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You know when you see a perfectly frosted cupcake—or, say, an intricate winter drink idea from Pinterest—and, for just a second, you think, I bet if I really applied myself I could end up making something that looks that nice? I believe that when President Barrack H. Obama coined the term “audacity of hope,” he did it while gazing lovingly at a perfectly proportioned acai smoothie bowl with just a whole apple shoved into it with a paralyzing boldness.
Have you, perhaps, in this season of reflection and dreams for the future, fancied yourself crafting a wintry cocktail as perfect as the ones that grace Pinterest? Well, I’m here to tell you that I had that dream once. I pondered lovingly crafting a hot toddy or a festive mimosa and serving it to my loved ones like one of those peaceful, white-toothed women who can pull off wearing an apron and a messy bun because their togetherness is so complete that the messiness is clearly an accessory. So I gathered (Read: lured) two of my pals, Shelby and Dare, to my house to make them try five Pinterest-y winter cocktail recipes with me. What’s the worst that could happen?
Before we dig in, I just want to say one thing: Did you know there’s no government agency in charge of making sure Pinterest boards don’t just do absolute lies to innocent consumers? I’m just saying. Someone should look into that. So, without further ado, follow me and my friends Shelby and Dare down a Wonka-esque nightmare tunnel of flavored vodka and heavy cream into what is definitely the land that God forgot.
Drink 1: A Winter Snowflake
Dare picked “A Winter Snowflake” to start off with, and I couldn’t blame her—It looked delicious. The recipe involves mixing caramel, white chocolate, and vanilla (a whole teaspoon of vanilla, which I found stressful) with Bailey’s and milk. I followed the instructions and put the drink into the microwave until it was “piping hot!” which Shelby had her doubts about. I offered my friends whipped cream to top and then realized there was no cream to be had. Despite this, the beverage was indisputably delicious. I don’t know if it was a mental block or not, but I tasted an aftershock from the sheer amount of vanilla I had dumped in there. However, for the most part the drink tasted like a literal cookie. Shelby, hot off a Chopped binge, was feeling saucy and added a Keurig shot of espresso to her drink to balance out the sweets—and I have to say, I wasn’t mad at it.
The Verdict — Delicious, but maybe too much vanilla.
Drink 2: Cranberry Mimosa
To balance out the sweet cookie vibes, we opted for a less sugary drink next. This was a quick recipe, although not as quick as the listed two minute prep time that my friends kept pointing out to light a fire under me. It’s champagne and cranberry juice; what’s the worst that could happen? We all don’t get UTIs?
This drink was….tart. I’m looking at my notes and I just kept writing “tart” in multiple bullets because, despite the stated tartness, we all just did keep drinking it. We tried to figure out what kept us coming back to this drink that none of us could taste without making lemon-face. The reigning theories were that the color was so very beautiful, and the fact that it seemed like a very healthy drink that we should feel good about drinking (or the part that wasn’t alcohol, at least).
As a fix for the tartness, Chef Shelby tried adding a smidge of simple syrup to mixed results. At the recommendation of my mom (who at this point had gotten home from dinner and started making some whipped cream from scratch for us, because that’s the magic of going home for the holidays) we added some Sprite to see if that was anything. It super wasn’t, but we really did keep sipping this thing for the rest of the experiment, so that’s gotta be some kind of endorsement.
The Verdict — Very (very) tart, but oddly drinkable.
Drink 3: Caramel Snickerdoodle Martini
Of all the things I had to purchase for this winter drink ideas experiment, the one I resented most was this $14 fifth of caramel flavored vodka that will just sit on a shelf leering at me until the day I die.
This drink, to me, had the most potential, because every ingredient was delicious. However, our problems started right away when the recipe insisted I “warm” caramel. I took a handful of the prepackaged caramel cubes I had bought and microwaved them. At this point, my mom told me I was microwaving them wrong and took over microwaving, but the caramel wound up getting all burnt anyway. My only conclusion is that warming caramel isn’t a real thing and we were set up somehow. I ended up dumping some Torani caramel sauce onto a saucer to rim the glasses. Let this be a lesson to you: If anyone ever tells you to warm caramel, call the police on them because it’s impossible.
The rim garnishing for the glasses was indisputably the best part of this recipe. (It was gorgeous and did very much taste like a snickerdoodle.) However, each of us had the same thought as we started drinking. It tasted like a big cup of milk. The recipe is mostly just heavy cream and whipped cream—with the aforementioned cursed vodka at a 4 to 1 ratio. There’s no denying it: this is one milky boy.
We all agreed the aesthetic was pretty good, though.
The Verdict — Just kind of tastes like milk.
Drink 4: Caramel Apple Cider Mimosa
We opted to move to a simpler recipe to give me a little time away from the wretched cocktail tools, and this one looked promising.
There are literally three ingredients—apple cider, sparkling wine and an encore performance of the caramel vodka. There’s no denying it: The drink was easy to make and it looked great. I was really perfecting the drizzly caramel rims, and the addition of cinnamon sugar and nutmeg definitely made things apple-y. But the actual taste of the thing? She was rough. Shelby wrote, “It grows on you” in her notes, but I suspect the harsh light of day will expose this as wishful thinking. It just tasted off in some way. There’s always a possibility that my “sparkling wine” of choice—a $7 bottle of André—is to blame, but I’d like to know what anyone really expected of me.
My mom thought, for reasons she absolutely did not elaborate on, that this drink was “my dad’s kind of thing,” so he was dragged away from the couch to weigh in. I’m not exaggerating when I say he did the entire kombucha girl gauntlet of expressions, which is going to be the closest this drink gets to a positive review.
The Verdict — Looks pretty, but tastes…rough.
Drink 5: Sex On A Snowbank
The optics on this one are undeniably good. Saucy name? Check. Fluffy white aesthetic? Super check! This drink is basically just coconut cream, Malibu rum and ice. We even, after a debate, broke out the blender to comply with the recipe’s wishes. Here’s the thing, fam, about a drink that’s just coconut rum with coconut cream: It tastes like just coconuts. The first note I wrote was, “Fuck, it’s really just coconut, huh?” Shelby’s notes are an itemized list:
It’s hard to disagree.
The one upside was that the badness of the drink itself really helped to take the heat off how badly I had rimmed the glasses with shaved coconut, a task which my mom says was “setting me up to fail from the beginning anyway.”