Creative, colorful cocktails shake up Halloween parties

Daniel Neman
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

I’m just going to be honest here: I’ve never actually been frightened by a drink. Have you?

Nevertheless, this is the time of year when food writers – ordinarily a wise and sagacious bunch – write about cocktails that are frightening or scary or spooky.

But when they say “frightening” or “scary” or “spooky,” what they mean is “kind of fun for Halloween.”

In anticipation of the annual celebration of costumes and candy, I made a six-fingered handful of cocktails that are kind of fun for Halloween. They won’t scare you or make your heart pound faster in terror, but they come in unusual colors that some people find scary (blood red, black, bilious green) or are simply made from ingredients that are appropriate for the season (apple cider, pomegranates).

Most have been given names that are supposed to imply some amount of fear. Do not be fooled by them. These are just excellent cocktails that are delightful for Halloween or any other day of the year.

Take, for example, the Zombie, a classic that has been around since 1934; it was invented at the famous Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Hollywood. It’s only considered frightening because of its name, and it only got the name because it is so potent that drinking too many of them could turn you into the walking dead.

But it’s a great cocktail if you like rum, or even if you don’t (but it’s better if you do). Three types of rum go into it: white rum, golden rum and the surreptitiously lethal 151 rum, which is 151 proof. These are mixed with orange juice, pineapple juice and a splash of lime juice, to give it that tiki-bar tropical feel.

A quick hit of simple syrup softens the tanginess of the citrus juices, and a tablespoon of orange liqueur rounds the drink’s edges. Grenadine is added, too, just to make it pretty.

If you float the 151 rum on top, you can light it on fire. That’s always fun, but if you try to drink it too soon it can be dangerous.

Not just dangerous – scary.

Pomegranate Rum Punch is both full-flavored and refreshing, and is made in a large enough batch to be a hit at a Halloween party.

The blood-red color comes from pomegranate juice, and so does the primary flavor. But strong hibiscus tea adds charming floral notes, with cinnamon providing a touch of exotic spice and spiced rum bringing an alluring kick.

Fresh-squeezed orange juice is a mild counterpoint to the pomegranate, and the punch is turned immediately effervescent with a bottle of prosecco.

The next cocktail I made, Witches’ Brew, is just a lot of fun. It is a bright neon green, courtesy of Midori melon liqueur, which blends remarkably well with an orange liqueur, such as Cointreau or Triple Sec.

Those liqueurs are both on the sweet side, so the Witches’ Brew adds fresh lemon juice to create a sweet-and-tart combination that is unusually pleasant.

For Halloween, we added a bit of dry ice to create that smoky cauldron effect. It isn’t frightening, but it’s diverting.

The next two cocktails I made are pitch black, which is admittedly a great look for Halloween.

Both are made with black vodka, which is a problem. There is apparently only one brand in the world that makes black vodka, Blavod, and it can be hard to find this side of Chicago. So I made my own.

Black vodka is just vodka that is colored black. All I did was take plain vodka and added food coloring to it. I couldn’t easily find black food coloring (black gel coloring would be even better, but black writing gel for cakes does not work), so I just kept adding blue, red and green food coloring to the vodka in small amounts until it essentially turned black.

I used the black vodka to make a Black Magic cocktail, which is simple yet delicious. It, too, is a sweet-and-tart drink, of the most elemental sort. Along with the essentially flavorless vodka, all it has is a squeeze of lime juice and an equal amount of simple syrup.

Sweet, meet tart.

The black vodka makes it look cool, and a swirl of edible pearl dust (it’s used for baking) adds a mystery of white specks.

The other drink using black vodka is called a Black Heart Cocktail, and it is seriously amazing – if you like figs.

I love figs, but I had not even heard of fig vodka. Nevertheless, it exists, and a Black Heart Cocktail mixes a tablespoon of it with a tablespoon of black vodka and three tablespoons of crème de cassis, the liqueur made from blackcurrant berries. A few drops of dry vermouth help to cut the sweetness.

It makes an exceptional, perfectly balanced drink for any fall or winter day.

My final cocktail takes a classic and adds an autumnal twist. A Cider Sidecar takes the cognac, Cointreau and lemon juice that makes up a traditional Sidecar and adds a hefty helping of fresh apple cider.

The cider makes it a different drink altogether. Instead of tasting like a cocktail, it becomes an apple-cider drink with a mellow alcoholic warmth.

I added a pair of eyeballs to mine, made out of lychee nuts and blueberries. You know, to be scary.

The Cider Sidecar, photographed on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021, makes an interesting Halloween cocktail. (Christian Gooden/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)

CIDER SIDECAR

Yield: 1 serving

  • 2 ounces apple cider
  • 2 ounces cognac
  • 1 ounce Cointreau or other orange liqueur (Grand Marnier, triple sec)
  • 1 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • Strip of lemon zest
  • Brandied or maraschino cherries
  • 2 blueberries, optional
  • 2 lychee nuts, optional, see note

Note: Lychee nuts are available canned in international food stores.

1. Place cider, cognac, Cointreau and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker. Add ice, cover and shake until the shaker feels very cold to the touch, about 20 to 30 seconds. Strain into a glass and top with zest and cherries.

