18 festive cocktails to master for the holidays, according to the pros

You can’t go wrong with Champagne for the holidays, but why not treat your guests to something a bit more unexpected this season? With a few key ingredients — and the right bottles — your bar cart will quickly resemble your favourite cocktail bar. From winter classics like eggnog and hot toddies to twists on tradition like rooibos Rob Roy, here’s how to shake up classic Christmas cocktails at your next holiday gathering. This is one holiday tradition your friends will be thanking you for.
16 December 2022

Buttered Rum

“There’s nothing like a good buttered rum to warm you up during the holidays. The key here is to make sure to really whip the butter so it’s nice and soft. Stir a little into the warm cocktail and always add a dollop on top.” — Peter Triolo, director of food & beverage at Archer Hotel Napa


Spiked Hot Chocolate

Festive cocktails
Image: Courtesy © James Merrell

“I love making spiked hot chocolate during the chillier months and, especially, for the holiday season by a fire in the evening or after dinner. And while there are many delicious recipes for hot chocolate out there, I make a version called the Rococo with tequila and chocolate dust for a more decadent moment.” — Yana Volfson, beverage director of Casamata Group (which includes Cosme and ATLA in NYC)


Mulled Wine

Mulled wine is a fun and easy festive drink that can double as a group activity. Get a cheap bottle or two of red wine, hit it with a bunch of baking spices, some citrus, and honey, and give it a little cook. There’s tons of recipes, and it won’t cost you much to source the necessary ingredients.” — Jesse Vida, head bartender of ATLAS in Singapore


Rob Roy

“During the holidays, I like to share large-batch cocktails with friends. My take on a Rob Roy follows its classic DNA — Scotch, vermouth, bitters — but introduces rooibos tea as a dilution element. I like the natural richness of this tea, with its chocolaty and vanilla notes, which works so well when paired with a softly smoked blended whiskey. I follow the 2:1:1 ratio using whiskey, vermouth (you can also swap this for an oloroso sherry), and cold-brewed rooibos tea. Batch everything together and keep it in the fridge. Pop the bottle and serve it up with a nice orange twist or maraschino cherry.” — Lorenzo Antinori, beverage manager of Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong



“Coquito is traditionally enjoyed in Puerto Rico over the holidays, from late November until Los Tres Reyes (Three Kings Day) in early January. We make a vegan and dairy-free version, which isn’t traditional. The base is usually coconut and condensed milk. It’s often — and incorrectly — compared to eggnog, but the only thing they have in common is that they’re rum-based.” — Orlando Franklin McCray, bar director of Nightmoves in Williamsburg

“This is a perfect holiday cocktail but can sometimes err on the side of being too sweet. Replacing half the rum with a different yet complimentary wine or spirit—such as a sake like HeavenSake’s Junmai Ginjo — creates a lighter version and adds a complex minerality to the cocktail that balances it out for a tastier version of the Coquito.” — Rammy Lavvi, mixologist



Festive cocktail
Image: Courtesy Photo by JacobFox / Food Styling by Lauren McAnelly / Prop Styling by Jessica Thomas; Susan Mitchell

Eggnog is very easy to make and you can get creative with it and make it super complex by using different creamers or infusing the spirit — which doesn’t have to be bourbon.” — Nico de Soto, owner and beverage director of Mace New York and DANICO in Paris

“Eggnog is my guilty pleasure during the holidays. I have two secrets: Separating the egg whites and yolks is a must. Beating the whites separately into stiff peaks and folding them into the rest of the batch turns eggnog from a heavy batter into a light and fluffy treat. Also, making eggnog up to a month before the holidays and letting it bottle age in the fridge helps mellow the booziness and gives the spices time to infuse. As long as the container you are storing it in is air-tight and clean, your eggnog should stay good. Use freshly grated nutmeg for dusting on top — it makes all the difference over pre-ground nutmeg.” — Bryan Schneider, beverage director of Zou Zou’s in NYC


