The beauty of cocktail making is the wide range of variation and seasonality that bartenders can play with. When it comes to the Holidays, certain flavors are traditionally associated with this special time of year. People think of sharp peppermint, bitter citrus and the aromatics of warm spices like cinnamon or star anise. Freshly baked gingerbread and crisp champagne on New Year’s Eve are images that also come to mind during the wintertime, with so much of our experiences being closely tied to the foods and drinks we enjoy. If you’re planning on hosting guests this holiday season or want to get into the spirit yourself, revamping your bar cart might be just the thing your home needs.
There are several ways you can introduce Holiday elements into your bar cart, whether it be accessories, certain spirits or bitters that give your cocktails that extra something you’re looking for. Crafting great wintertime drinks is about balancing bitter, sweet and fragrant notes that go down smoothly and warm you up in colder temperatures. But more importantly, your bar cart should be something that represents your unique taste while still offering guests a little bit of everything. Here are 10 great additions to your Holiday bar cart that will surely get anyone into the festive spirit:
Port wine has largely gone out of style, but some are still pushing to bring it back into trend. This sweet dessert wine is originally from Portugal (where it gets its name) and is enjoyed as a digestif after a meal. It comes in various colors and flavor profiles, such as fruity white port, caramel-colored tawny port, and rich ruby port with hints of chocolate and dark berries. If you want to impress your guests, invest in some port glasses for a classy presentation and end a dinner party with a toast. These bottles are traditionally saved for special occasions and range in price as well, so you can easily find one that works with your budget. Call us old-fashioned, but port wine is both delicious and a timeless classic.
If you’re a fan of candy canes and want to incorporate some bold peppermint flavor into your cocktail, peppermint schnapps is your go-to move. On its own, peppermint schnapps is intensely minty, with some even comparing it to astringent mouthwash. That’s why you’ll commonly find this potent liquor mixed into punch bowls or drinks with other ingredients that balance out its flavor. Throw this flavored schnapps into spiked hot chocolate, White Russians, or the cheekily-named Peppermint Pattie shots with vodka and creme de cacao. This might not be the most refined spirit you’ll buy, but it’s incredibly versatile and, more importantly, fun to work with.
Campari can be polarizing due to its floral yet intensely bitter taste. This Italian liquor has a beautiful dark red color and carries notes of orange peel, cloves, cinnamon and dark cherries. While you can sip it neat over ice, it’s usually seen as a key ingredient in some popular cocktails. The Negroni is an instant classic and consists of bitter Campari, gin, vermouth rosso and orange peel to bring out the cocktail’s hints of citrus. Another reason for buying Campari is the fact that citrus is in season during the winter months, which pairs exceptionally well with this Italian import. Add it to blood orange cocktails or spritzes with fresh orange slices for a beverage that feels like summer but is actually in peak season. The deep ruby color also makes it feel festive, so use it as you please for a splash of red.
There are plenty of reasons you should add some candied ginger to your bar cart this Holiday season. Besides making a delicious sweet snack, candied ginger can bring the essence of ginger to a beverage without being overpowering. Add wedges of it to Old Fashions or place it on the rim of your Negroni. You can even turn candied ginger into a simple syrup that can be tossed into drinks for some additional spice. Overall, it’s a classy way to incorporate these Holiday flavors that keeps longer than gingerbread.
Cranberries are a staple ingredient during the Holidays, but they usually have to be transformed before enjoying their natural tartness. You can incorporate cranberries into your cocktail repertoire by purchasing a bottle of juice, but we also love cranberry bitters for a more subtle approach. Fee Brothers makes wonderful bottles of cranberry bitters that add the taste of the fruit in the background of your cocktail, rather than making it a bold statement. Use this ingredient to make Cranberry martinis or splash it onto whiskey sours for some extra acidity. This is a cheap way to make a statement with your drinks.
It’s undeniable that mulled wine and wintertime go hand-in-hand. This popular bowl drink requires some minor cooking as you infuse the wine with oranges and various spices like cinnamon, star anise and cloves. Once the flavors have settled, and the wine is fully infused, you’ll have a comforting drink that brings people together during this time of year. However, getting all of the necessary ingredients could steer some people away, which is why it’s a great idea to purchase a Mulled Wine Gift Set for your home. These kits usually include all of the usual spices you’ll need, plus some aromatic extras like cardamon or whole nutmeg. And if these Holiday flavors aren’t really your favorite, this idea still makes an excellent gift for a loved one who enjoys warm cocktails.
There’s a lot to celebrate during this time of year, whether it’s Thanksgiving, Christmas or ringing in the new year. Champagne is an instant classic when it comes to these special moments, but it’s also not cheap and should never go to waste. Instead of wasting your bottle or feeling obligated to finish it, invest in a champagne opener and stopper that will preserve the drink’s carbonation and taste. You can store your opened bottle in the fridge to keep it crisp and resurface it later to pour yourself a glass, make a mimosa or even craft up spritzes for guests at your next Holiday party. If you’re a frequent champagne drinker, this is definitely an investment worth making that could minimize your waste.
When we think of honey and whiskey, we instantly think of hot toddies. The hot toddy (not to be confused with the warm, non-alcoholic drink used for treating colds) is another popular bowl drink that calls for whiskey, honey, lemon juice, and cinnamon sticks. These ingredients get slowly warmed together to create a hot cocktail that is sharp, sweet and very smooth. Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey Whiskey already comes with sweet honey notes, making it ideal for this recipe. And like all whiskeys, this bottle has a plethora of cocktail uses or can be enjoyed neat over ice.
A little Holiday flare never hurt anybody, which is why we’re big fans of bottle sleeves. Not only do these sleeves serve a purpose by keeping your bottle of champagne or chilled wine cold, but they can also be tied into your home decorations or be used as gifts to friends and family. If you’re not particularly keen on decorating your bar cart, this detail could be the right amount of festive for you.
Licor 43 is a Spanish liquor that gets its name from its supposed 43 ingredients; however, it is now hugely popular across the Spanish-speaking world because of its famous carajillo cocktail. The carajillo is a simple, caffeinated drink consisting of a shot of Licor 43 and a shot of espresso over ice, plus some citrus peel for extra aromatics. Carajillos are commonly enjoyed after dinner as a digestif, with the spirit’s notes of vanilla and citrus fusing wonderfully with the chocolatey espresso. While you can drink carajillos year-round, there’s something about its flavor profile that suits the Holiday palate.
Sylvio Martins is a freelance writer and actor based in Los Angeles. He specializes in Latinx cuisine and food culture, and has been previously featured in Eater and The Infatuation.