There are few things more suave (or more festive) than grating fresh nutmeg over a well made cocktail. Long before it was relegated to the once-yearly making of holiday eggnog, the spice was de rigeur in all kinds of drinks—or so we learned in the course of researching a story on nutmeg for SAVEUR's upcoming December issue. In the 17th century, when nutmeg was more costly than gold, a dusting of the warm, woodsy spice over wine was a signal of status, a gesture of hospitality, and, according to the medical wisdom of the day, a defense against the plague, a digestive aid, and a mild narcotic. (That last claim has been borne out by both science and centuries of amateur experimentation.) No punch maker in the clubs of 18th-century London would have been without his silver spice grater and a whole nutmeg or two; as late as the 1930s, the musician Charlie Parker and his band were partial to hallucination-strength doses of nutmeg floated on top of soda pop. Later Parker recalled, "Another sax player and I would chew spices and laugh at each other and our heads would enlarge and shrink."
Naturally, learning all of this, we wanted in on the action. So we asked Damon Boelte, the bar director at the restaurant Prime Meats in Brooklyn, New York, to show us what he's doing with nutmeg right now. "I use it in quite a few drinks," he said, "most including rum, whiskey, citrus, and lots of bitters. Some of them are even beer or dessert wine based." He's attached a key ring to the end of his Microplane grater ("so the kitchen doesn't steal it") and keeps it hanging from the bar, always at the ready. Boelte tends to make cocktails with a sense of history as well as a sense of humor; when he walked us through the making of the six nutmeg cocktails that follow, the brandishing of the nutmeg grater brought a nice dash of drama, too. As Boelte put it, "The nutmeg lets you know that it's time to pay attention to what's in front of you."