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Cocktail To See 2020 Off: Some Healing Herbs And A Whole Lot Of Cognac


If you were designing a cocktail to salute 2020, what might you come up with? Entries containing hemlock not encouraged. But seriously, how to say good riddance to this year and welcome 2021? What cocktail could possibly capture the crazy that 2020 has been? Friends, fear not. We are not abandoning the annual ALL THINGS CONSIDERED holiday cocktail tradition. We are just going to shift it, as with so much of our lives this year, to Zoom.

JULIA EBELL: Hello, Mary Louise. How are you today?

KELLY: Hello. Wait. Hang on. I'm going to need to rejoin from a different device.

EBELL: There.

KELLY: Hello. Now I can see you.

EBELL: Nice being here in kitchen with you.

KELLY: We are in the kitchen of Julia Ebell. She was creative director of The Gibson, this lovely little cocktail bar here in D.C., which sadly, like so many bars this year, has closed. That means this will be the first New Year's Eve in 15 years that Ebell has not been behind a bar. Instead, she'll be celebrating, like many of us, outside, socially distanced.

EBELL: We've got a fire pit, and we're going to say hi to our neighbors over the fence. And it's not quite the same being without my friends and coworkers. And I'm sure everyone feels the same.

KELLY: We asked Ebell to help us come up with our annual cocktail. We thought maybe something warm, maybe in a thermos, since a lot of us are huddling around fire pits this pandemic winter. And Ebell is game, as you'll hear, though she does miss the very non-socially distanced warmth of a good bar.

EBELL: There's a special kind of magic in the spontaneity that can happen in a cocktail bar. I met my partner eight years ago in The Gibson when I was working there. I was bartending, and he was there on a date.

KELLY: Oh (laughter).

EBELL: It's just running into people and not having to plan it but allowing that little bit of kind of joyful chaos. That's almost undoable right now.

KELLY: Yeah. The spontaneity of the chance encounter is something we're all being deliberately trained to avoid.

EBELL: Yes. And that's definitely not the biggest tragedy of this whole situation, but it is part of it.

KELLY: Yeah, that's something we all miss. I am told you have taken to dropping Mason jars of cocktails on people's porches and then running away.

EBELL: The ding and ditch.

KELLY: Ding and ditch (laughter).

EBELL: Yeah. I always see what I do behind the bar as not only, you know, a creative outlet for me, but also, it's a way of taking care of people. It's hospitality. It's sharing what I love doing. And not having that is really sad for me.

KELLY: Yeah. So let's turn to our task. We have assigned you to design a cocktail to salute 2020. First of all, how hard was that? - 'cause this has been a year.

EBELL: So this isn't really a year where I feel like celebration is appropriate, you know? So I started thinking about what would make me feel happy and safe. And of course, I thought about, you know, drinking hot toddies on the back patio.

KELLY: Yeah.

EBELL: And I thought about, you know, a lot of the ways we've been coping with feeling so out of control. We kind of look to traditions or superstitions. So I started thinking about sort of more traditional healing and mood-lifting herbs.

KELLY: So a healing, comforting 2020 cocktail.

EBELL: Healing and comforting and kind of dissipating some of the negativity.

KELLY: OK. So let's make it.

EBELL: I have some sage - just normal culinary sage. Along with that sage, I have cloves, which are always seen as healing.

KELLY: So you're doing, like, the whole clove, not the powder I've got in my spice rack.

EBELL: Not the powder.


EBELL: If you put in the powder, it gets very bitter very quickly. You want to be able to take cloves out because once you hit that clove-y (ph) point - if it passes that, it is unbearable. Thyme is kind of Shakespearean plant language - is for courage. Rosemary, of course, is for remembrance, which we should remember what happened this year. We should hopefully learn from this. And we should hopefully move on with a little bit of kindness towards ourselves, so I have a little bit of dried orange peel. And orange is for kindness and charity. So that's what we're working with. And we're doing this by essentially making a tea with all of these herbs and then adding some honey back in.

KELLY: OK. So let me recap for people trying to follow along. We've got some ginger going. We've got sage. We've got thyme. We've got rosemary. We've got a clove - like a real clove. We've done the orange peel. And when you say we're going to make it a tea, we're - what? - we're pouring hot water over all this.

EBELL: We are going to take our tiny saucepan.


EBELL: And I'm going to just set that on a warm burner while I get myself a little water. So we've got everything except for the thyme and the rosemary kind of getting a little toast. We're going to put our water in on top of that. And then we're going to give it, in an ideal world, 15 minutes on a low simmer, 30 minutes on a low simmer.

KELLY: Now, if people are in a hurry, is there a shortcut? Could I use, like, my little chai tea bag and - I don't know - stick a clove in it and call it a day (laughter)?

EBELL: Yeah. The goal here is to get this in the thermos and get you outside to enjoy it.

KELLY: Well, with that in mind, here we go. After simmering the spices in the water, strain them. Then add honey.

EBELL: So you should be using two parts honey to one part liquid. And the honey will just stir in. Honey wants to turn into a syrup.

KELLY: Then Ebell pulls out a big gallon of apple cider and some fresh lemon juice.

EBELL: So for every cup of the cider, you're going to want about a quarter cup of lemon and a third of a cup to half a cup of the honey mixture.

KELLY: And all of that goes into a big saucepan on the stove.

EBELL: The thing about hot drinks is they're actually better when you get everything that's going in hot.

KELLY: OK. Simmer, then remove from the heat. And - drumroll - the star ingredient.

EBELL: I'm going to put in quite a lot of cognac.

KELLY: Cognac or whiskey or dark rum.

EBELL: This is going to be a very accommodating base mixture, so long as your spirit has a little depth to it, a little warmth to it.

KELLY: About three-quarters of a cup of booze for every two cups of other liquid. And that all goes into the biggest thermos you can find.


EBELL: I hope you share with it. Otherwise, it's going to be about three cocktails' worth.

KELLY: With your socially distanced friends around the fire pit. I love it.

EBELL: I think we're ready to hit the road.

KELLY: Remember ding and ditch, Julia Ebell's endearing habit of delivering cocktails to people's front doors?


KELLY: An hour later, she walked up to mine...


KELLY: ...Smacked a thermos down...


KELLY: ...And...


KELLY: But this time, she didn't ding and ditch.


EBELL: Hello, how are you?

KELLY: Look at you with your thermos on my front steps. This is great. Oh, the Bernedoodle is part of the action here.


KELLY: OK, hang on. So shall we try it?

EBELL: I think we (unintelligible).

KELLY: Should we have a little socially distanced sip? All right.


KELLY: Oh, it's warm. Woo (ph) - tastes like fire pits and backyard gatherings and staying cozy under blankets outside, wearing a bunch of layers and finding little moments of joy where we can. Thank you - best delivery of maybe my year (laughter).

EBELL: To the end of 2020.

KELLY: To the end of 2020. Hallelujah. Cheers.

EBELL: Cheers.

KELLY: That was D.C. bartender Julia Ebell mixing us a cocktail to ring out this unbelievable year. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.