This time of year, 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 into cozier, festive drinks.
While the Manhattan in its pure form is already holiday-ready—the nutty spice of vermouth plus the bittersweet cinnamon and kola nut notes of Angostura, all wrapped up in whiskey—there are some subtle tweaks that can give it an extra holiday appeal. This can be as simple as swapping the brand of vermouth you choose: For spice and vanilla, go with Carpano Antica Formula; for a cooling herbal note, Tempus Fugit’s Alessio Vermouth di Torino; for a rich, bitter bite, Punt e Mes. You can also exchange the vermouth for another modifier altogether, like Amaro Averna, to make the Black Manhattan, or coffee liqueur, for a Revolver. Or split the vermouth portion with herbal yellow Chartreuse to stir up a Greenpoint.
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 make it the perfect template for holiday entertaining. One way to easily usher it into the winter is to up the richness with sherry; turn to raisiny Pedro Ximénez sherry to make Chantal Tseng’s PX Daiquiri, or nutty oloroso sherry for Matt Piacentini’s Sherry Daiquiri. Or, turn the Cuban classic into a pre-dinner drink with a dash of absinthe or pastis, as in the Greta Garbo, or a dose of Campari.
Little more than gin-spiked lemonade, the Tom Collins is one of the most malleable long drinks in the canon, particularly during the holidays. Lean into gin’s herbaceous botanicals, but with Chartreuse and cucumber vodka, as in Jackson Cannon’s Phil Collins, which also incorporates appropriately festive cranberry bitters. Alternatively, add rich pomegranate molasses, Campari and Bénédictine for Brad Farran’s Bitter Tom. And for something savory, turn to the Salted Plum Vodka Collins, which makes for a unique dinner pairing.
An easy party-starter, the Negroni has the ability to transform itself by swapping in a gin that’s heavy on the botanicals; the West Coast is where to look. But for something more brooding, do as Joaquín Simó does in the Kingston Negroni and swap out the gin for a big, ester-y rum, like Smith & Cross, or make it smoky with a mezcal base, like Sarah Morrissey’s Negroni Absinthe, which pairs the spirit with crème de cacao. The fairer Negroni can put on a winter coat, too; simply introduce génépy, crème de menthe and Cocchi Americano to the mix, as in Naren Young’s Alpine Negroni.
The Whiskey Sour has spawned an array of riffs to choose from year-round. To make the drink a little more celebratory, add a float of red wine to make a New York Sour. For more richness, swap out simple syrup for maple syrup and add a hit of Angostura bitters, as Erik Adkins does in his Filibuster. Andrew King, at Charleston, South Carolina’s FIG, takes the bitters to the next level, adding a hefty 12 dashes of Peychaud’s to the Thirsty Monk, which gets an alpine twist by way of herbal génépy and Bénédictine. Finally, with Meaghan Dorman’s Whiskey Business, echo the spiciness of rye with smoky-spicy Ancho Reyes chile liqueur. The result is comforting and familiar while also bringing something new to the table.
As with many stirred classics, the Martini isn’t bound to one particular season. But you can turn the template decidedly more winter-ready with a few small tweaks. Look to sherry once again for added richness, like in the Tuxedo, or chocolatey mole bitters, as in Jack Schramm’s Silent Night, which can easily be prepared ahead of time. In fact, pre-batching and -freezing may be the best hack for preparing to host a holiday party. And if you’re going to make a freezer Martini, you might as well make it the very best one.