Hot Toddy

“Who wouldn’t want some hot tea with booze in it during the cold weather? It’s a pretty popular cocktail, but, at the same time, easy to mess up if not done properly. The key to this cocktail is actually the heating process. Make sure to heat it up at 71-76°C so the alcohol doesn’t get evaporated.”  — Bobby Leonardo, head bartender at Wayla in NYC

“This simple cocktail can be easily created at home with bourbon, lemon, honey, and water, but a quick pro-tip to improve the cocktail is to use chamomile tea instead of hot water. Also, homemade honey syrup infused with ginger adds a nice touch!” — Matt Rapping, director of food & beverage of Acacia House at Alila Napa Valley


Irish Coffee & Seasonal Irish Cream

“At Doyle, we begin by preheating the mug with hot water, which we discard when creating the drink. Always use freshly brewed coffee and brown sugar to sweeten. And, of course, it’s not Irish Coffee without Irish whiskey!” — Julian Enright, bar manager of Doyle at The Dupont Circle in Washington, DC

“I love to make a seasonal Irish Cream cocktail during the holidays. We’re serving a version at Le Bernardin at the moment made with Maker’s Mark Bourbon, Baileys Irish Cream, St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram, Nux Alpina Walnut Liqueur, Giffard Menthe-Pastille, and a drop of Fernet Branca. I find that these are the flavours people are looking to enjoy this time of year.” — Cary Goldberg, head bartender at three Michelin-starred Le Bernardin in NYC


Ponche Navideño

Festive cocktail
Image: Courtesy DYLAN + JENI

“It’s a warm and comforting fruit punch made with apples, pears, oranges, and guavas, and spiced with cinnamon, cloves, tamarind, and hibiscus. You can make a large pot of it for a party and make it non-alcoholic by keeping your alcohol of choice on the side. For me, it’s mezcal! Make sure when you serve the punch that you get all of the pieces of fruit in it for a full-flavoured experience.” — Christine Wiseman, beverage director of Bar Lab’s Hoja Taqueria at Generator Miami


Spiced Apple Cider

“Spiced apple cider is a drink I first encountered when opening a restaurant in Boston. This is not a very common drink in Miami, where I live, so the simple combination of fresh-pressed apple juice and baking spices had my mind racing with inspiration. I have found that adding some aged rum, a lighter style amaro, and a touch of lemon for acidity brightens the whole thing up. It will keep you warm and asking for more!” — Juan Carlos Santana, operations beverage director at The Bastion Collection (which includes L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Le Jardinier, and Benno)

“It’s simple, it’s a crowd-pleaser, and can be made with or without alcohol for the entire family to enjoy. It can also be made in large quantities for holiday parties. Start with unfiltered apple juice; commercial apple cider has a lot more sugar, and will take away from the richness of the holiday spice. Combine in a saucepan with cinnamon sticks, star anise, and cardamom, and bring to a boil. Let it steep for at least an hour to really let the spices infuse.” — Kelly McAuliffe, beverage director of Salazar in Los Angeles


Whiskey Sour Punch

“Whiskey Sour Punch is a go-to holiday cocktail. I choose a high-quality rye bourbon, then fresh squeeze lemon and orange juice, add Angostura bitters, egg white, and garnish with a high-quality cherry (Luxardo, preferably) and orange peel.” — John Eldridge, beverage director of Oasis Wynwood in Miami


Bon Réveillon

“Inspired by cocktail appetisers and nightcaps traditionally served during festive evenings, the Bon Réveillonis a rich libation that tastes just like the holidays. Subtly sweet brandy paired with tart blackcurrant, herbal Benedictine, and orange bitters creates a cosy accompaniment to a winter’s night in.” — Yann Daniel, director of Bar Les Ambassadeurs at Hôtel de Crillon, A Rosewood Hotel in Paris


