The holidays provide ample inspiration for those in all fields to test their craft—bartenders included. This season, dozens of our favorite NYC bars and restaurants adorned their cocktail menus with the unexpected. This extends beyond a dash of maple or cinnamon, and frequently defies the traditional palate expectations. Two of NYC’s best mixed drinks venues have both converted to winter wonderlands—Boilermaker adopting the name Sippin’ Santa’s Surf Shack and Mace transitioning to Miracle on 9th Street. There, one will find an entire menu dedicated to seasonal innovation. But all NYC hotspots have something clever on offer, 10 of which you’ll find below—illustrated by a frequent CH collaborator Paul Tuller. “My illustrations begin by hand-inking the lines and textures with Winsor Newton brushes,” Tuller explains. “Then I do the coloring on my Wacom Cintiq. I tend to get pretty wild during the inking process knowing that everything will be finessed digitally.” The artist certainly captures the visual essence here, but we encourage everyone to give each a try.
The Garret: Beatles at Shea
Developed by The Garret, black peach tea-infused bourbon complements the smokiness of Ardbeg scotch for an uncommon, full-flavored winter sipper. Lemon and mint lends a freshness, but the weight of the brown spirits makes this a truly substantial drink.
1.5 oz black peach tea-infused bourbon
.5 oz Drambuie
.5 oz chipotle agave
.25 oz Ardbeg 10 year scotch whisky
.5 oz lemon juice
Shake all ingredients. Pour in a single rocks glass and garnish with a mint leaf.
Featherweight: Salty Ginger
With aged rum met with honey and ginger syrup, the Salty Ginger from Bushwick gem Featherweight offers a rich, delightful consistency. Lemon juice also adds some vibrance, altogether making a tasty concoction.
2 oz aged rum
.75 oz lemon juice
.375 oz honey syrup
.375 oz ginger syrup
2 dash saline
Stir all ingredients. Add two dashes of saline. Pour over one large ice cube in rocks glass. Garnish with candied ginger.
Slowly Shirley: Cleopatra
In many ways, a tiki-inspired seasonal escape from winter, the Cleopatra contains enough depth and flavorful joy that it wow in defiance of expectation. This cocktail is the brainchild of Garret Richard at Slowly Shirley and the balance of banana and lime delivers the unexpected.
1 oz Avua Prata Caçacha (originally Novo Fogo)
1 oz Zubrowka bison grass vodka
.5 oz banana cordial
.25 oz Demerara syrup
.5 oz lime juice
.5 oz lime cordial
2 dashes McCormick Buco Pandan extract
Shake with three cubes. Strain over crushed ice. Garnish with a banana leaf ribbon. To make your own Demerara syrup: two pounds Demerara sugar to one pound water. Stir over a medium flame in a saucepan until sugar dissolves. Do not bring to a boil. Keep refrigerated. For the 66 Brix Lime Cordial Syrup: Add 16 oz lime juice and 16 oz white granulated sugar to 8 oz lime oleo saccharum. For the 50 Brix Infused 99 Bananas Liquer (Banana Cordial): take 500 ml of 99 Bananas Schnapps and combine with one package of 70g of freeze dried bananas. Infuse for 24 hours.
Grand Army: Carlos Danger
Whether or not the political reference in the title appeals to you, Downtown Brooklyn’s Grand Army does something wonderful with their Carlos Danger. One might not imagine hot pepper tincture and coconut cream could bolster mezcal in such a way—but they do and one’s left with another truly unique experience.
1.5 oz Vida Mezcal
.5 oz toasted cinnamon syrup
.5 oz coconut cream (1/2 coco lopez, 1/2 coconut milk)
.5 oz lime juice
5 dashes hot pepper tincture
2 dashes chocolate mole bitters
Whip shake. Pour over crushed ice in collins glass. Garnish with Angostura bitters and charred ceylon cinnamon.
Employees Only: Provencal
Cocktail haven Employees Only dresses up gin with more herbs and floral notes in the breezy but substantial Provencal. This thoughtful martini variation dazzles with its array of unlikely flavors.
2 oz lavender-infused Plymouth Gin
1.25 oz Herbs de Provence-infused French Vermouth
.75 oz Cointreau
Stir. Serve up in cocktail coupe with a twist of orange.
King Tai: #9
Another tropical hotspot, Crown Height’s King Tai takes almond syrup and nutmeg to new heights with the #9. The rye base spirit also makes for a boozy blast.
2 oz Old Overholt rye
.5 oz Amaro Meletti
.5 oz banana shrub
.25 oz orgeat
Stir all ingredient. Serve in a coupe glass over crushed ice. Grate nutmeg on top.
Death and Co: Bourbon & Birch
A high-proof powerhouse of a holiday cocktail, the Bourbon & Birch by Jon Armstrong of Death & Co. packs a true punch, all with some effervescence. Cinnamon and birch coalesce with ginger and lemon for something altogether refreshing.
1.5 oz Old Grand Dad 114
.75 oz lemon
.5 oz Averna
.5 oz ginger syrup
.25 oz cinnamon syrup
2 drops Birch Extract
Shake all ingredients. Serve in a collins glass. Orange wheel garnish optional.
Pouring Ribbons: Heart of Darkness
Created by Courtney Colarik for Pouring Ribbons, the Heart of Darkness makes good use of one of this year’s most popular ingredients: activated charcoal. Here, however, they’re found within raspberry preserves. Spicy and sweet, this cocktail makes for an excellent adventure.
1.5 oz Cimarrón Blanco Tequila
.5 oz Koch Espadin Mezcal
.5 oz lime juice
.5 oz agave syrup
2 tsp activated Charcoal Raspberry Preserves*
1 dash Bittermens Mole bitters
Add ingredients to a tin, add ice, give a quick shake. Fine strain into snifter glass, add crushed ice and garnish. Serve on black lace, heart-shaped doily/activated charcoal sprayed orchid on top. For the activated charcoal raspberry preserves, per batch: use one 370g jar of raspberry preserves to 5 tsp of activated charcoal. Use an immersion blender to integrate.
Sippin’ Santa’s Surf Shack: Chinatown Christmas
By Sam Gauthier, at the aforementioned Sippin’ Santa’s Surf Shack aka Boilermaker, the Chinatown Christmas is NYC through-and-through. Spice defines the drink but plum wine delivers a rich undercurrent.
1.5 oz blended Scotch infused with five-spice blend (Bank Note)
1 oz plum wine (Kikkoman)
.25 oz rich Demerara Syrup
1 dash Angostura
Stir and strain into double rocks glass and lower in an ice snowball.
Freemans: Sylvie & Johnnie
Applejack and Pernod unite for Freemans‘s Sylvie & Johnnie. Of course, aged rum is at its core but all the accompanying ingredients—including igniting rosemary—take this to the next level.
.75 oz Applejack Brandy
.75 oz El Dorado Rum 12 year
.5 oz Pernod
.75 oz lime and pineapple
.5 oz demerrara syrup
Shaken, served on the rocks in a rocks glass, garnished with a toasted rosemary sprig.
Illustrations by Paul Tuller