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With the holiday season in full swing, our thoughts turn to festive cocktails with a healthy dose of nostalgia. And what could be more heartwarming, or smooth drinking than classic whiskey? In the spirit of raising the spirits, three leading mixologists shared the secrets behind the best holiday whiskey cocktails along with their expert tips on how to be your own bartender at home this holiday season.

best holiday whiskey cocktail

Aaron Moses Robin, Head Bartender Top of The Standard, Standard High Line New York

Managing the cocktail bar for the legendary lounge at Top of the Standard, Standard High Line means creating epic cocktails that justify the epic views over Manhattan. When he’s not playing mixologist, Aaron is a set designer for leading food, beverage and lifestyle brands.

On Whiskey Having A Moment

whiskey
Image Courtesy of @someonesproblem

During the holiday season and generally, a trend we are seeing right now is a call for very full cocktails, wintery, butter washed spirits and whiskey definitely falls into that category.  Another unsung spirit that is enjoying a bit of a heyday is rum. The Trinidad Sour is a riff on the classic and it’s made with aged rum, rye whiskey, Campari, ginger syrup, fresh pineapple and Angostura bitters.  At Top of The Standard our menu has 29 cocktails and is a good balance of different spirits and a baseline of stirred and shaken.

The Best Holiday Whiskey Cocktail 

One of my favorite cocktails is the ‘Penicillin’ and it’s a great cocktail to make it home as you can doll it up. I make it with fresh ginger syrup juiced in house and I mix that with raw sugar and honey on a one to one ratio and scotch and peated scotch. I add some lemon on top for an aromatic element and as I like to add a bit of a ‘wow’ factor to my cocktails, my personal contribution is to add a rosemary tincture that is also very simple to make at home. I soak rosemary in vodka and strain it and spray that on top to give it a lovely deep herbal aromatic scent.

How To Be Your Own Bartender

best holiday whiskey cocktail

I teach virtual cocktail making classes and I like to call myself the Bob Ross of cocktails. To me, it’s about presentation (and I work at the most presentational bar in New York) and simplicity. Follow a three-ingredient cocktail mantra, spirit, sugar and fresh citrus, resist the urge to throw in more and more. You can also opt for classic sour, ginger or raspberry syrup for something different. The right tools are an added bonus for the seasoned home-bartender, but you can get by with a large bell jar that seals and you can shake a cocktail in and air and you can get that zen silky texture with a chopstick as much as a stirrer. I do think an important, often overlooked tool is a great ice tray. If possible a directional freezing clear ice maker. I use the TruCubes tray (about $40) on Amazon. The ice is super clear which is an aesthetic bonus but it also makes great cocktails because they’re very pure in flavor and won’t change the drink you’re shaking or stirring.

Kashawn Luke, head bartender, Soho Grand Hotel New York

best holiday whiskey cocktail
Image Courtesy of @sohograndhotel

As mixologist for hip downtown hotel and nightlife hotspot Soho Grand Hotel, Kashawn says his signature is speed, efficiency, attentive service, and the ability to read a guest’s mannerisms. His Jamacian heritage also equips him with a well honed palette for identifying and blending spice and sweet flavors and experimenting with bright colors.

On Whiskey Having a Moment

It’s all about the warmth that a good whisky fulfills you with. Most whiskey has spice flavors and some even have hints of vanilla. It’s the combination of these tasty characteristics that make for perfect mixing and blending. I mean, what is it about those aromas and flavors that doesn’t scream sweaters, fireplace, gifts and Christmas trees?

The Best Holiday Whiskey Cocktail 

For me, it will always be a hot toddy. Now this classic can be made in various ways and in different versions. My recipe is an ode to my Jamaican heritage so I’m calling it a “Jamaican Hot Toddy”

How to Make a Jamacian Hot Toddy

Ingredients:

Rye – 2oz

Ginger Syrup – .5oz

Superfine Sugar 

Hot water (180 Degrees – 3oz)

Lemon and Cloves 

Glass Mug/Coffee Mug

Method:

  • Peel ginger root and cut into small pieces
  • Juice ginger in Champion Juicer and strain out solids
  • Measure, combine 1 part ginger juice for every 2 part superfine sugar
  • Blend until all sugar granules are dissolved
  • Store in a sealed and labeled quart container and refrigerate
  • Pour Rye in a mug then add ginger syrup
  • Boil hot water to 180 degrees for 3min. Pour 3oz of hot water over Rye and Ginger
  • Cut a lemon into a thin wheel and stick one clove into each membrane and center of the lemon wheel
  • Float lemon wheel over steaming toddy let it sit for a min then cautiously sip and enjoy

How To Be Your Own Bartender 

The challenge of blending alcohol and making it a more enjoyable drinking experience is my specialty and should be the specialty of any true mixologist. Consider the complexity of each ingredient and how best to attenuate the flavors. Some mixologists like fermented fruit, others frozen organic purée. I for one tend to lean more towards syrups, aromatic oils, and bitters. Everything has to be balanced unless I want a specific flavor or aroma to stand out, and of course, whatever I create must pass the eye test. When it comes to liquor, a well-stocked bar should include Whiskey, Vodka, Gin, Rum, Tequila, Triple Sec (Stirrings), Sweet Vermouth (Antica Formula), Dry Vermouth, Angostura Bitters. From a tool perspective, any home bartender must have the following and if you really want to impress your guests pick up an ice machine. There’s nothing like sparkling, square cubes that allow for harder, denser, slower-melting ice.

Dante Wheat, Founder of Raw Pineapples

Image Courtesy of Raw Pineapples

Dante is a renowned bartender and mixologist who created the content platform Raw Pineapples in Louisville, Kentucky to celebrate the spirits culture and connect with industry professionals through experiences and, well, great cocktails. He describes his signature cocktails as intentionally lazy and says his creations are very simple with big flavor and high replay value.

On Whiskey Having a Moment

During the holidays you wanted to be comforted. Is there a better spirit at making you feel loved than whiskey? The answer is no.

The Best Whiskey Holiday Cocktail

For the holidays the best cocktail is a ‘Reverse Manhattan’. Combine 2 oz Sweet Vermouth, .75 oz Barrel Strength Whiskey, 2 dashes of angostura bitters and 2 dashes of Allspice Dram in a mixing glass. Stir. Strain up into a coupe glass and garnish with an orange peel.

How To Be Your Own Bartender 

The best advice I can give any at-home bartender is to invest in good ice. Ice is the most underrated ingredient in cocktail creation. Your drinks will never be premium using the sketchy ice. It looks horrible and tastes like freezer-burned sadness. Buying premium ice and keeping it in a separate freezer will not only give you restaurant-quality cocktails but also melts slower due to commercial ice having less impurities than the stuff you make at home.

Pro Tip: Depending on where you live you can skip the freezer in the winter and keep your ice sealed in a cooler outside.

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