Around the holidays, there is certainly no shortage of holiday cocktails, from Eggnog to Glögg and Hot Toddies to Tom and Jerrys. But there’s also a canon of tried-and-true, year-round classics that can easily shape-shift into holiday pinch hitters. Here, a few tips and recipes for adjusting the flavors of classic cocktails to channel the flavors of the season.
While the Manhattan in its pure form is already holiday-ready—the nutty spice of vermouth plus the bittersweet cinnamon and cola nut notes of Angostura, all wrapped up in whiskey—there are some subtle tweaks that can give it an extra holiday vibe. (Though, if you’re looking to add extras while maintaining the integrity of the drink, do so judiciously.) This is really as simple as the brands you choose for each component. Swapping the vermouth is a fast-track to altering the drink: For spice and vanilla, go with Carpano Antica Formula; for a cooling herbal note, go with Tempus Fugit’s Alessio Vermouth di Torino; for a rich, bitter bite, Punt e Mes or Cinzano 1757; and for warm spice and bright red fruit, Dolin Rouge. Since the Manhattan is already built on a spectrum of flavors that evoke the holidays, it’s really about what this time of year tastes like to you.
No other drink, aside from perhaps the Piña Colada or the Mai Tai, is more synonymous with summer than the Daiquiri. A simple combination of lime, rum and sugar, it is stripped-down, poolside perfection. But the Daiquiri need not be shunted to the warm months. In fact, the simplicity of its formula and the availability of excellent citrus in winter makes it the perfect template for holiday entertaining. Swap out white rum for gold (Appleton Estate, FTW) and cinnamon syrup for simple, add grapefruit and a hit of Fernet Branca and you’ve got Brad Farran’s Davy Jones’s Locker. Take this same idea, ditch the Fernet and add in a spiced simple syrup that calls on cinnamon, allspice, cloves and star anise, and you’ve got the Corduroy Daiquiri. Trade out that spiced syrup for rich, raisin-y PX sherry and top with grated nutmeg and you’ve Chantal Tseng’s “complex, rich” PX Daiquiri. You get the idea.
Little more than gin-spiked lemonade, the Tom Collins is one of the most malleable long drinks in the canon, particularly during the holidays. Our first step in dressing Tom up is to lean on a gin that shows forward botanical notes, specifically Douglas fir or spruce. Rogue’s Spruce Gin or St. George’s Botanivore are both excellent, expressive gins. If you’ve got a more subtle gin at home, you can pump up the drink by infusing simple syrup with cuttings from your tree (really). Look for the needles that are softer to the touch (i.e. younger), as their flavor is slightly milder, and throw them into simple syrup while it cooks over low heat. Once the sugar is completely dissolved, remove from the heat and let cool along with the needles, strain and bottle. Strain them out and bottle. This can be repeated with thyme, sage or rosemary or fresh cranberries. Or follow Jackson Cannon’s lead and combine Chartreuse, cranberry bitters and cucumber vodka, for the cooling, mellow Phil Collins. Alternatively, add rich pomegranate molasses, Campari and Bénédictine, and you’ve got Brad Farran’s Bitter Tom.
A postmodern party-starter, the Negroni is similar to the Tom Collins in its ability to transform itself by swapping in a gin heavy on the botanicals; the West Coast is where to look. If you prefer to leave the gin alone, look to Alessio Vermouth di Torino, whose notes of mint and herbs provide a cooling aspect to the drink. If you want to take it one step further, trade out Campari for Braulio’s minty alpine amaro. If you’re in the market for a more brooding Negroni, do as Joaquín Simó does and swap out the gin for a big, ester-y rum, like Smith & Cross, or take Douglas Derrick’s lead and swap in Japanese whiskey for gin and pump up the warm spice notes by adding a dose of Barolo chinato. And finally, if you choose to drink your dessert this season, Naren Young’s Chocolate Negroni plays on the classic formula, replacing vermouth with bittersweet Punt e Mes, plus crème de cacao and chocolate bitters, for the perfect evening punctuation.
The Whiskey Sour in its pure form is a thing of beauty. But there’s a reason why several of the drink’s riffs have become classics in their own right. Around the holidays, we take the classic in two directions. Add egg white, and you’ve got a frothy Boston Sour. Add a float of red wine on top of the egg-less formula and you’ve got yourself a New York Sour—one of the great, under-appreciated classics. But like any classic sour recipe, the permutations are endless. For more richness, swap out simple syrup for maple syrup, add egg white and a hit of Angostura bitters, and you end up with Erik Adkins’ Filibuster. Andrew King at Charleston’s FIG takes the bitters to the next level, adding a hefty 12 dashes of Peychaud’s to his Thirsty Monk, which gets an alpine twist by way of herbal génépy and Bénédictine. Both of the syrups employed in the Daiquiri riffs above can also be applied here, giving the Whiskey Sour a hit of cinnamon and spice. PX sherry and amaro can also be dispatched, as is the case with Jeremy Oertel and Natasha David’s Betty Carter, made extra-opulent with a dose of PX and Amaro Nonino—or Sam Ross’s Midnight Rider, which similarly employs amaro (in this case, Fernet Branca) for a Whiskey Sour that doubles as a digestivo.