Wine Enthusiast Podcast: A Look at Festive Drinks for the Holiday Season

An illustration of a holiday-themed house covered in show, with a train on train tracks driving by and a bottle of wine and cocktail visible in two of the train carriages.
Illustration by Rachel Joan Wallis

As the end of the year approaches, it brings celebrations that may include family, friends, food and, of course, good drinks. Often times, special or traditional libations reserved for these festive occasions are popped and shared.

But what makes a drink festive? What makes it unique, or holiday-worthy? Is it the ingredients? The history? The people you enjoy it with?

Maybe it’s a little bit of everything.

In this episode, we take a look at festive drinks for the holiday season.

Spirits Editor Kara Newman speaks with beverage pros Jackie Summers, founder of Jack from Brooklyn and creator of Sorel Liqueur, and Joanna Carpenter, a bartender, beverage consultant and equity, diversity and inclusion educator. They discuss what makes a drink festive, including the traditions behind it, the people who make it, and how and with whom to best enjoy it.

Ultimately, it may be less about the specific pour in your glass and more about enjoying the moment, appreciating the experience and making a lasting memory with your loved ones.

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Episode Transcript

Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting.

Speakers: Kara Newman, Jackie Summers, Joanna Carpenter

Kara Newman 0:00
I’m Kara Newman, spirits editor for Wine Enthusiast. And today I’m talking with two pros in the spirits and cocktail world. Would you care to introduce yourselves? Jackie, why don’t you go first?

Jackie Summers 0:10
Hi, Kara. It’s great to hear you. I am Jackie Summers. I’m the founder of Jack from Brooklyn and the creator of Sorel Liqueur.

Joanna Carpenter 0:19
Hey, Kara. I’m Joanna Carpenter. I am a bartender and a beverage consultant and an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion educator.

Kara Newman 0:28
Wonderful. So, the topic of today’s podcast is all about the holidays, especially what we enjoy eating and especially drinking during the holidays. So I would love to hear—I mean, this year is going to be so, so different. I mean, obviously. But I would love to hear what you have planned for the holidays. Now, I mean, what do you typically eat and drink during the holidays?

Jackie Summers 0:52
This is interesting, because my father was Muslim, and my mother is Christian. And that a point early in the marriage, they just decided that the best way to avoid fighting over what to celebrate was was to celebrate nothing. So I didn’t grew up with a religious association for the holidays. But we always had time off. So I always appreciate looking forward to seeing my family during these days, especially nowadays, because my mom is 93. And truthfully, I treat every time we get—Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years visit—as if it will be made the last one I get to spend with them. So I want it to be special.

Kara Newman 1:37
Oh, that’s so nice. I definitely appreciate that. Hey, Joanna, what’s the vibe like for you during the holidays?

Joanna Carpenter 1:45
I kind of grew up with the opposite of Jackie. Thanksgiving and Christmas, in particular, were such massive events in my family. And as the years have gone by the family’s kind of splintered a little bit. And I have not been able to make it back to Michigan from New York as often as I would like. So I’ve had to kind of create my own traditions with chosen community here in New York City, or, you know, my theatrical community if I’m doing a holiday show. So my thing is always I really love cooking for people. Like if I can get 20 people in a room and feed them. I am just the most thrilled. And I do a mix of more traditional Chinese dishes. So I’m usually making several hundred dumplings by hand, which is one of my favorite things to do for large groups. Yeah, we don’t mess around. We don’t mess around—enough dumplings for a small army. So there’s a mix of traditional Chinese dishes as well as other things that I grew up with. So like I am all about the sweet potato life. I will eat an entire pumpkin pie to myself after making it.

Jackie Summers 2:56
I want to be part of the dumpling army.

Joanna Carpenter 2:58
I will make you dumplings.

Jackie Summers 3:00
Dumplings are proof of God’s love.

Joanna Carpenter 3:03
This is true. This is true. 100%. The trick is you have to marinate the filling overnight. That’s the only way to do it. Yeah. So now you all know the secret.

Kara Newman 3:15
What are you drinking with dumplings?

