The few hours between dinner and bedtime should be the most relaxing part of the day, but too often we spend them thinking about what we will accomplish tomorrow. I propose a nightly ritual to help us forget our troubles and really let go: the nightcap. Some might consider the nightcap a lost art, but with a few tricks anyone can master it. There are only a few rules: no cocktails, no beer, and no scary stories (they might cause bad dreams).

Although many good nightcaps are high-alcohol, the point isn’t to become intoxicated. A nightcap is something to sip slowly. Enjoy the warming effects of a nice spirit while conversing with someone you care about. If you have a fireplace you should definitely sit by it. If you don’t, then consider playing a fireplace video on your laptop. Slippers and silk robes are optional; relaxation is mandatory.

1. COGNAC – Jean Fillioux La Pouyade Cognac

Cognac is perhaps the most traditional nightcap. To be called Cognac a spirit must be distilled from grapes in the Cognac region of France. This bottle has wonderful floral and nutty flavors and will certainly help you forget about that coworker who won’t clean the fridge.
Photo from News Tribune

2. ARMAGNAC – Delord 25-Year Bas-Armagnac

Armagnac is distilled through a process similar to Cognac, but comes from the Armagnac region. This example is full of warm spices like clove and cinnamon. One sip and it won’t matter that you found a scratch on your car this morning.
Photo from Heavenly Spirits

3. BRANDY – Germain-Robin Craft-Method Brandy

Are you out of milk? It doesn’t matter; you can grocery shop tomorrow. Just enjoy this beautiful brandy for now. This California bottle is full of caramel and pear flavors.
Photo from Pixabay

4. CALVADOS – Groult Calvados Reserve, Pays d’Auge

Put your feet up. This Calvados is distilled from 100 percent  apples. You’ll feel like you’re sitting in an orchard.
Photo from Calvados Tourisme

5. POMMEAU – Christian Drouin Pommeau de Normandie

This Pommeau de Normandie is a hard cider that has been fortified with apple brandy. The result is slightly sweet, apple-y, and full of baking spices. Try pairing this with a blanket and a good friend.
Photo from Calvados Christian Drouin

6. BOURBON – King’s County Single-Barrel Bourbon

This bourbon is distilled in Brooklyn. It’s toasty, spicy, and complex enough to distract you from whatever is on TV.
Photo from Ride Light Eat Heavy

7. SCOTCH – Ardbeg 10 Years Old Whisky

This 10-year Scotch from Ardbeg is peaty, but not overwhelmingly so. It also has plenty of bright citrusy flavors. Pour a dram and lounge around in a mahogany den.
Photo from Tanners Wine Merchants

8. RUM – Plantation XO 20th Anniversary Rum

Many people associate rum with lounging poolside, icy drinks, and cocktail umbrellas, but it can be so much more. Try a small tumbler of this creamy, fruity Barbados-style rum neat and you’ll be instantly at ease.
Photo from Miami Dish

9. SHERRY – Hidalgo Oloroso “Faraon” Sherry

This isn’t your grandmother’s cream sherry. Hidalgo is an oloroso sherry that’s quite dry, with plenty of fig and caramel flavors. Try a small glass to ward off nightmares.
Photo from Josh Likes Wine

10. MADEIRA – New York Malmsey Madeira, The Rare Wine Company

This Madeira is perfect for those who have a bit of a sweet tooth. It’s complex and luxurious and the perfect accompaniment to a tranquil night in.
Photo from 2foodtrippers

11. LIQUEUR – Varnelli Dry Anise Liqueur

It’s unusual to find a dry anise-flavored liqueur, but this one is lovely. If you like herbal flavors and black licorice then this is for you. It won’t matter if the forecast for tomorrow says rain.
Photo from The Spirit of Italy; header image from Food Republic

Grab a friend or lover, cozy up, and try one of these nightcaps to put yourself at ease before bed.

By day, Madeline manages the video program at Astor Wines and Spirits and Astor Center. At night, she can be found biking around Brooklyn, seeking out new dumplings in Chinatown, or experimenting in her tiny kitchen in Clinton Hill.
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