2. If desired, place blueberries into lychee nuts to form “eyeballs” and serve with drink.

Per serving: 290 calories; no fat; no saturated fat; no cholesterol; no protein; 25 g carbohydrate; 23 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 17 mg sodium; 7 mg calcium

Adapted from Country Living

The Pomegranate Rum Punch, photographed on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021, makes an interesting Halloween cocktail. (Christian Gooden/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)

POMEGRANATE RUM PUNCH

Yield: 12 servings

  • 4 hibiscus tea bags
  • 1 small cinnamon stick, smashed
  • 3 cups pomegranate juice
  • 1 cup spiced rum
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 (750 ml) bottle prosecco or other sparkling wine, chilled
  • Pomegranate seeds, for serving

1. Place tea bags and cinnamon stick in a large measuring cup. Add 1 cup boiling water; let steep 5 minutes. Strain and cool to room temperature.

2. Combine tea, pomegranate juice, rum and orange juice in a pitcher or punch bowl. Slowly stir in prosecco. Serve over ice with orange slices and pomegranate seeds.

Per serving: 146 calories; no fat; no saturated fat; no cholesterol; 1 g protein; 15 g carbohydrate; 13 g sugar; no fiber; 9 mg sodium; 19 mg calcium

Adapted from Country Living

The Black Magic Cocktail, photographed on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021, makes an interesting Halloween party beverage. (Christian Gooden/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)

BLACK MAGIC COCKTAIL

Yield: 1 serving

  • 21 / 2 ounces black vodka, see note
  • 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
  • 3/4 ounce simple syrup, see note
  • Edible pearl dust, optional, see note

Notes: Black vodka is made by Blavod, but it can be hard to find. Make your own by adding black food coloring or gel into a bottle of vodka, a few drops at a time, and shaking until it becomes black. Or add blue, red and green food coloring or gel into a bottle of vodka, a few drops at a time, and shaking until it becomes black.

– To make simple syrup, boil together equal amounts of water and granulated sugar, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves; can be stored in a clean jar in the refrigerator for several months.

– Edible pearl dust can be found at baking supply stores or in the baking aisle of craft stores. Do not use similar products that do not specifically say they are edible.

Place black vodka, lime juice and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker, add ice and shake until cold. Sprinkle edible pearl dust in bottom of a martini or coupe glass. Strain in drink. Add more pearl dust if it is not shimmery enough; stir with a bar spoon to combine it.

Per serving: 207 calories; no fat; no saturated fat; no cholesterol; no protein; 12 g carbohydrate; 11 g sugar; no fiber; 1 mg sodium; 3 mg calcium

Recipe from elletalk.com

The Witches Brew, photographed on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021, makes an interesting Halloween cocktail. (Christian Gooden/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)

WITCHES’ BREW

Yield: 1 serving

  • 11 / 2 ounces Midori
  • 11 / 2 ounces Cointreau or other orange liqueur (Grand Marnier, triple sec)
  • 1 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • Cocktail cherry
  • 1 small piece (1/2-1 inch) dry ice, optional

1. Add the Midori, Cointreau and lemon juice to a glass or cocktail shaker, add ice and stir until cold. Strain into a lowball glass. Garnish with cocktail cherry.

2. If desired, carefully add a piece of dry ice. Do not drink until the dry ice has dissolved.

Per serving: 243 calories; no fat; no saturated fat; no cholesterol; 1 g protein; 26 g carbohydrate; 23 g sugar; no fiber; 4 mg sodium; 8 mg calcium

Recipe from acouplecooks.com

The Black Heart Cocktail, photographed on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021, makes an interesting Halloween party beverage. (Christian Gooden/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)

BLACK HEART COCKTAIL

Yield: 1 serving

  • 1/2 ounce black vodka, see note
  • 1/2 ounce fig vodka
  • 11 / 2ounces creme de cassis
  • Dash of dry (white) vermouth

Note: Black vodka is made by Blavod, but it can be hard to find. Make your own by adding black food coloring or gel into a bottle of vodka, a few drops at a time, and shaking until it becomes black. Or add blue, red and green food coloring or gel into a bottle of vodka, a few drops at a time, and shaking until it becomes black.

Pour black vodka, fig vodka, creme de cassis and vermouth into a cocktail shaker. Add ice, shake until cold, and strain into a glass.

Per serving: 268 calories; no fat; no saturated fat; no cholesterol; no protein; 21 g carbohydrate; 18 g sugar; no fiber; 2 mg sodium; 30 mg calcium

Recipe from minted.com

The Zombie, photographed on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021, makes an interesting Halloween cocktail. (Christian Gooden/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)

ZOMBIE

Yield: 1 serving

  • 1 ounce white rum
  • 1 ounce gold rum
  • 1/2 ounce orange liqueur (Cointreau, Grand Marnier or triple sec)
  • 11 / 2ounces fresh orange juice
  • 1 ounce pineapple juice
  • 1/2 ounce lime juice
  • 1/2 ounce simple syrup, see note
  • 11 / 2teaspoons grenadine
  • 1/2 ounce 151 rum

Notes: To make simple syrup, boil together equal amounts of water and granulated sugar, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves; can be stored in a clean jar in the refrigerator for several months.

– If you do not have a 1/2-ounce measure, use 1 tablespoon.

Pour white rum, gold rum, orange liqueur, orange juice, pineapple juice, lime juice, simple syrup and grenadine into a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake until cold. Fill a tall glass with ice and strain drink into it. Carefully pour 151 rum on top; do not stir. If desired, you can light top of drink on fire.

Per serving: 350 calories; no fat; no saturated fat; no cholesterol; 1 g protein; 36 g carbohydrate; 32 g sugar; no fiber; 6 mg sodium; 11 mg calcium

Recipe by Daniel Neman