“The first drink when you get off the mountain needs to be straight and to the point. It’s not fussy, it’s [just] delicious,” according to Andrew and Briana Volk, of the après-ski cocktail. Bar owners in Portland, Maine, they’re no strangers to cold weather and long winters, and they spend a significant amount of time considering how to warm up guests who tumble in from the drifts. Danny Burau, a bar owner in Saratoga, Wyoming, likens the genre of après-ski drinks to that of an aperitivo: “For my money, I like an après-ski cocktail to be warming without being … heavy-handed. I’m wiped out from a day of physical activity; I almost certainly didn’t drink all the water I should have, and I’m going to feel the booze.”
Of course, the après-ski drink can range from mulled wine to a spiced Champagne cocktail and include all stripes of herbal or sweet ingredients. But it’s agreed that the superlative setting for any post-winter adventure is in front of a fire, with friends, family, and something salty to snack on — similar to the spirit of an aperitivo hour in any given season.
The Après of it All
The après-ski drink is, quite simply, a beverage meant to be consumed after skiing. It’s also a social cocktail. “It’s about the aspect of getting together after a long day of skiing,” says the Volks. Like aperitivo, the après-ski drink is meant for a specific moment — the transition from one swiftly moving part of the day into a lower-key mood of relaxation. “Après-ski cocktails should be either refreshing and thirst-quenching, like a spritz or a lager, or warming and distinctly alpine,” says Carlin Karr, wine director of a hospitality group in Colorado.
Burau compares the flavors of après-ski to the holidays. “Herbs and baking spices come to mind. Those warm spices and herbal aspects of aperitivo bring big flavor without overwhelming alcohol. They’re invigorating and energizing in a way that a dense whiskey drink just can’t be.” He also integrates flavors like peppermint, black licorice, and orange peel. Karr gravitates toward alpine-influenced amari and botanical liqueurs, spiking hot chocolate with a mint-flavored fernet, an Espresso Martini cocktail with an herbal amaro, and a Hot Toddy with spice- and citrus-driven amari.
Après-ski is often associated with the Alps region of Europe where Italy, Switzerland, France, Austria, and Germany come together. When the Volks consider where to draw inspiration from, they look to drinking traditions from these countries: “This often means the range of amari, apertifs and bitters that we all know and love.” Stateside, Colorado has adopted its own tradition of après-ski that includes agave spirits, like tequila and mezcal. “I think the fact that many of them are produced in mountainous regions of Mexico also makes them feel appropriate for drinking in the mountains in Colorado,” says Stuart Jensen, a bar owner in Denver. “There’s something very warm and relaxing about a smoky mezcal on a cold night.”
Après-ski cocktails are special for their ability to evoke memories of seasons past. Jensen suggests embracing the nostalgia and the ingredients that come with them. “When I was younger, it seemed like the staples in Colorado ski towns were shots of sweeter liqueurs. I think there was just something about the syrupy, candied sweetness that people found soothing, and I do think that some of those flavors still have a place in after-ski cocktails.” For a modern take, consider spiking a Hot Toddy with a splash of MARTINI & ROSSI® Fiero, or dosing an apple cider with Ambrato.