18 festive cocktail recipes for the holiday season

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The Martinez with a twist. (Courtesy of Astoria Distilling)

Some things are clichés for good reason: because they are tried and true (see what I did there?). Discovering new cocktails with a holiday theme around this time of year is fun because it is festive and social.

I reached out to distilleries, a winery, a beer and fromage shop, a fine wine store, and a major international brand for recipes that adult-beverage aficionados will enjoy this Christmastime and that I personally want to make.

So go visit a good booze supplier (perhaps one of the locales I feature here), stock up, buy good bar supplies, get creative, and give the gift of good cheer. Want to be the hero of a holiday party? Make any of these cocktails. But please be a mensch: drink and serve responsibly.

Happy holidays!


Two years ago, I interviewed Chris Murillo, a lawyer-turned-entrepreneur. He gave up a career in law to start his own spirits brand, which he named Astoria Distilling Company after his beloved neighborhood in Queens, New York. He co-created Queens Courage Old Tom Gin, the brand's flagship spirit.

The company has a tasting room and cocktail bar called Proof + Gauge in Long Island City's historic Falchi Building. Chris and his tasting room manager, April Rose Lucas, shared these recipes.

1. The Martinez

"The Martinez cocktail is very much like the Manhattan," Chris told me. "It's real simple. But it's absolutely delicious. The maltiness and the sweetness from the Old Tom gin works really well as a replacement for the bourbon or the rye in a Manhattan."

2 oz Queens Courage Old Tom Gin
1 oz sweet vermouth
1 dash orange bitters

In a large glass or cocktail shaker, stir the ingredients with ice and then strain into a martini glass.

2. The Winding Road

"Everyone loves it," April said. "It's a take on the New York Sour."

1-1/2 oz Queens Courage Old Tom Gin
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz simple syrup
1/2 oz red wine

In a cocktail shaker, shake the gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup with ice. Pour into a rocks glass. Float the red wine on top. "It's gorgeous," April says.

Proof + Gauge, The Falchi Building, 31-00 47 Avenue, Long Island City, NY 11101, 718-937-7663




One of my favorite places in New York to liberally spend money (and boy do I) is Astoria Bier and Cheese–Ditmars, a craft beer and artisanal cheese shop a few blocks from home in Queens. ABC has a vast selection of cheese and hundreds of beers in cans and bottles and on tap. Bring your growler to take some fresh draft home for a night in.

Rick White is the owner and managing partner of the Ditmars location and its sister stores in Manhattan called Milk and Hops. I asked him to share some ideas for winter cocktails made with beer. He and Ditmars staffers Carly Leisk (assistant manager and "cheesemonger extraordinaire"), Nigel Teekasingh (beer buyer), and Ryan LaFever (assistant manager) shared these perfect recipes. I sense a stout theme.

3. New Year's Day "Bier-mosa" by Rick White

2 parts Schöfferhofer Grapefruit Hefeweizen (German wheat beer with grapefruit juice)
1 part orange juice, fresh-squeezed
1 shot Tito's Handmade Vodka (Rick's favorite)

Pour the hefeweizen, OJ, and vodka into a beer glass, splash in some grenadine, and enjoy.

NOTE: A "shot" of booze varies depending on the enthusiasm and generosity of whoever is pouring it, but in the United States it is usually 1 to 2 ounces.

4. Devil in a Blue Dress by Carly Leisk

1 part gin or bourbon
1 part American Juice Company Blueberry Finn
Witbier (such as Avery White Rascal)

In cocktail shaker, shake the gin or bourbon with Blueberry Finn with ice. Strain into a glass. Top with witbier.

5. Mocha Mojo (a.k.a. Enhanced Espresso Martini) by Carly Leisk

1 part vanilla- or coffee-flavored vodka
2 parts Kahlua Original Liqueur
Stout (such as Guinness)

In a cocktail shaker, shake vodka and Kahlua with ice. Strain into a martini glass. Top off with your favorite stout.

6. Stout Float by Carly Leisk

12 oz chocolate stout
1 shot Kahlua Original Liqueur
Vanilla ice cream, to taste
Chocolate syrup, to taste

Combine stout and Kahlua in a large glass. Add one or two scoops of ice cream and drizzle chocolate syrup on top.

NOTE: A "shot" of booze varies depending on the enthusiasm and generosity of whoever is pouring it, but in the United States it is usually 1 to 2 ounces.

7. Stout and About by Nigel Teekasingh

10 oz Oskar Blues Ten Fidy Imperial Stout (or another big imperial stout)
1 oz Bols Genever (Dutch spirit)
1/2 oz peaty Scotch whisky (such as Laphroaig)

Stir stout and Bols Genever. Float whisky on top.

