Robby Roberts dips a spoon into a brown concoction and coaxes the thick goo into the bottom of a glass. He adds hot water and plunks in acinnamon stick.
It's a creation fit to drink, at least at First Night Annapolis. "Steamboat Snuggles" is what Roberts, manager of Steamboat Landing in Galesville, calls it.
And he says it is perfect for a frigid night. "We knew what spices taste good in the cold," he said.
Roberts and other restaurateurs gathered Thursday afternoon to display their homemade alcohol-free drinks, beverages that will be served to patrons of Annapolis' New Year's Eve festivities.
Five area restaurants participated in the event at Juan Alfredo's Virgin Island Waterfront Cafe on Compromise Street in downtown Annapolis.
There were hot drinks and cold drinks, drinks with coffee and cocoa and drinks spiced with orange and brown sugar. Almost all used cinnamon to enliven the flavor of hot drinks. All came without alcohol.
It's all part of the focus of First Night, billed as a family affair. "There are many non-alcoholic drinks that can be created and celebrated with," said Elizabeth Welch, co-director of First Night Annapolis.
But some people who tested the drinks before Thursday weren't with the program.
"Most of the secretaries tried this," said Sandy Evans, a bartender at the Maryland Inn, of her Mandarin Mocha Cocoa. "Of course, there were those who said a little bit of Grand Mariner would be good in this. I said, 'You missedthe point.' "
The bartenders and chefs who created new drinks didn't seem handcuffed by the loss of one of their main ingredients; it just made them determined to be more creative.
"First Night is a night for amateurs," Evans said. "So you should have something more creative than club soda."
Being creative even meant a new twist on that old holiday favorite, eggnog.
Rodney Moore, head chef at Juan Alfredo's, added fresh raspberries from New Zealand, Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice and confectioner's sugar to eggnog to come up with "BerryGood Eggnog."
"My specialty is eggnog," Moore said. "I added raspberries and came up with a winner."
These are not recipes for calorie counters. Roberts, of Steamboat Landing, uses a pound of butter, three eggs and a cornucopia of spices to create "Steamboat Snuggles."
To that base, which must be refrigerated overnight, Roberts adds water. The result: a smooth blend, mellow on the palate, that doesn'tscream out "party pooper."
"I was tasting it all week," Roberts said. "I was worried that people weren't going to like it."