If you’re familiar with the Chicago bar scene, you might have run into Torrence O’Haire in a number of places.
You might have attended a cocktail competition he has hosted on behalf of his company, Royal Dutch Distillers (Rutte Gin, Mandarine Napoléon, among other brands).
If you went to culinary school in the city, he might have been at the head of your Spirits and Mixology Class at Kendall College School of Hospitality. Or you might have seen him on any given night at Elixir Lounge in Andersonville, serving up a vast menu of unique craft cocktails.
If you’re lucky, however, you were invited to O’Haire’s home, attending one of his many dinner events for industry professionals.
“I do most of my entertaining at home… to get to know local professionals on a much warmer and more personal scale than ‘yet another dreadful networking event’.”
O’Haire has held nearly every role in the service industry over this course of his 15-year career, from busboy to chef, sommelier to cocktail competitor, teacher to brand ambassador. No matter where he is stationed, his mission has always been to develop warm, personal relationships with his guests.
It is his sense of hospitality that has brought him success so far, and it’s also at the core of his three exceptional holiday cocktails.
Serving Hospitality for the Holidays
Hospitality is more than just good service. It’s about creating a experience, and it’s a critical component of being a great holiday host.
“Make someone feel incredible,” says O’Haire. “Make them feel wonderfully well-cared for, repair their wounds, make them laugh, warm them, nourish them, and send them blissfully home.”
O’Haire tries to weave this holiday hospitality into the DNA of his cocktails, starting with the selection of the base spirit.
Take his original “Clara’s Waltz”, a cocktail inspired by The Nutcracker that features genever instead of its more popular cousin, gin. The reason for choosing genever over gin was as much about the experience as it was about the flavor profile.
“Think of genever as a gin that tastes and feels like a chilly autumn day,” he said, “It’s also flavored very lightly with hazelnuts and walnuts, so there’s an additional richness to its palate.”
The “Clara’s Waltz” cocktail embodies a familiar and important memory from our childhood: the moment when we were first treated like an adult. For Clara in the The Nutcracker, it was the night she attends her first “grown-up Christmas party”. Whatever that moment was for you, O’Haire’s cocktail captures the emotion perfectly.
“This is a blend between a semi-dry classic ‘adult cocktail’, with a little whipped-cream-holiday-sweetness to delight your inner child.”
How to turn a song into a cocktail
When your focus is on creating experiences and not just cocktails, you realize that inspiration can be found everywhere during the holidays… even in a song.
O’Haire’s second holiday cocktail, Sugar Rum Cherry, is the perfect example. It is inspired by Duke Ellington’s jazz rendition of “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies”. The song feels boozy and familiar, yet unpredictable and exciting, much like the drink itself.
It would be easy to say that O’Haire’s years of experience and formal training are the reason why his cocktails hit the perfect holiday note. I would say it is more than that.
O’Haire starts with the question: “How do I make this person feel happy?” and builds his drinks around the answer.
Sometimes the answer is a childhood memory, sometimes a song, sometimes an over-sized holiday meal. In the end, he doesn’t measure his success by the awards he wins, but the friendships he makes along the way.
That should be your goal this holiday season as well. Here are three cocktails from O’Haire that are sure to help you succeed.