8. Milk Stout Mimosa by Nigel Teekasingh

4-5 oz champagne
4-5 oz Left Hand Brewing Co. Milk Stout Nitro

Gently pour champagne into a large flute. Pour the milk stout along the side to the top.

9. Snakebite by Ryan LaFever

Ryan says any lager will work, but he likes darker beers from the British Isles "for the visual."

1 part sweet hard cider (such as Ace Perry)
1 part dry, not-too-hoppy beer
Black currant cordial

Pour the cider into a shaker pint first and then top with the beer. Add a dash of black currant cordial.

Astoria Bier and Cheese–Ditmars, 35-11 Ditmars Boulevard, Astoria, NY 11105, 718-255-6982




Craft spirits distilling in New York is a booming industry. Dozens of distilleries (such as Astoria Distilling, see above) have popped up all over the state making vodka, whiskey, gin, and more. But New Yorkers Kevin Herson and Stacey Luckow had a different idea when they started making booze in their Harlem basement in 2012.

"I decided that I was going to clean up the basement and start making whiskey and moonshine," Kevin told me. "Then on a whim, I decided to start making absinthe since I had enjoyed drinking it in the past."

Absinthe is a high-proof anise-flavored spirit. Kevin and Stacey based their style on traditional French recipes, spent 8 months perfecting it, and then shared it with friends.

"Everyone loved it so we decided to start a business, and so Doc Herson's Natural Spirits was born," Kevin said. "Our decision to make absinthe worked out great since we have carved out a nice little niche for ourselves and we are known as the absinthe distillery in the city."

I met Kevin at a tasting at a wine shop and asked him to share some drink ideas.

10. Green Absinthe Cocktail

Kevin's tasting notes: "Refreshing minty and licorice notes with light bitterness on the palate. Citrus bubbly elements from the club soda and lemon wedge garnish. Earthy lingering finish."

1/2 oz Doc Herson's Green Absinthe
Club soda
Lemon wedge

Pour absinthe over ice into a rocks glass. Fill glass with club soda and garnish with a squeeze of a lemon wedge.

11. Red Absinthe Cocktail

Kevin's tasting notes: "Floral notes of hibiscus flower, slight sweetness from the ginger ale and orange citrus elements from the garnish."

1/2 oz Doc Herson's Red Absinthe
Ginger ale
Orange wedge

Pour absinthe over ice into a rocks glass. Fill glass with ginger ale and garnish with a squeeze of an orange wedge.

Doc Herson's Natural Spirits (no tasting room)




One of my favorite things to do is to discover yummy local wines. Wines from the Finger Lakes in central New York and Long Island's North Fork get all the attention. And, yes, they are great. But New Jersey has had a flourishing wine industry for years. In fact, I like to brag that I wrote about New Jersey wines before the New York Times did.

One Garden State winery worth visiting is Old York Cellars in Ringoes. You can buy the wines at the winery, certain restaurants, and a new pop-up store at Bridgewater Commons Mall in Bridgewater.

Winemaker Scott Gares is getting ready to bottle the Old York Cellars 2015 Cabernet and is preparing the oak barrels for the Old York Cellars 2016 Cabernet, according to Jennifer Tanner, director of winery outlets.

"The staff is working feverishly to prepare for the holiday season," Jennifer said. "In its cozy tasting room, winery guests have been warming up with Old York Cellars Red Wine Infused Hot Chocolate. They prepared it for hundreds of guests [recently] and enjoy sharing their simple recipe for wine lovers to make at home."

12. Southpaw Red Wine Infused Hot Chocolate

2/3 cup dark chocolate chips (64 percent or higher cacao)
1/3 cup Old York Cellars Southpaw Red Dessert Wine
1 cup milk
Sugar, to taste (optional; wine has residual sugar)

Combine the chocolate chips, wine, milk, and sugar (if using) in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Heat, stirring constantly until chocolate chips are melted and the mixture is hot. Remove from heat and stir in the salt.

Variation: Use Old York Cellars Blackberry Wine instead of Southpaw Red.

Old York Cellars, 80 Old York Road, Ringoes, NJ 08551, 908-284-9463




If you like selection, Whiskey & Wine Off 69 on the Upper East Side of Manhattan s your wine and spirits shop. The store specializes in hard-to-find and local booze. The whiskey selection alone will make your head spin. The store holds free tastings almost every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

New York is full of characters, and general manager Ruth Ramirez Romero is definitely one. She is sweet, personable, knowledgeable about the store's many bottles and will steer you right. She came up with this yummy, gingery treat.

13. The O Znapz

Ginger reminds Ruth of her mom, she says, and Royer Cognac makes her think of a childhood best friend because of the bee on the bottle's label (she associates bees with her friend).