Red Wine Sangria

Credit: © Wendell Webber

“My favourite holiday cocktail is classic red wine sangria. It’s one of the easiest and most delicious big-batch pitcher cocktails and looks amazing on the Christmas table. The best thing is that you can use leftover red wine from last night’s dinner! Apart from the wine and fruit, you’ll need spices like cinnamon sticks, star anise, black peppercorn, and a can of fresh ginger beer or soda. You’ll also need ginger syrup, which you can easily create at home. About 3/4 of a wine bottle would make about 10-15 portions. Make it extra boozy for the party by adding a good dose of cognac to the mix.” — Edu Zamora, bar supervisor of Smoke & Mirrors in Singapore



“Combining gin, lemon, crème de mûre, and fresh blackberries, the bramble is a refreshing addition to any holiday party or gathering. For the winter season, try substituting fresh cranberries and cranberry cordial for holiday parties.” — Sergio Barreto, bar manager of Strawberry Moon at The Goodtime Hotel in Miami



This super versatile cocktail is classic but can always be festive or seasonal. Something as simple as swapping out the sugar for brown sugar, demerara sugar, or even maple syrup can make it more rich and complex. You can also make an easy syrup to replace the sugar with chai, cloves, vanilla, or allspice, or even combine all those baking spices with sugar and water making it winter in a glass. ” — Mike Herchuck, director of operations at American Social in Miami

I have always felt the Old-Fashioned is a classic holiday cocktail; the warm, spiced aromas and rich yet simple taste have that festive holiday feel to me. It is also super simple to make and requires just a few ingredients. It can be made with bourbon or rye and can be batched so that it’s easy to serve. You can add a little flair to your Old-Fashioned by adding a touch of your favourite flavoured bitters. At Great Jones, we use both orange and angostura bitters, and to add a touch of complexity, we also smoke it with applewood.” – Esteban Ordonez, brand ambassador and mixologist of Great Jones Distilling Co. in NYC


French 75

Festive cocktail
Credit: © Lucas Allen

“One of my go-to cocktails during Christmas is the French 75. While it may not be as synonymous with the season as Tom & Jerry or eggnog, it’s a valuable cocktail to have in your bartending repertoire. It’s great for groups, simple to prepare, has an approachable flavour profile, and is festive. This classic cocktail is unique in that you have two options for the base spirit—gin or cognac. As the temperature drops, my personal choice flips from gin to the decidedly warmer notes that an aged cognac brings to the table. If you’re a gin lover, stick with that and try a sprig of rosemary for your garnish. It’s as good a reason as any to keep a supply of sparkling wine on hand, too!” — Charles Joly, James Beard Award-winning bartender and co-founder of Crafthouse Cocktails

“The holidays are a time for a little bit of decadence, so it’s hard to go wrong with Champagne cocktails. There are a number of great ones, and you can always just drink the open wine after you get sick of mixing drinks. Family events and holiday parties are usually a pretty mixed crowd, so making something that works for a range of tastes is a good idea. I’d suggest something like a French 75, made with gin (or cognac, if you’re feeling fancy), lemon, a little simple syrup, and sparkling wine. Bonus points for a festive lemon twirl.” — Will Thompson, co-owner of Jaguar Sun in Miami


Spiced Cuba Libre

“The spiced Cuba Libre is a great cocktail to enjoy during the holidays because it is easy to prepare and you can have fun with the spices and different flavours of maple syrup. This cocktail works great with a vanilla maple or my preferred cardamom apple maple, but original, good-quality maple syrup also works. This cocktail also really works best with aged spirits, since they amplify the baking spice notes.” — Lynnette Marrero, bar director of Llama San NYC & Llama Inn in Williamsburg, and co-founder of Speed Rack


This story first appeared on www.foodandwine.com

(Main and Feature Image Credit: Brooke Lark/Unsplash & Adam Friedlander / Food Styling by Pearl Jones)

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