The holidays can be a stressful time — but festive concoctions can help those get-togethers go a little smoother.

CBC Ottawa's "holiday cheer" panel got together in the In Town and Out studio recently to offer some tips on what to serve guests this season. 

The panel features Stuart Thornly and Cameron Hill from Top Shelf Distillers in Perth, Michael Wagner of Calabogie Brewery, and Louis Gaal of Blue Gypsy Wines in Oxford Mills. 

'Harvest moonshine'

One of the great things about cider is it can be enjoyed hot or cold.

Top Shelf Distillers has come up with what they're calling their 'harvest moonshine': a flavourful cocktail made up of freshly pressed apple cider, bitters and two different types of their moonshine.

The cold version of the cocktail calls for:

  • ½ oz. Reunion 100-proof moonshine
  • 1 oz. Reunion maple moonshine
  • apple cider 
  • Top Shelf's allspice bitters
  • grated cinnamon
  • ice 

While bitters are normally consumed before a meal since they're digestive aids, Hill said the cocktail could be served mulled in a crockpot at a party as well (just omit the ice).

The maple moonshine can also be used in whipping creams and sauces, Hill said.

The moonshines are available at LCBO stores in Ottawa, while the bitters are available online and at the distillery. 

maple moonshine cider, top shelf distillery

This holiday cocktail mixes maple moonshine, bitters, and fresh apple cider. (Top Shelf Distillers)

Milk stout

If bitter isn't your thing, you can always go sweet.

Wagner suggested pouring a glass of Calabogie Brewing's Brown Cow Milk Stout, a nitrogenized beer that offers notes of chocolate and coffee and is good both before and after a meal.

You can cook with it, too.

"We actually have a few customers that I know of that produce menu items in their restaurants with this beer. One of them is Lumbertown Ale House in Arnprior, who produces a barbecue sauce with this beer," he said. 

Milk stouts don't actually contain milk, however. They get their name from the presence of lactose sugar, which amplifies the beer's sweetness.

The beer is available in most LCBOs in Ottawa and at the brewery in Calabogie, Ont. 

Cranberry wine

Yes, it's a thing. In fact, Gaal said his cranberry wine is Blue Gypsy Wines' most popular product at the LCBO. 

"We've been doubling our production every year for the past three years just to try and meet demand," he said.

The cranberries for the wine are normally crushed the traditional way, Gaal added.

"[I'll use] my feet or we'll go get the neighbours' kids from the farm and they'll come in. We play Christmas songs and we dance around the barrel."

While the wine is made from local cranberries from Upper Canada Cranberry whenever possible, Gaal said the crops have been hit hard by bad weather over the past couple of years.

He said he's recently switched to using cranberry juice or berries from the Muskoka Lakes region. 

The wine is available this weekend at the farm and online.