What are the holidays without an extra cup of holiday cheer? Whether you’re throwing a holiday party or just looking to make a weeknight more bearable, everyone should have a few seasonal cocktails in their arsenal. So we hit up some of New York’s best bars to ask their advice for enticing drinks that you can make at home with just a trip to a decent liquor store and the local bodega.
Whether you want to brace yourself for that family dinner, finally convince your brother that you know what you’re doing behind the bar, or sip something boozy alone after the party while mainlining Hallmark movies and weeping, we’ve got you covered. And if the season has you too wiped out to make anything, we’re also letting you know where you can go to try out one of these creations. Or four. We’re not judging.
To Loosen Everyone Up Before Dinner (and After the Election)
Carroll Gardens spot August Laura (387 Court Street, Brooklyn), owned by couple Alyssa Sartor and Frankie Rodriquez, pays tribute to the neighborhood’s Italian roots. The bar focuses almost entirely on Italian spirits, and is named after Sartor’s grandfather, who grew up a few blocks away.This drink makes use of Cynar, an Italian amaro made from artichokes. The cocktail is herbal, with winter apple and cinnamon flavors, and packs a bit of burn from the ginger beer. Since Cynar is liqueur, this is a low-alcohol cocktail; if you think you need a bigger buzz, you can switch it out for Cynar 70 proof, which packs more of a punch.
1 1/2 ounces Cynar
1 ounce apple cider
1/2 ounce cinnamon syrup*
3/4 ounce lemon juice
*Cinnamon syrup: Crush six cinnamon sticks and add them to a quart container half-filled with sugar. Add hot water, stir, and let sit for four to five hours. Strain the syrup, removing the cinnamon stick pieces.
Shake all the ingredients except the ginger beer and strain into a glass. Top with about two ounces of ginger beer, add a generous amount of crushed ice, garnish with two cinnamon sticks, and serve.
Instead of (Oh, Who Are We Kidding, With) Dessert
Before Greg Boehm opened up Mace (649 East 9th Street, Manhattan, macenewyork.com), a cocktail bar in Alphabet City that serves well-crafted tipples designed around spices, his mother suggested he use the space for a temporary Christmas-themed bar. Now entering its third year, Miracle is packed nightly with drinkers seeking a little extra holiday cheer, and has spawned a franchise this year — bars around the world, including The Trap in Athens and Danico in Paris, are serving the libations created by head bartender Nico de Soto.
An annual favorite is the Yippie Ki Yay MF, a tribute to both Die Hard and the classic mai tai. De Soto’s take is rum-heavy, but with the twist of a pumpkin-orgeat syrup that will remind you of holiday pie. It’s served in a retro holiday mug shaped like Santa’s pants, and then a giant mint bunch is dusted with powdered sugar to look like a Christmas tree in the snow.
The mug is a showstopper, so if you really want to go all out for your holiday dinner, stop by the bar and buy some for $12 apiece.
Yippie Ki Yay MF
3/4 ounce Plantation Barbados Rum
3/4 ounce Avuá Amburana Cachaça
½ ounce Plantation Overproof Rum
1 ounce pumpkin-almond orgeat*
3/4 lime juice
*Pumpkin-almond orgeat: Blend equal portions pumpkin purée (unsweetened canned is fine) and almond milk, plus a double portion of sugar.
Shake the rums, cachaça, pumpkin-almond orgeat, and lime juice with ice and strain over a glass of crushed ice.
Garnish with a small bunch of mint (think the amount of mint you’d see in a julep) and then dust powdered sugar over the top with a sifter.
A Boozy Drink for Sipping Alone
Matt Piacentini, the owner of the Up & Up in Greenwich Village (116 MacDougal Street, Manhattan, upandupnyc.com), created this cocktail to show off local New York spirits at the Reykjavík Bar Summit, and liked it so much that it earned a spot on his menu. The central ingredient is Mr. Katz’s Rock & Rye, a rye whiskey made with rock candy sugar, sour cherries, cinnamon, and citrus. Piacentini combines it with an un-aged brandy to provide a kick, as well as with Atsby Amberthorn vermouth, made on Long Island. The result “has all the cliché winter things you want in a cocktail, but in a bar-snob acceptable cocktail,” Piacentini says of the drink’s apple and warming spice notes.
The locally sourced spirits can be a bit tricky to find, but large liquor stores like Astor Wine & Spirits should have the ingredients in stock — or be able to suggest workable substitutes. Piacentini adds that it’s easy to batch and bottle a few of these before a party, so all that’s left to do is pour over ice and stir before serving. If you bottle ahead, he suggests adding lemon oil extracted from the peel both before bottling and again when serving.
