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Get in the Spirits for Holiday Celebrations

The holidays are almost upon us, and that means "'tis the season" for parties with co-workers, dinners with families, get-togethers with close friends and quiet nights by the fireside with loved ones. If you're planning to do some entertaining, do everyone a favor and look beyond the traditional spiked eggnog and hot buttered rum. There are some better options; so here are a few suggestions to warm your belly and fill your guests with holiday cheer. Some Like it Hot On a cold winter day, there are few things better than a steaming mug of coffee, hot chocolate or mulled cider served with chestnuts or biscotti besides a roaring fire. Put some "fire" in the mug by adding one ounce (approximately a shot) of Vecchia Romagna Brandy and garnish with whipped cream. Brandy mixes exceptionally well with warm beverages (especially coffee) and adds a sweet, yet slightly spicy, bite to the drink.

Vecchia Romagna, which is one of the oldest Brandy distillers in Italy, imports four sophisticated Brandies: Etichetta Nera or "Black Label," which retails for a very affordable $26.99, and three high-end vintage Riservas (10, 15 and 35 years old) that range from $40 to $200. Vecchia Romagna Brandies are also available in attractive gift boxes that make great gifts for "dads and grads." Love that Lemon What is it that bartenders and desert chefs have in common these days? The answer is a delightful liqueur known as Lemoncillo (also spelled Limoncello). Perfect for cocktails and confections, Lemoncillo is a luscious spirit made from lemon zest infused with alcohol.

It has gained in fame due to its versatility and perfectly balanced sweet/tart flavor. One Italian company, Giori, produces a Lemoncillo that has earned praise from epicurean experts and can be used equally well in Cosmo Volcanoes as it can in lemon meringue. Giori also offers a one-of-a-kind Lemoncillo "Cream" liqueur that serves well in espresso or drizzled over brownies as a glaze. Giori Lemoncillo and Lemoncillo Cream both retail at $18.99 for a 750-ml bottle.

Feel the Chill Cocktails are a sure-fire hit for holiday parties, and no cocktail party is complete without vodka. Vodka (especially the unflavored, premium kind) is ideal for cocktails because true, quality vodka has a faint, icy aroma and a smooth, dry, almost neutral taste that inherits the character and flavor of a mixer. So, everything from chic Cosmopolitans, Martinis and Vodka Mimosas, to standards like White Russians, Gimlets and Screwdrivers can be made from the same bottle. One exceptional example is Kutskova: a Russian-made, five-times filtered, double distilled, super-premium vodka. Kutskova, which retails in the $25 range, has received rave reviews as well as gold medals from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and Tastings International Review of Spirits, for its pure, crisp flavor and cool, soft aftertaste.

Something Different If you're looking for a truly unique gift for a liqueur connoisseur, look for a delightful cordial called Amaro Montenegro. For those of you not familiar with Amaro Montenegro, it is an herbal liqueur that has a sweet taste and slightly bitter finish and is usually served before or after a meal. Bartenders and barristas across Europe have been using Amaro for years as an ingredient in everything from cocktails to coffees, and it is now beginning to gain popularity here in America. With vibrant flavors of spice, molasses, clove and orange peel, Amaro Montenegro was recently given outstanding ratings by the "Spirit Journal," "Wine Spectator" and "Wine Enthusiast." It serves best straight when chilled or at room temperature poured over ice cream. For the holidays, Amaro Montenegro is available as a gift set that comes with a special Amaro glass and retails for $21.

99. Get Cozy Possibly the most cherished thing about the holidays is that it brings people together. With close friends and family traveling from everywhere for a visit, you may find yourself playing host to an intimate get together. Whether served on the rocks, mixed in a cocktail, with champagne, or warm in a snifter with a cigar, what could be better than a rich, velvety, aromatic Cognac? Produced from among the finest vineyards in the Grande Champagne region of France, Croizet Cognacs have received praise at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition for their incredible flavor and smoothness.

And, with the VS retailing at $19.99, VSOP at $29.99, XO at $74.

99 and XO Gold at $99.99, Croizet's line of quality cognacs are exceptional values compared to other, better known brands. Additionally, the VSOP, XO and XO Gold are presented in attractive individual boxes perfect for holiday gift giving, and the XO Gold is presented in a festive gold bottle. Wrap it Up This time of the year can be pretty hectic with trips to the mall, travel plans, preparing the house for guests, cooking feasts and more. But, no matter what holiday you're celebrating this season, or whether you're hosting a get-together for two or two hundred, these holiday spirits can fit into just about any occasion. So, may your days be merry and bright, and remember to drink responsibly.

On the House Finally, here are some holiday beverage recipes to help get you going: CAFÉ CORRECTO - Build in coffee mug - 1 part Vecchia Romagna Brandy - 3 parts hot coffee - Top with whipped cream - Dust with cocoa powder ***** BREZZA ESTIVA - Build drink in glass with ice - 1 part Amaro Montenegro - 3 parts tonic or ginger ale - Serve with a stir stick ***** COSMO VOLANO - 2 parts Giori Lemoncillo - 2 parts Kutskova Vodka - Squeeze of fresh lemon juice - Splash of cranberry juice - Shake with ice - Strain into glass - Garnish with lemon wedge ***** VODKA MIMOSA - 1 part Kutskova Vodka - 1 part Champagne - 2 parts orange juice - Serve in chilled Champagne glass ***** AMARO MUDSLIDE - 1 part Amaro Montenegro - 3 parts vanilla ice cream - Blend - Spoon into glass - Top with whipped cream ***** GRAND CHAMPAGNE - Build in Champagne glass - 1 part Croizet VSOP Cognac - 3 parts Champagne - 1 Maraschino cherry - Garnish with orange wheel ***** CAFÉ CILLO - Build in coffee mug - 1 part Giori Lemoncillo Cream - 2 parts espresso - 1 part steamed milk - Dust with nutmeg - Garnish with lemon wedge Courtesy of ARA Content.

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