Joanna Carpenter 3:16
Champagne. Champagne, and I will hear I will hear no other options. That is—listen, I’m a bubbly girl through and through. So any chance I get. People are like what is your favorite drink? And I’m like really good Champagne in like a plastic cup in the park. I don’t care. So bubbles for all.

Jackie Summers 3:37
Yay, bubbles.

Kara Newman 3:40
Do you feel like the holidays is going to be different this year? I mean, as we start finally getting together cautiously.

Jackie Summers 3:46
I really do. I think that people have been holed up, hopefully, for a while and hopefully they’re healthy. And there’s going to be grandparents meeting grandchildren for the first time. There’s going to be cousins who haven’t seen each other in a year and a half. I think it’s going to be a special time. I don’t want to buy into the cliche that absence makes the heart grow fonder. But we’ve been ready to get out of our house for a while now and I think all of us who survived have reason to celebrate.

Joanna Carpenter 4:23
Yeah, I agree with that. I think, um, you know, because I don’t know if I’m actually going to be able to get back to be with my family for the actual holidays. But around this time of year—the holidays actually tend to be somewhat tough for me, which is for me personally, which is why I tend to lean into trying to be of service to other people. So last year, you know, I did a whole bunch of cooking for a community fridge that was down the block from me across from some public housing, which had you know, they like these buildings like didn’t have gas for six months. It was a nightmare for them. You know, so trying to be of service to my community as much as possible is a thing that I lean into. And I think coming out of the pandemic, there’s a heightened awareness of who has things and who doesn’t. And the value, not just the monetary value, but like the intangible value of things and people and access to health and safety. And, you know, I think for me, I’m kind of, I’m figuring out what the holidays are going to look like this year, because they can be also a really sad and kind of, like, lonely time for some people. And I think I constantly just think about who doesn’t have access to what I have access to and how can I help? And, you know, how can I be there for people? In our industry? You know, there’s a lot of reflection going on, like, how do we show up for each other? How do we take care of our guests and our neighbors and our friends and do it via food and drink and, you know, create something joyful that didn’t exist before? So this year is gonna be—it’s gonna be better than last year, we can say that.

Kara Newman 6:03
That is for absolute certain. Oh, yeah. So speaking of drinks, in your opinion, what makes it drink festive?

Jackie Summers 6:11
I kind of think it’s the people that you drinking with that makes the drink festive. The occasion is different for everybody. There’s lots of different reasons people gather this time of year, with a few people that you really care about. They can be blood relatives, they can be the family that you’ve chosen, as Joanna says, but the people that you get to spend time with in the reasons you have to celebrate are really, I think, what makes it festive.

Joanna Carpenter 6:38
Agree 1,000%, that.

Kara Newman 6:42
it’s interesting, I thought you were going to say something about the spices or the components of the drink. But I think that’s such a more meaningful response.

Joanna Carpenter 6:49
Well, I mean, we think about when we’re given reasons to celebrate, that could be like, I made it to the end of my work day, it could be there’s a birthday happening, or you know, somebody’s getting married. I think another thing that we’re all kind of reflecting about now, is the fact that like, the having experienced what we’ve experienced over the last 20 months, you know, 22 months, I think for a lot of us, it brings home the notion that like, it is our job, to live the best life that we possibly can. It is our job to fall in love, to write the book, to eat the good food, to share the space, to have a glass of Champagne, you know, or whatever you want to do. And I mean, like Jackie’s 100% right. It could be a Tuesday at like 3pm. And if you’re around people that amplify your energy that care about you, and you’re all sharing the space, like that is something to celebrate. And I know I’m going into the holidays treasuring that. And it’s also a really good excuse to be like, well screw it, it’s Christmas, I’m just gonna buy whatever I want to buy, like, an expensive bottle, or if that’s a really delicious meal, you know, I think my question is like, why not? Why not?

Jackie Summers 8:06
I also want to move with the awareness that I know that the holidays are difficult for a lot of people like Joanna said. It’s not a reason a lot of people feel good about. A lot of people struggle through the holiday season. And I want to encourage not drinking to cope.

