 cup dark brown sugar and cook on low heat until sugar is dissolved. › Add 1 cup fresh pecans and 4 ounces water. › Stir and leave on low heat for 5 minutes. › Allow mixture to infuse overnight. › Strain and bake pecans for 20 minutes at 300 degrees. › Garnish drink with candied pecans.

Man About Town

1 ounce St. Augustine Distillery rum
1 ounce Campari liqueur
1 ounce Cocchi rouge vermouth
Spiced bitters

Stir over fresh ice. › Strain into a chilled coupe/martini glass. › Garnish with dehydrated orange wheel.

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