Festive, Wintry Cocktail Ideas for Your Holiday Menu

Help your bar or restaurant customers capture the holiday spirit with special drinks that also boost your bottom line.
The Holiday Dinner cocktail at Dos Urban Cantina is Thanksgiving in a glass. (Photo: Dos Urban Cantina (Chicago)/Holiday Dinner)

For many bar and restaurant customers, holiday merry-making often involves imbibing. Help them capture the holiday spirit — and stuff your establishment’s stocking in the process — with these festive drink ideas.

Champagne cocktails

Bubbles make any gathering feel like a celebration. Champagne cocktails ranging from the classic French 75 to the signature Cured cocktail at Cured in San Antonio (not to mention their reinvented French 75, the Nineteen 75) are tailor-made for toasting.

“[I]t works really well for the winter months, too, because you can play with things like cassis and cranberry, and those kind of tart but dark flavors, they work really well when you’re playing around with something with that kind of spritz and brightness,” said Anthony Kern, spirits director at Blackbird in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood.


Anthony Kern, spirits director at Blackbird in Chicago, is taking the champagne cocktail to new places.
(Photo: Sandy, Noto/Anthony Kern)

“It doesn’t just all have to be French 75s; we can take the champagne cocktail to a kind of deeper, warmer, spicier direction without any trouble.”

Some young, less expensive sparkling wines have undertones of apple, according to Larry Rice, bar consultant for Chicago’s Dos Urban Cantina.


Larry Rice, bar consultant for Chicago’s Dos Urban Cantina.
(Photo: El Camino (Louisville)/Larry Rice)

Those apple notes fit in perfectly with other fall and winter flavors.

Mocktails and low-alcohol cocktails

Low- and no-alcohol cocktails can be a great option for anyone tired of all the drinking or wanting to avoid it in the first place. More exciting than water or mass-produced juices and soft drinks, house-made shrubs, sodas and other drinks make non-imbibers feel special.

“Every day, we always have our mocktail,” said Shelley Lindgren, owner and wine director at A16 in San Francisco and Oakland. “It’s really seasonal, so sometimes we add some shrub.” Lindgren said they usually also add a fruit, particularly some kind of citrus, for refreshing acidity. “But we could add ginger syrup, sometimes we make different things just to pair with it. And often herbs.”

Mocktails contain no alcohol, but low-ABV cocktails (cocktails with little alcohol content) can appeal to drinkers worn out by weeks of festivities. Blackbird is considering developing a low-ABV-forward cocktail list, according to Kern. Lindgren said A16 is also expanding its low-alcohol offerings.

Cured’s cocktail menu has included several soft drinks as well as restoratives in flavor pairings such as vanilla mint, apple caraway and blackberry lemon. Bastille, in Seattle, has offered house ginger beer and two fruity phosphates.

Irish coffees and hot toddies

When the weather outside is frightful, classics like Irish coffees and hot toddies are delightful — and they are coming back into favor.

For A16’s winter menu, Lindgren’s team developed a Oaxacan Toddy featuring mezcal, cognac, honey and lemon. Kern developed a heated drink for Blackbird’s participation in this December’s Aquavit Week, which will pair local aquavit with a Douglas fir eau de vie, bitters and jasmine tea. Cedar Local, in New York City, has several toddies on its menu, including a Hawaiian and a Mexican chai option.

Drinks with seasonal fruits, herbs and spices

You don’t have to go full pumpkin spice to infuse a little fall and winter flavor into your cocktail list. Seasonal fruits such as pear, pomegranate, apple, fig, cranberry and plum do that job well, especially when paired with earthy or woodsy herbs and warm baking spices. Rosemary, thyme and pine, and cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg put guests in the holiday mood.

For Dos Urban Cantina, Rice developed a Holiday Dinner cocktail that tastes of Thanksgiving.

“It’s really kind of a crisp take on a martini, and then I used your herbs that you’d have in a stuffing,” such as thyme and saffron, along with a simple syrup cut with turkey broth. “And then I used orange bitters, it’s an orange-saffron, so it worked perfectly, and then, of course, my family’s stuffing, at least, has celery in it, so I use a celery wash on the glass,” said Rice.

While fall and winter flavors are sometimes more daunting than those easy, accessible flavors of spring and summer, designing a thoughtful seasonal menu and training your staff to help guests who may be unsure or a little overwhelmed make a selection will have everyone fa-la-la-ing all season long.

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