Joanna Carpenter 8:22
Yes.

Jackie Summers 8:22
I want to see if we can really get people to figure out what what are the reasons you have to celebrate this year? What are the things that you can observe that actually went well? And can you do that around people you care about? I think that’s more important than can we inebriate ourselves? Can we have something delicious, and mark the occasion with people we care about with a cocktail that actually makes us feel good and doesn’t leave us feeling terrible for days?

Kara Newman 8:52
Yeah, that’s a very thoughtful response. Did you have a particular holiday tradition growing up?

Joanna Carpenter 9:01
I definitely did–go ahead, Jackie.

Jackie Summers 9:04
So my mom was born day after Christmas. Her birthday’s the 26th. So growing up, she never got birthday presents because my mom felt you just had Christmas, you don’t get doubles. My only tradition is making sure I spend the day after Christmas with my mom. And again, because she’s 93, it’s that much more relevant, that much more special. So my traditions are I make sure I’m at mom’s house day after Christmas. I make sure that she gets breakfast in bed, and I make sure that I bake her cake that’s just for her.

Joanna Carpenter 9:46
I love your mom so much. Growing up so I mean like we had the whole routine Christmas Eve into Christmas morning and like when the family would meet up at somebody is big house. When I was little—and I still laugh about this—when I was little, I used to do this thing where I would put on my cassette tape of The Nutcracker ballet. And I would curl up in my flannel jammies on my bed. But I would refuse to sleep under a blanket. I would demand that I didn’t spend Christmas Eve sleeping under a blanket. And when my mother asked me the reason, I said it’s because Jesus didn’t have a blanket.

Jackie Summers 10:28
If God can freeze, I can freeze too.

Joanna Carpenter 10:30
If God can freeze, I can freeze too. Solidarity, bro. And like, I’m not I’m not a religious person anymore but I was raised in the church. And you know, Christmas Eve is always very special in that sense. So as an adult, now, if I am not out of New York City, if I’m not on a contract, my personal tradition is that I always go to St. Mary’s Episcopal in Times Square for just like the choral music. They do the most beautiful holiday music just for like half an hour, 45 minutes, early evening. And I’ll dress up and go sit and just like be in that space. It’s a stunning church. And then I will go to like the Rainbow Room or one of the big hotels nearby and I will treat myself to a couple glasses of Champagne. And then whatever the rest of the evening brings, the rest of the evening brings. But that’s kind of my little special personal thing that I do outside of like, where are we eating? Who needs what? You know, like, gift exchange, like that kind of thing.

Kara Newman 11:31
There’s something so special about a hotel bar.

Jackie Summers 11:35
Joanna has the voice of an angel for those who do not know. Absolute goddess.

Joanna Carpenter 11:41
Oh, gosh, my secret’s out.

Kara Newman 11:47
Just to kind of bring this back around to the drinking. So Jackie, tell me about your drinking traditions these days. Or do you have one?

Jackie Summers 11:57
So Sorel is the traditional Caribbean holiday drink, especially around the end of the year, but really it’s consumed all year long for whatever is a celebratory occasion. So the fact that I can bring a bottle of Sorel, my version of this centuries old classic to any holiday tradition, is really, really I feel honoring my ancestors and everything we came from. I am Caribbean on both sides. My mother’s parents came from Barbados, my father’s parents came from St. Kitts-Nevis. So traditionally, we would drink this over ice or even warmed up. It’s delicious. The only other thing I really drink… I might have it on a holiday punch. And I might have it in, as Joanna said, in a sparkling wine. But besides that, I try to drink water because I want to stay hydrated.

Kara Newman 12:58
That’s a good idea. You know, since we’re talking about Sorel anyway, I’m not sure that everyone listening knows about your product and your story. So maybe we can kind of take a brief detour to talk about the product. I mean, I know this is now the second iteration of the product. I’m so excited that it’s back.

