For most, the cooler days of November marks the start of the holiday season. For the mixologists at Reynolds Lake Oconee though, November brings the rush of competition. Every year at the Holiday Cocktail Contest, teams from all of Reynolds’ dining venues, Banquets, and Catering & Events go head to head for the title of “Winning Cocktail”. A panel of select judges grade each concoction based on holiday theme, appearance, aroma, creativity, and—of course—taste.

“The contest is a great way to celebrate the holiday season and spirit at Reynolds,” says Director of Food and Beverage Jason Plazola. “It really brings each department together in the spirit of friendly competition to ultimately create something fun that will be enjoyed by the Membership throughout the holiday season.”

With two wins already under their belt, The Creek Club once again defended their title of top holiday cocktail concocters. The winning Reynolds Jingle Juice will be featured in all club restaurants and bars starting the day after Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve. We sat down with Creek Club Restaurant Manager Steve Pinheiro to learn what goes into crafting a three-time-champion holiday cocktail.

What does The Creek Club’s creative process look like?

Before we even start mixing drinks, we come up with a name. The team brainstorms as a whole until we can come to a consensus. After settling on a name, we start experimenting with different spirits, ideas, and flavor profiles. This year’s cocktail was such a collaborative effort that the inspiration came from many individuals and was made into a reality by the mixing skills of our lead bartender, Rod McBrien.

There are a lot of talented mixologists across Reynolds’ dining venues, Banquets, and Catering & Events teams – what has allowed The Creek Club to set itself apart from the competition the past three years?

Our strategy for developing and perfecting our cocktail recipe is really a collaborative effort between our bar team, service team, and management. Our main goal in crafting our submission is making sure that the cocktail is unmistakably “Christmas” in flavor profile and presentation. We want to leave no doubt in the minds of the lucky consumer of our cocktail that this is a Christmas drink. In fact, during the experimental process there are always some great drinks that come about but don’t make the cut because they don’t scream Christmas loud enough!

How did your team create a cocktail that is “unmistakably Christmas”?

In years past we have stuck to warm flavors that make you think of the holidays—vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg—but this year, as we were experimenting with different drinks, we kept hitting snags with the notion, “but does this really taste like Christmas, or could it be mistaken for Fall or Thanksgiving?” We actually stumbled upon one of the key components of this cocktail when one of our bartenders, Victoria Cason, asked me to pick up some Peppermint Mocha cream for her coffee. The distinctive Christmas taste of the peppermint cream is what eventually led us to showcase peppermint and chocolate while layering in notes of vanilla, almond, and hazelnut.

A major component of a winning cocktail is a creative appearance. The presentation of Jingle Juice was a real showstopper—how did you settle upon your design?

The ultimate goal is to make sure the cocktail screams Christmas not just in taste, but also in presentation. That’s where the Christmas ornament came into play. We envisioned a drink that was pictured inside of a Christmas ornament and instantly knew we had to incorporate that component. I found some of the necessary components at a local craft store and we experimented with a few different sizes before settling on the perfect one to showcase our drink and fit nicely in a martini glass. That’s what put our drink over the top in my opinion.

What impact does the Holiday Cocktail Contest have on your team dynamic, and how do you celebrate the big win?

The Holiday Cocktail Contest benefits the team tremendously. In addition to the pride and pure bragging rights that come with being a part of the winning submission, we celebrate by having a big end of the year party for the whole team! For example, last year I took the team out to Dave & Busters for an evening that included dinner, unlimited cosmic bowling, and unlimited games. Everyone had a blast and we hope to do something similar again this year.

Follow the recipe below to warm up your holiday party with the Reynolds Jingle Juice:

Reynolds Jingle Juice

3 oz. Vanilla Flavored Vodka

1 oz. Godiva White Chocolate Liqueur

.5 oz. Hazelnut Liqueur

.5 oz. Amaretto Liqueur

2 oz Peppermint Cream

Shake all ingredients vigorously with ice, strain, and serve up in a martini glass rimmed with Cinnamon Sugar. For extra fun, drop in a skewer of fresh cranberries topped with a miniature Santa hat!

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