The Town & Country
2 ounces Mr. Katz’s Rock & Rye
1/2 ounce Atsby Amberthorn vermouth
1/2 ounce Neversink un-aged apple brandy
Stir the liquid ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled coupe glass. Twist a lemon peel over the top of the drink, and discard the peel.
To Warm Up With a Booze Sweater
Once one or two people order this drink, which smells like a fresh-baked spice cookie, much of the bar follows suit, says Nino Cirabisi, owner of the Lower East Side’s Bonnie Vee (17 Stanton Street, Manhattan, bonnievee.com). Cirabisi created his take on the classic hot buttered rum cocktail to taste like ginger snap cookies, one of his holiday favorites. Vanilla, dark brown sugar, and nutty amaretto give the drink a baked-Christmas-treat flavor.
The bulk of the effort in making this drink is on the front end, mixing up the butter, so it’s easy to make for a party — just add boiling water at the last minute. Or whip up a larger batch ahead of time and keep it warm in a crockpot, then let people serve themselves.You can experiment with the base spirits for the drink depending on your taste. Dark rum has molasses notes that work well for those who like things rich and sweet, but spiced rum or rye whiskey can be substituted to make for a spicier, drier drink.
Hot Buttered Rum
1 tablespoon spiced butter*
1 1/2 ounces dark rum
1/2 ounce amaretto
2 dashes angostura bitters
Pinch of salt
3/4 cup boiling water
1 stick of unsalted butter at room temperature
1 vanilla bean, scraped and skin discarded (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Zest of 1 orange
Pinch of salt
Mix all butter ingredients until evenly incorporated, and keep cold until ready to use.
Combine all into a mug. Stir. Garnish with an orange twist.
A Fancy-Pants Sparkling New Year’s Eve Toast
If you want to go more elaborate than a simple glass of bubbly this New Year’s, try this creation from Moses Laboy, the bar director at midtown bar and restaurant Bottle & Bine (1085 Second Avenue, Manhattan, bottleandbine.com). Laboy says he hoped to “satisfy as many palates as possible” with this Champagne-cocktail-inspired aperitif, which is refreshing rather than cloying. (No need to shell out money for expensive Champagne — a cheaper sparkling wine works just fine here.)
Ha! He’s a Ginger
1.5 ounces Ketel One vodka
1 ounce Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur
1/2 ounce Cointreau
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
Brut sparkling wine
Candied powdered ginger*
*Candied powdered ginger: Whisk equal parts powdered ginger (you can find it in the spice aisle) and sugar.
Rim a coupe cocktail glass by wetting it with a slice of lemon and then dipping the glass into the candied ginger. Add all ingredients into a shaker except the sparkling wine. Add ice. Shake till cold, about ten seconds, and then strain into a cocktail glass. Top with about two ounces of sparkling wine.
Blow Your Friends Away With Your Cocktail Wizardry
Garret Richard, a bartender at Slowly Shirley (121 West 10th Street, Manhattan, slowlyshirley.com), was inspired to make this cocktail using the Jamaican beverage sorrel, a drink made from hibiscus (known as “sorrel” in the Caribbean and no relation to the herb sorrel) that is popular around the holidays. The result, an intense, deep red libation, gets most of its flavors from homemade infusions, so for the home bartender it makes sense to go ahead and make an entire punch bowl so the whole party can benefit from your labor of love. This will take some time and effort, but think how much bragging you’ll get out of it.
Jump Up, Jamaica
3/4 cup serrano-infused Wray & Nephew (white overproof rum)*
3/4 cup Coruba rum (Jamaican dark rum)
20 dashes Angostura bitters
3/4 cup lime juice
1 1/4 cup sorrel**
2 1/2 cup Ting grapefruit soda
*Serrano-infused Wray & Nephew:
3 serrano peppers
1 liter of Wray & Nephew
Infuse the seeds and membranes of three serrano peppers and the shell of one serrano pepper in one liter of Wray & Nephew for twenty minutes. Taste. If the rum isn’t spicy enough, continue to infuse, tasting every five minutes, before straining out the peppers.
4 ounces dried hibiscus flowers (or 2 bags of hibiscus tea)
2 cracked cinnamon sticks
750 ml bottle of Santa Teresa Claro (or any medium-bodied rum)
1 1/2 cups simple syrup
Infuse the hibiscus flowers, cloves, and cinnamon into the rum for 24 hours. Strain, pushing all the ingredients through cheesecloth to get as much flavor through as possible. Combine the
infusion with simple syrup (which is made from combining equal parts sugar and water).
In a punch bowl, combine ingredients with ice cubes. Add the soda and garnish with mint.