Jackie Summers 13:18
So the super short version is if you went back 500 years, hibiscus flowers were known in West Africa to be of great medicinal value. They are a natural antioxidant. They have got natural antimicrobials, they are natural antifungal. It’s a natural aphrodisiac. And the West Africans would make this tea and it was ceremonial for them. And then the spice trade starts in the 1600s and the flower gets imported to the Caribbean. And literally, not metaphorically, takes root there. But the people and the knowledge of the flower moves with it as well. So I am the first person to make an alcoholic version of this 500-year-old beverage shelf stable. So that is my contribution to the story that’s going on for centuries. It’s made with hibiscus, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove. It’s about 15% alcohol. So about the strength of a fortified wine. It’s delicious hot or cold. And it mixes with literally everything. But I gotta say, I think Joanna’s right for the holidays, it’s definitely a sparkling wine kind of thing.

Kara Newman 14:33
Hmm, I could definitely see that. It’s such a pretty ruby hue and mess look very nice with bubbles.

Joanna Carpenter 14:40
Oh, yeah, it does. It does. It does. I love to do, I mean, because I try to be hostess with the mostess, I just really love taking care of people. So I’m like, please come to my home. And let me make you drinks and food. I have a beautiful antique crystal punchbowl that I haven’t been able to use in a couple of years because COVID. And now that Sorel is back on the market, I am so excited to be able to make some punches this year. Oh yeah, it’s happening. I’m so excited.

Kara Newman 15:13
To consume with more than one person.

Joanna Carpenter 15:15
Truly, truly, truly. And yeah, I love doing anything that has culinary elements in it. So like all of my punches tend to have a lot of like tea infusions and fresh herbs and, you know, like citrus. I mean, just like anything fresh and exciting and seasonal, with flavors that are super, super vibrant, and also really good pairings with whatever food I’m making. And yeah, I mean, there’s going to be Sorel spritzes—it’s going to happen.

Kara Newman 15:48
Oh, that sounds like so much fun.

Joanna Carpenter 15:50
You want to come over? I have a punch bowl and Sorel? Party at my place.

Kara Newman 15:57
So Joanna, among the many hats that you wear, you’re also a career bartender. So do you have advice for people who are planning to host gatherings this year? Yeah.

Joanna Carpenter 16:08
Oh my gosh. So this is what I always tell people I’m the math is simpler than you think it is for making like a batched cocktail or a big cocktail. I also always recommend supporting local small batch spirits companies if you can. Obviously the Wine Enthusiast audience is global and massive, but you know, whatever you can purchase that supports a local distiller, a local maker, a local artisan, highly, highly recommend. There just an endless amount of beautiful products on the market to explore. And I think with from a logistical standpoint for like a group, definitely tend to lean towards lower ABV. That’s why punches are so amazing. Because you get such a pop of flavor without having a ton of booze. Spritzes are really wonderful, anything with low ABV liqueurs, so we’re talking Sorel, we’re talking vermouths, ports, sherries, you can do a lot of creative mixing that looks super elegant and exciting. Like a port and tonic, you know, people don’t people don’t lean into the port or sherry and tonic often enough, I think, that are exciting and elegant without being too labor intense. And also won’t get people too riled. You know, like, especially, we’re all very excited to spend time with each other and when energy is high, we tend to drink faster. And obviously, we want to make sure that we’re able to enjoy as many hours of an event or a gathering as we can. So I always tend to lean towards low ABV, because you’re able to just kind of draw out the experience without sacrificing flavor. And you know, anything bubbly pairs really well with food. Making sure that if you’re hosting an event that you do have non alcoholic options available, in addition to like good wine, good sparkling, stuff like that. You know, because there are so many people exploring the non-alcoholic space, they don’t want to feel excluded, especially if they’re, you know, heading out for the first time in a long time or somebody is pregnant, you know, we just want to be respectful of that. So I say play and don’t overthink the drinks and easy mixes can be very universal for all types of palates and dealing with allergies and all of that.

Kara Newman 18:30
I like that. So lots of low alcohol, no alcohol options and don’t stress too much.

