Add to the festive holiday season by creating special cocktails for guests. In addition to old favorites like eggnog and planter’s punch, mixologists are creating new drinks that add sparkle and color to holiday entertainment.

New trends mentioned at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans earlier this year include top-of-the line whiskeys, rum and vodka-based drinks as well as flavor-infused liquors. One of the big new items is pomegranate flavor, long a favorite in Latin countries.

Irish whiskey, in particular, is enjoying a resurgence worldwide among knowledgeable connoisseurs. It’s different in taste from bourbon and Scotch and has a flavor all its own.

“It’s got a lot of flavor notes,” said “Irish Whiskey Legends” seminar speaker John Ross. “It’s easy to drink.”

Seminar participants were told to cut their whiskey with water because it makes the drink more approachable. The water releases the nuances.

The seminar, sponsored by Connemara, Greenore, Jameson, Kilbeggan, Tullamore Dew and Tyrconnell, was among dozens held during the ninth annual Tales of the Cocktail, described by organizers as “a festival of cocktails, cuisine and culture.” More than 21,000 people attended the five-day celebration of the cocktail industry.

Those attending the Irish whisky seminar, led by Paul Pacult with John Cashman, Liam Donegan and Ross, tasted six outstanding Irish whiskies during a discussion of why Irish whiskey is the fastest growing spirits category of the past decade. Participants learned that Irish whiskey has a lot of complexity. Trends in Irish whiskey include a tremendous range in character and flavor. For example, Jameson 18 was described as being a good Christmas-time choice with its nice butterscotch topping.

For those who want to be different, seminar speaker Jeff “Beachbum” Berry suggested taking a cue from the islands and serving mai tais. Most recipes call for using both a good quality, aged rum and a dark Jamaican rum, which is also good with your fruit cake.

Philip Duff, in a seminar sponsored by Cariel Vodka, Stoli Vanil, and Licor 43, discussed the history of vanilla, its structure and flavor, plus the many liquors most people are unaware it’s in.

He pointed out vanilla is the world’s No. 1 flavoring and the most expensive spice after saffron. “It’s found in ice cream, candy, sodas and everything, including alcoholic drinks.”

Duff opened his talk by explaining why the spice is so costly — the vanilla orchid has to be hand pollinated and it takes nine months until harvest. If not pollinated by hand, pollination is dependant on one species of bee.

Vanilla can calm your stomach, help you relax and be used as an antiseptic, he said. Vanilla was enjoyed by royalty, and Thomas Jefferson served an egg and milk drink flavored with vanilla.

Now, in 2011, we crave new experiences.

“When you’re creating new flavors, you have to consider aroma, a rich mouth feel and people’s taste memories,” Duff said, adding that vanilla is one of the earliest flavors people learn. When used in liquor, “you have to balance it with people’s expectations.”

Therefore, new vanilla-flavored vodkas will have slight differences in taste, and consumers will want to find their favorites.

Another beverage alternative that Louisiana residents may want to offer is a holiday julep. Juleps trace their origin to Persia, according to Jason Crawley, one of the speakers in the “Persia to Ponies: Julep Journey” seminar. The seminar, presented by Maker’s Mark Bourbon Whisky, followed the evolution of the symbolically American drink.

The modern word julep comes from a Persian word, Gulab, meaning “rosewater,” seminar speakers said. In addition to mint, try a julep with brandy and peaches.

Speaking of brandy, seminar speaker Paul Clarke discussed apple brandy, a true American drink, and the way creative bartenders are using its flavors in cocktails.

“You can learn a lot about a country’s civilization by the way it drinks. Less than a century ago, apples were used for drinking,” Clarke said in the seminar sponsored by Laird & Co. In America, apples were cultivated as early as 1630. Apple cider was considered wholesome and safer to drink than water, and it was an essential beverage in America in the 1600s. By 1730, the first commercial apple orchard was on Long Island.

George Washington made apple brandy and applejack, a potent blend of apple brandy and neutral spirits. In 1830, there were 430 distilleries in New Jersey alone, Clarke said. Today, Laird’s, the country’s oldest distillery, produces both applejack and the more expensive apple brandy. The products are favored by mixologists for some of their most creative cocktails.

Seminar sponsors for Tails of the Cocktail offered a number of creative cocktail recipes perfect for the holiday season. They include the following: