8 Easy Upgrades for Classic Cocktails Straight from a Bartender
There are so many holiday parties to attend and throw, and pretty much zero time to prepare. Traditional holiday fare like cookies and pies can be made ahead and easily whipped up in a flash the night of, but making elaborate holiday-themed cocktails can cut into the party time. Not this holiday though, when fast, festive flair is the name of the game. If you already have the supplies for traditional cocktails (or even seasonal standbys like eggnog in the fridge), you can concoct a holiday-ready cocktail recipe in as little as one extra step.
We chatted with Ken Sirovatka, a Chicago-area bartender extraordinaire, for tips on how to add some easy holiday cheer to the cocktails you know by heart. Ken has been in the industry since 2004 and has shaken + stirred at places like The Publican, Trenchermen and currently Bom Balla, serving up craft beer, cocktails and even house made tonics. It turns out, the extra steps you need to get your go-to spirits in the holiday spirit are super simple (and extremely delicious). Here’s how to hack the tastiest holiday bar ever.
Maple Bourbon Eggnog Recipe
— 2 ounces bourbon
— 1/2 ounce maple syrup
— 4 ounces eggnog
Mix ingredients in a glass, stir and pour over ice. For fun, garnish with some cinnamon and bacon.
Why this simple upgrade works: “Eggnog will always be a hit at any holiday function. Adding the maple, and the bacon if you’re into it — which you hopefully are, because it’s delicious — lets you have some fun with it.”
The best way to enjoy this cocktail: “While decorating your tree. I might just be saying this because I just got a sweet R2D2 ornament and I’m excited to hang it up.”
Rosemary Moscow Mule Recipe
— 2 ounces vodka
— 1/2 ounce lime juice
— 1/2 ounce rosemary simple syrup (To make this, use 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar and 4 rosemary springs. Stir these together on high in a saucepan until sugar dissolves. Let it stand for 30 minutes and chill in the fridge for 4 hours before using)
— Ginger beer
Add all contents to glass (preferably a copper mug) with ice. Top with ginger beer, garnish with a rosemary stalk and lime slice.
Why this simple upgrade works: “The rosemary simple syrup is really easy to make and it works in so many cocktails. A little goes a long way, and it’s a great way to carry over this patio-centric drink into winter.”
The best way to enjoy this cocktail: “Have some friends over for a White Elephant Party or cookie exchange and whip these up. Pro tip: make a large batch of the flavored simple syrup ahead of time so you can keep pouring as the night goes on without turning on your stove.”
Cranberry Old Fashioned Recipe
— 2 ounces bourbon
— 1/4 ounce cranberry simple syrup (or muddle a handful of cranberries and 3/4 teaspoon of sugar)
— 2 dashes Angostura bitters
— 2 dashes orange bitters
Mix ingredients into a glass, stir, then pour over ice. Garnish with an orange slice and cranberry.
Why this simple upgrade works: “Old fashioneds are very traditional drinks, but they can also be surprisingly versatile just by switching up the berry. Cranberries are a great replacement for cherries because they won’t steer too far from the classic flavor of an old fashioned — they’ll just add some bonus sweetness.”
The best way to enjoy this cocktail: “I can’t imagine a better place to sip on this than the obvious-but-classic ‘on the couch in front of a fire’ scenario.”
Mulled Wine Sangria Recipe
— 1 bottle red wine (go for a merlot to bring out the fruit)
— 1 1/2- 2 cups brandy
— 1 cup orange juice
— 1 teaspoon each nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves
— 1 orange, sliced
Put wine, brandy and sliced orange into a pitcher. Simmer orange juice and spices for about 10 minutes. Strain the OJ and add to pitcher. Cool in the fridge for an hour before serving. Serve over ice and garnish with cloves, cinnamon sticks and cranberries.
Why this simple upgrade works: “This is for people who want all the flavors of this classic hot drink without the burnt tongue factor. The important part is to still simmer the orange and spices— it’s the only way to still get that mulled flavor.”
The best way to enjoy this cocktail: “Make a batch for your Christmas day party. Just be warned: Your relatives will probably hound you for the recipe after a couple glasses.”
Chocolate Irish Coffee Recipe
— 6 ounces coffee
— 2 ounces Irish whiskey
— 1/2 to 1 ounce creme de cacao (more or less, depending on how sweet you want it to be)
Add whiskey and creme de cacao to a glass mug. Fill up the mug with coffee and top with a hefty dollop of whipped cream. Garnish with cocoa powder, if it strikes your fancy.
Why this simple upgrade works: “Maybe hot cocoa just isn’t your thing (who are you!?) or maybe you just want something a little different than your typical spiked coffee. In that case, creme de cacao is a great addition to a bar cart, especially this time of year, not to mention a nice change from the traditional cream liqueur. The flavors really work without being too decadent (whipped cream optional).”
The best way to enjoy this cocktail: “Christmas morning brunch, or even while unwrapping gifts. Or after Christmas dinner. Or all three, really.”
Winter Fruit Bellini Recipe
— 6 ounces prosecco (or enough to fill a coup or flute)
— splash of pomegranate juice or puree
Add the prosecco to a flute or coup and top it off with the pomegranate. Garnish with a couple cranberries to float in the glass.
Why this simple upgrade works: “Champagne cocktails are great because they are so simple — usually just one or two ingredients to add to the bubbles. Pomegranate is a nice way to switch up the usually cranberry flavor that’s popular this time of year.”
The best way to enjoy this cocktail: “This could also be great for Christmas brunch, or a post-holiday brunch with out-of-town friends.”
Orange Cinnamon Gin + Tonic Recipe
— 2 ounces rye or barrel-aged gin (St. George makes both kinds and both are stellar!)
— tonic water (try something a little more high end, like Fever Tree.)
— orange slices and cinnamon sticks for garnish
Pour gin into a glass with ice, then top with tonic water. Add orange slice and cinnamon stick for garnish.
Why this simple upgrade works: “Not a lot of people realize there are all kinds of gins to try. Barrel-aged gins are becoming more and more popular, and they have a rich flavor to them, so adding the cinnamon and orange lets you enjoy those flavors without compromising the flavor of the gin too much.”
The best way to enjoy this cocktail: “After a long, last-minute shopping battle, you’ll enjoy sipping on one of these.”
Apple Cider Whiskey Sour Recipe
— 1 1/2 ounces bourbon
— 1 ounce lemon juice (if you want to use a fresh lemon, use the juice from half a lemon)
— 2 ounces apple cider (you can go boozy or not boozy)
— 1/4 ounce honey
— 1 egg white
Pour ingredients into a shaker and shake without ice (dry shaking will make sure the egg white doesn’t emulsify). Serve straight up or on the rocks. Garnish with a cinnamon stick.
Why this simple upgrade works: “Apple cider balances out the sour flavors in a nice way while enhancing them with some sweetness as well. Egg white always wins too — nothing makes a cocktail frothier.”
The best way to enjoy this cocktail: “Have one of these while wrapping presents. That can be a sour experience, so a good whiskey sour can only help.”
What’s your favorite holiday cocktail? Follow us on Pinterest for more holiday recipe inspo.