Joanna Carpenter 18:35
Don’t stress too much. Listen, life is too short. Pop a few bottles of something really good. Everybody’s going to have a great time human-ing with each other, or learning how to human with each other because a lot of us have forgotten.

Kara Newman 18:48
Human’s a verb.

Joanna Carpenter 18:50
Yeah, it’s you know sometimes it’s hard I tend to like Kool Aid man my way into conversations because I had after so many months of lockdown last year I had forgotten how to like you know, behave socially. So I became this just like rabid like hyena going in and being like oh my God, my friends. It’s very entertaining for the first few months that I came out of my Batcave.

Kara Newman 19:14
I can imagine. So Jackie, I guess same question for you. Advice for people who are planning to host a gathering this year?

Jackie Summers 19:24
The advice that I would give for folks trying to host the gathering is we have been denied each other’s company for a long time. Go all out. Do not hold back if there are things that need to be said, say them. If, like Joanna said, if you want to buy that expensive bottle of Champagne, buy it. Figure out what you can do to make the occasion special. Joanna is obviously far more talented at making the actual drinks than I am. But I sincerely believe that we mark the occasions that matter all Have them with some sort of libations. So figure out the people, find the space, and really make it count. We’re not quite done with this yet, but we’re almost there. But we deserve, we deserve the celebration. There’s a lot to be thankful for, a lot to be grateful for. Go all out, spend the money, have the people, surround yourself with the people you care about and have the best time you can. Make the memory count.

Kara Newman 20:32
I like that. You can’t see me, I’m nodding, make the memory count. Yeah, that’s wonderful. Yeah. So is there anything else you’d like to add that our listeners might want to know about? Any projects you’re working on, anything else you want people to know?

Jackie Summers 20:52
There’s a lot of fun stuff in the works. We really feel like—I really feel like I have a lot to be thankful for right now. We lost a lot of people this year. And a lot of people had really hard in the industry in the last year and a half. And we want to be mindful of those, like Joanna said, who are differently fortunate than us. Everyone’s going through a tough time. But no matter what you have or don’t have, it’s enough to share with somebody else. That said, I’m looking forward to wrapping up this year and moving into these new directions and new spaces. And really seeing what the future could hold for us. I I don’t do hope. But I am full of resolve. And I’m looking forward to seeing things slowly and continually get better for us all.

Joanna Carpenter 21:57
Yeah, I think the thing that I would offer to your listeners is the reminder that food and drink are love languages. It doesn’t matter what community you come from, or what your life experience has been. But we bond and we connect through the vehicle of sharing meals and sharing time and space and drinks, alcoholic or non, with each other. And I think it’s important to remember that those moments are fleeting, and they are precious. And, you know, it’s our job to kind of cherish those. And I also think it’s really important to remember, especially if you’re in a place like New York or Los Angeles or Chicago, you know, these cities that have gotten hit hard, our restaurants and our bars have been hit somewhat the hardest, and none of us ever got a break. None of us ever got to stop and rest, really. So when you’re going out and you’re celebrating and you’re getting together with people, remember to be kind to the people who are working. You know, we’re still dealing with the fallout of the pandemic and of so much loss and so much kind of chaos in the industry and the humanization of the people who are bringing you this food and drink that you can then, you know, bond with your your community humans over. I think it’s really, really important to take care of the people who are taking care of us just as much as we can. So just you know, a reminder as we go in that the things that matter in life, you know, beyond the holidays are the people that were around whether we know them or not. And it’s our job to be kind and be generous and, you know, just be be good humans while we find more reasons to joyfully celebrate.

Jackie Summers 23:48
Yeah, the things that matter aren’t things.

Kara Newman 23:52
I like that. And so as we are wrapping up, tell me what drink you’re looking forward to next. I’ll go first. I know that I’ve been really kind of doubling down with the steakhouse martinis. You know, just classic, really, really cold. And, you know, served by somebody who is not me.

Joanna Carpenter 24:13
Step one, I don’t want to make it.

Kara Newman 24:17
I didn’t realize how much it meant to me to have somebody else make a drink for me and to me. It matters. It does matter.