Powdered nutmeg
1 part Art in the Age (Ginger) Snap
1 part Louis Royer Préférence V.S.O.P. Cognac
1 part Barrow's Intense Ginger Liqueur
Sparkling wine, such as Charles Ellner Carte Blanche Brut Champagne
1/2 gingersnap cookie or 1 orange slice (optional garnish)

Wet the rim of a wine glass and dip it in nutmeg. Stir Snap, Cognac, and Barrow's in a mixing glass and then pour into the wine glass. Fill with sparkling wine. Garnish with either the half cookie or orange slice over the rim.

Variation: For less alcohol and more ginger taste, substitute ginger ale for the bubbly.

Variation: To drink as a shooter, skip the nutmeg and bubbly.

Whiskey and Wine Off 69, 1321 2nd Avenue, New York, NY 10021, 212-585-0005




I lived in Italy for six years, so I am partial to many things Italian. Amaro (Italian for "bitter") is a liqueur made from grappa and herbs. Amaro is traditionally consumed on its own as a digestif, but works great in cocktails, too. Here is the proof.

Two locally renowned bar experts -- Danny Neff of the reincarnated Holiday Cocktail Lounge on St. Marks Place and Jessie Duré of the rebooted Chumley's in the West Village -- created some holiday-themed cocktails using Amaro Montenegro. The brand shared these recipes with me.

14. Monte Holiday Punch by Danny Neff, Holiday Cocktail Lounge

This recipe makes 6 to 8 servings so it is great to prepare for a small party.

12 oz Amaro Montenegro
6 oz bourbon
6 oz Granny Smith Syrup (see recipe below)
4-1/2 oz lemon juice
6 oz water

Combine all ingredients in a punch bowl or pitcher. Serve in highball glasses with ice.

Granny Smith Syrup

2 Granny Smith apples, juiced
1 tsp salt
10 cardamom pods, muddled
8 cinnamon sticks
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar

Combine all ingredients except sugar in a saucepan and simmer on low for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Fine strain into a container with sugar and stir until dissolved.

15. La Vigilia by Danny Neff, Holiday Cocktail Lounge

1-1/2 oz Amaro Montenegro
3/4 oz red peppercorn infused orange liqueur
3/4 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz orange juice

Shake all liquid ingredients over ice. Strain into a highball glass over fresh ice. Garnish with a mint sprig.

16. The Mulled Monte by Danny Neff, Holiday Cocktail Lounge

1-1/2 oz Amaro Montenegro
1-1/2 oz cabernet sauvignon wine
1-1/2 oz Cocktail & Sons Spiced Demerara Syrup  
1 oz framboise syrup
1 oz lemon juice
1 oz water
1 cinnamon stick

Combine all ingredients in a mug and stir with the cinnamon stick. Heat and serve.

Holiday Cocktail Lounge, 75 St. Marks Place, New York, NY 10003, 212-777-9637


17. Monte Hot Toddy by Jessie Duré, Chumley's

2 oz Amaro Montenegro
3/4 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz honey
Tea, freshly brewed
1 lemon wheel
1 dried clove
1 piece orange peel
1 cinnamon stick

Mix amaro, lemon juice, and honey in a mug. Top with freshly brewed tea. Garnish with the lemon wheel, clove, orange peel, and cinnamon stick.

Chumley's, 86 Bedford Street, New York, NY 10014, 212-675-2081



I couldn't write a story about cocktails and not sneak in my own creation, which I made for my engagement party. So here we go.

18. The Erin

I named this "The Erin" after my fiancée. I made it with Eldurís, a lower-proof vodka that we bought in Iceland in November but is not available in the United States anymore. You can use either Reyka from Iceland or any grain-based vodka. This cocktail contains tart cherry juice concentrate. Be aware that many so-called tart cherry products are made from mostly apple or grape juice with only some cherry juice. Make sure you are getting concentrate made from only tart cherries and no added sugar.

2 maraschino cherries
1 tsp maraschino cherry syrup
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp tart cherry juice concentrate (such as Dynamic Health brand)
1 oz blended Scotch whisky (such as Johnnie Walker or Scottish Leader)
1 oz Icelandic vodka (such as Reyka)
Club soda or seltzer

Muddle maraschino cherries, cherry syrup, lemon juice, tart cherry juice concentrate, whisky, and vodka in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake. Pour contents into highball glass. Top with club soda or seltzer to desired dilution.

Variation: After shaking over ice, strain into a cocktail glass over fresh ice. Making it this way strains out the muddled cherries.

Variation: Top with black cherry-flavored seltzer for an extra cherry kick.


What are some of your favorite cocktails to make and drink for the holiday season? Did you try any of these? Let us know on our Facebook page.