Not all of the cocktails below were developed specifically for the holiday season, but all do embody the flavor profile bar-goers tend to lean toward this time of year. There is plenty of apple and winter spice, cherries and toasted vanillas and caramels. Some of the mixed drinks will impress with their sheer balance, others with a wow factor. Some of what we’ve included will surprise with their simplicity, yet the taste is far from ordinary. That’s perhaps the greatest accomplishment of a signature cocktail. For this list, we ventured beyond New York City, including drinks from recent excursions to Buffalo, Detroit and Boston. We encourage you to venture out to where we tried these tipples, or try your hard making them at home.
A truly unexpected delight, the Vancouver Vegan pulls together the familiar in a way that’s strikingly lush yet balanced. Developed by the team at Buffalo’s 100 Acres: the Kitchens at Hotel Henry, bourbon meets benedictine for a powerful core that’s spiced up with Montenegro and sweeted with pear. Our stay at Hotel Henry was quite special and the bar program on site definitely delivers.
1.5 oz bourbon
.25 Amaro Nonino
.5 oz benedicine
2 dashes of Dillan pear bitters
Cracked pepper into mixing glass
Stir it down. Single strain over ice. Slice of pear on top for garnish and crack pepper to finish.
From Boston’s The Envoy Hotel—in particular the Lookout Rooftop and Bar, which is currently adorned with igloos that guests can settle in—comes the Mulled Toddy, a cocktail that miraculously employs both wine and bourbon. A little bit hot toddy, a little bit mulled wine, the drink gets bound together by orange juice and spice. It’s rich, powerful and, if consumed at the hotel, it comes with a view.
1.5 oz bourbon
5 oz bold red wine
2 tsp sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 oz fresh orange juice
Heat together until the flavors are blended. Serve warm.
One of the most exciting establishments to open its doors in Detroit in a long while, Chef Kate Williams’ Lady of the House features modern American fare with carefully considered flair. Its cocktail menu is first rate, as evidenced by the Orchard View below, but the whole bar program is uncommonly superb with masterful rancio, vermouth, sherry and cider selections. Further, the staff can speak to the merits of all their eccentric offerings with precision.
1.5 oz Roger Groult Calvados, Pays d’Auge
0.75 oz Contratto Bianco Vermouth
0.5 oz Rothman + Winter Orchard Cherry Liqueur
2 dashes Regan’s Orange Bitters
Stirred, strained, up in a cocktail glass.
A beverage served hot, and batch-made, the Bad Santa hails from the Miracle pop-ups taking place internationally. NYC’s acclaimed local establishment Mace is currently operating as Miracle on Ninth Street, but more than 50 locations around the world have decked their halls for this charity event. As for the mixed drink, it’s everything one’s looking for: rich, fruity, spicy and sweet. It can take the place of any punch.
2 bottles red wine (fruit-forward)
1 bottle Tawny Port
8 oz Grand Marnier
2 oranges (peels and juice)
1 lemon (peel only)
10 green cardamom pods (crushed and opened)
4 long peppers
3 cinnamon sticks
2 bay leaves
1 star anise
283 g. light brown sugar
Dehydrated orange wheel (for garnish)
Crack or smash the dried spices, but do not grind. Toast dry spices in a large dry pot over medium-high heat, until aromatic. Cool pot before adding wine, orange, lemon, sugar and bay leaves. Reheat pot and bring to a slow simmer. Allow to simmer for 30 minutes (do not boil). Turn off heat and leave mix to cool and let spices rest for an hour. Strain off spices and add port and Grand Marnier. Bottle and store until needed. Reheat to serve in a crockpot on medium heat. Serve in Santa Head Mug with dehydrated orange wheel garnish.
Naughty or Spice
Not too long ago we found ourselves on a train from Guadalajara for the Tequila Herradura Bartender Legends competition. Finalist, Kristine Serrano of Queens, developed the Naughty or Spice and it’s a fun one. Arguably the sweetest cocktail on our list, this tequila-based number makes good use of its vanilla syrup and allspice dram.
1.5 oz Tequila Herradura Silver
1.5 oz pineapple juice
.25 oz lime juice
.25 oz vanilla syrup
.25 oz St Elizabeth Allspice Dram
Shake/strain over Ice. Garnish with cinnamon stick and rosemary sprig.
Bad Santa image by Melissa Hom, all other images courtesy of respective venues and brands