Joanna Carpenter 24:25
Are you an oliver or a twist human?

Kara Newman 24:28
Twist.

Oh, yeah.

Jackie Summers 24:32
It’s a joke I’ve told for many years, Kara. People do not go to bars to drink. Anyone can drink at home, the pandemic proved that. People go to bars to socialize. People go back to a bar for the bartender. And there’s something about that experience of being at a place and a time with people you care about and getting that drink that is just absolutely celebratory. And that’s something I look forward to again.

Kara Newman 25:00
It’s so true.

Jackie Summers 25:01
I’m really looking forward to, however, Joanna’s dumplings and Sorel Champagne cocktails.

Joanna Carpenter 25:07
It’s gonna be so good. And I’m looking forward to the next glass of outlandishly expensive wine that I put in my face because why not? What day is it is, Wednesday? Great. I’m going to have I’m going to have great Champagne tonight, I don’t care.

Kara Newman 25:27
I see a trend here. Champagne through line going through.

Joanna Carpenter 25:31
Champagne through line. You know, I just finished doing a musical that was about Barbe-Nicole Clicquot. The widow Clicquot. And her story is so fascinating. But obviously the entire through line of the show is the Clicquot legacy and her story and I’m like, I could just drink Champagne all the time. Can this be my life?

Kara Newman 25:52
Actually sipping Champagne on stage?

Joanna Carpenter 25:55
We were not but there was definitely several Clicquot toasts after the show was done. So many empty bottles.

Jackie Summers 26:04
That’s all I want. I want in 100 years of someone to do a musical.

Joanna Carpenter 26:08
It’s really good too.

Jackie Summers 26:10
About Sorel.

Joanna Carpenter 26:11
Oh gosh. That needs to happen.

Kara Newman 26:14
There’s a lot of drama.

Jackie Summers 26:15
It’s a lot of drama.

Joanna Carpenter 26:17
Oh my God, there’s so much drama. That’s gonna be the next wave of commercial musical theater is just shows about booze. I’m ready.

Kara Newman 26:26
Imagine you can have a glass in hand while you watch? An immersive experience. Everything’s an immersive experience these days.

Joanna Carpenter 26:34
I mean, yes. I’m so into it. Let’s get it done. Broadway, do you hear me?

Kara Newman 26:39
Done and done. How about you, Jackie, what’s the next drink you’re looking forward to?

Jackie Summers 26:44
I have been drinking a lot of Sorel and Brenne whisky at the moment. Because Brenne is just totally just lovely with Sorel. But I am going to sort of pull back on the whiskey and the weather is starting to lean to hot toddies. I’m looking forward to Sorel and rum hot toddies.

Joanna Carpenter 27:08
Oh, yeah.

Jackie Summers 27:11
I might even, if I’m feeling fancy, I might even break out the hot buttered Sorel.

Kara Newman 27:18
That sounds decadent.

Jackie Summers 27:22
I thought I thought decadence was the running theme here.

Kara Newman 27:24
I think so. Champagne and hot buttered Sorel.

Jackie Summers 27:28
Hot buttered Sorel is the way to go on a cold night. Yes.

Kara Newman 27:32
Excellent. Okay, so where can people find you? Which website or social media account? Where do you want people to come find you?

Jackie Summers 27:42
So for our website, it’s Sorelofficial.com. And the Instagram account is the same, @Sorelofficial. If you’re looking for me, it’s the @liquortarian on Instagram.

Joanna Carpenter 28:00
Yes, and my website would probably be very boring for your listeners. So we don’t need to look for that. I am on Instagram @thejoannac.

Kara Newman 28:15
Excellent. So Jackie, Joanna, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and expertise with us today. And I hope everyone has a great holiday season ahead.

Jackie Summers 28:26
Thank you, Kara.

Joanna Carpenter 28:27
Thank you, Kara. Thanks for having us. Happy holidays everybody.

Jackie Summers 28:31
Dumplings at Joanna’s place.

Joanna Carpenter 28:35
Yep, party at my place. Let’s go!

Published on November 24, 2021
Topics: Podcast