As temperatures take a nose-dive, it’s time to swap the bright citrus and florals of summer cocktails out for the cozy, comforting liquors of winter. With spicy cinnamon, complex pine, and herbal flavors coming into fashion, it’s easy to reach for your expected winter brandies, bourbons, and rich wines for your bar cart. Try something new this year courtesy of our favorite mixologists around the country. From Los Angeles to New York, these cocktail experts picked their favorite unusual liquors that will keep your toes warm now all the way through March’s last snow shower.
This Greek digestif is a favorite home remedy for colds and coughs in Greece, as well as a favorite around the holidays. A pomace-based spirit, rakomelo infuses Tsipouro (Greek brandy) with cinnamon, cloves, orange peels, and honey so it has a natural sweetness making it perfect as a standalone or mixed in with a cocktail. Mixologist Johnny Livanos (Ousia, formerly Marta) says it’s most similar to a grappa. “In Greece, they drink it both cold or sometimes heat it up,” said Livanos. “It’s typically smooth and really enjoyable because the honey rounds it all out.”
How to use it: Replace some of the sweet vermouth in a Manhattan; Use it in a hot toddy with bourbon; Spike your favorite eggnog.
Sotol (also known as the Desert Spoon) is a plant found in New Mexico, Texas, and Chihuahua, Mexico. It’s a close relative of agave plants so shares some commonalities with tequila and mezcal. The plant takes around 12 years to mature before its fruit is harvested, roasted and then distilled. “Sotol is super vegetal and green with many of the smoky flavors found in mezcal,” said lead bartender Christina Russo at Los Angeles’ The Board Room.
How to use it: Russo suggests swapping in sotol for gin in the classic cocktail the Last Word (gin, Green Chartreuse, Maraschino liqueur, lime juice).
3. Zirbenz Stone Pine Liqueur
This Austrian liqueur is crafted using Arolla Stone Pine fruit that’s harvested by-hand in the Alps. “Add a quarter or half ounce to anything you want to give a beautiful pine undertone,” said bar director Mike Di Tota of Astoria, New York’s gastropub The Bonnie. Created by the Josef Hofer family distillery (founded in 1797) this unique liquor is certainly unique for its smooth and lightly sweet finish. The gorgeous red color makes it especially festive if you’re looking for something for the holidays.
How to use it: Pair it with gin, bourbon, rye, and mezcal–the possibilities are endless, from martinis to a bit on its own with soda water in a highball glass.
4. J. Rieger Co. Caffè Amaro
Rye KC bar manager and James Beard semifinalist Andrew Olson said he turns to this local Kansas City, Missouri spirit to add depth to his cocktails. “It’s starting to become more widely available across the United States,” said Olson. “[It has a] unique coffee and bitter gentian flavor.” The coffee blended spirit combines cold-brew, single origin beans from Thou Mayest (a local Kansas City roaster) and ages the brew in whiskey barrels. The result is bittersweet and rich flavor.
How to use it: It’s great on its own or with a splash of tonic and orange slice. Olson suggests using quarter to half increments in cocktails to get the depth of the spirit.
5. Four Pillars Christmas Gin
Dante has been around for over a century in New York, but its cocktail program is as interesting as ever. Bartender Liana Oster, an Australian native, says she turns to Four Pillar’s Christmas gin. “One of my favorite Christmas time spirits is Australian made from the Four Pillars distillery. They make a Christmas Gin that is aged in muscat wine barrels close to my home town,” said Oster. The gin literally starts with distilling one of the founder’s mother’s Christmas pudding recipes, complete with spicy flavors like juniper, cinnamon, star anise, coriander and angelica. Once the gin is ready to be aged, the team lets the gin go to work in century century old William Grant scotch whiskey barrels that also stored Rutherglen Muscat for 80 years. If that’s not enough to convince you, we’re not sure what is.
How to use it: Oster says this gin is sippable all on its own, but offers an extra cozy oomph to classics like the Martinez (gin, sweet vermouth, angostura bitters and maraschino liqueur).
6. La Poire du Roulot
At Dallas’s super chic Adolphus Hotel and The French Room restaurant, beverage manager Anna Pereda loves this spirit around the holidays. You’re paying for premium brandy, but it’s something really, really special, says Pereda. “When the bottle is opened you can smell it across the room. It is the absolute essence of pear,” she said. This eau de vie is colorless like its peers and produced in Burgundy, France. The pear flavor is intense, meaning it’s often sipped as an after dinner treat, but that same flavor also makes it fun to swap in for cocktails around the holidays for something festive.
How to use it: Add a splash to a hot toddy; Use a small amount to rinse a cocktail glass for an added layer or add a bit to a gin martini with a new American gin.
Produced first in the 1860s in Camparia Italy, this digestif is especially festive because of its golden yellow color (which it gets from saffron). “It’s distilled from 70 herbs and spices from all over the world that results in a thick bright yellow color with a unique, yet versatile flavor,” said co-owner of New York’s Stella Hospitality Group’s (Levante, Luzzo’s BK) Eden Tesfamariam Gaim. While the exact recipe is under wraps, the herbal spirit has plenty of minty notes, plus some earthiness from juniper berries and saffron. It’s a little less sweet than yellow chartreuse and a lot more complex.
How to use it: Pour a bit over vanilla or chocolate gelato or in a fruit salad; Add a bit to your favorite tea to enhance the herbal properties; Gaim mixes it with gin and lemon juice in a glass with an absinthe rinse for a bright, refreshing cocktail.
8. Compass Box Orangerie
With palates shifting this time of year, Compass Box, a favorite on the whiskey circuit, recently unveiled a new Scotch whiskey called Orangerie. This version comes infused with orange zest, cassia bar, and clove, a perfect blend for your winter cocktails. Mikey McFerran, owner of West Village New York favorite The Spaniard said it would be an easy option for a hot toddy. “Just a shot of Orangerie and some hot water, with a little sweetener of some sort, if you prefer it. It’s perfect if you’re not feeling well, even better if you are,” he said.
How to use it: Hot toddies, Seasonal Punches
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