Winter Drink Guide: What To Stock & Sip All Season Long by Lisa Wright

It seems like only yesterday that I was thinking—and writing—about how to stock a summer bar (sigh). 

Since then, it’s been a lot of hot days and warm, balmy nights filled with delicious cocktails, from recipes and from my own imagination. But, as the world turns, so too do the seasons change—and it’s once again time to think about getting through another day-shortened winter.

The cocktail world can often seem like a never-ending revolving door of trends that’s impossible to keep up with—niche flavors and over-the-top mixers that are a blip on the bar radar, here and gone again before we can even begin to stock our cart. However, when passing trends become mainstay mentions (espresso martini, anyone?) and classic quaffs give way to endless permutations and variations, it’s time to take notice. Here are some of the best trends to try this sweater season—some, like low/no-ABV cocktails, are nothing new, while others are just beginning to cement their presence in the often ephemeral drinking universe.

Seasonal Syrups

Homemade syrups are an easy way to add depth to any cocktail, during both the summer and winter solstice. However, while warm weather sippers beg for light, fruity, and citrusy nuances, cool weather sippers like seasonal touches that add flavorful depth and sometimes even a sense of celebratory occasion. The bonus? If you can make a simple syrup, you can definitely infuse it with whatever flavors you like—and feel free to experiment! Making these syrups is a snap (they are simple, after all!). Below are some “seasonal” syrups making the rounds that can be used in everything from holiday cocktails to low/no-ABV sippers.

Simple Syrup Base Recipe: Start with your desired ratio of sugar to water. The basic recipe is 1:1, but I find this a bit too sweet and tend to reduce it. Honey, agave, or any alternative sweetener can be substituted, and your amount may vary depending on the ingredients used (i.e. if you’re using something with additional sweetness). Bring water (or liquid like coffee, see recipe below), your sweetener du jour, and add-ins (see recipes below) to a boil. Cool and strain. Serve. 

NOTE: Leftovers will keep in a sealed container for a couple of weeks or so (if they last that long!) Feel free to use more seasonal flavors like vanilla, or substitute plain old water with spiced chai or black tea. Citrus is also welcome at the table: think orange, blood orange, and/or grapefruit peels (you can even char them if you’re feeling extra fancy).

Gingerbread Syrup: Lovers of quintessential seasonal flavors take note: this seasonal syrup will put anyone in the mood for some serious holiday cheer. Optional Add-Ins include cinnamon, cloves, allspice, star anise, orange peel

Guinness Syrup: I recently came across this syrup in a recipe from Punch magazine called “The Spaghetti Incident in the Jungle.” The drink, a quasi “Jungle Bird” variation, also features another trendsetter on the list (rum) in addition to a 1/2 oz. of the stout syrup, perennial fave Aperol, and tropical lime and pineapple juices. YUM! Per Punch: use a 2:2 ratio of Guinness to Demerara sugar, whisking on low until sugar dissolves.

Herb-y Syrups: Herbs are the perfect way to elevate a blah simple syrup into something special—and the perfect way to add nuanced depth to drinks from all seasons. Popular Add-Ins include thyme, sage, coriander, and rosemary.

The Awesome Power of Amaro 

Amaro is certainly not new to the cocktail scene—the herbal Italian liqueur is often used for adding aromatic depth to a slew of drinks (and it’s also a solo star in its own right, sometimes used as a digestif, or splashed simply straight or with rocks in a snifter). Amaro also comes in a multitude of variations, each as subtle and nuanced as the last. Some, as mentioned above, are best for sipping solo, others add balance and depth to standards like Manhattans and Negronis. But that’s not all: Amaro is a cornerstone ingredient that you can really build on, perfect for vintage mainstays as well as new cocktail concoctions. One thing’s for sure: once Amaro is on your radar, you’ll soon be seeing the versatile, bittersweet, herby/spicy/earthy blends wherever you look; the perfect addition to any bar, winter or otherwise.

What I’m Drinking: Currently into adding Fernet-Branca and Cardamaro to Manhattans in lieu of sweet vermouth, but feel free to experiment! I’ve also dabbled in Amaro Noveis and love Cynar. The Amaro road is long, plentiful, and ready to be enjoyed by adventurous drinkers everywhere!

The White Wine It Girl of the Moment: Sancerre

Both the name of the wine itself and the region in France where it’s produced, Sancerre (like Amaro), is not ‘new.’ Often described as a more elevated and complex Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre is slightly less fruity than its Loire Valley compatriot and is a bit drier than many comparable ‘sweet’ white wines. Though a fan of white wines (though not usually Sauvignon Blanc), Sancerre just recently popped up on my radar as the perfect accompaniment to a lovely seafood dinner. Full-bodied and bright with a nice pop of acidity and a smooth finish, Sancerre is definitely a must-add to any bar (or to spruce up your holiday table).

Rum Rum Rudolph 

Having drank a lot (and I mean a lot) of Captain Morgan in my twenties, I soon came to realize that after a certain point, I could not drink cola of any kind without having a sense memory of that spiced signature flavor. My response? Abandon all rum. Full stop.However, over the summer, I found myself seeing a slew of delicious-sounding cocktails all made with—you guessed it—rum and I was tempted to give it another chance.Now, with cold weather on the horizon, I’m even more interested in re-introducing myself to rum and all its complexities. Maybe I’ll sub it for rye or whiskey in one of my fave drinks, maybe I’ll go tropical (despite winter’s chill), or maybe I’ll even sip it on the rocks. Either way, there are plenty of spicy sippers to choose from that are an upgrade from you-know-who (sorry, Captain). Rums to try: Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva,  Ron Zacapa No. 23, The Real McCoy 5

Festive Bar Add-Ons

Anyone hosting a holiday party (or two), will want to have a variety of options (low and no-ABV included!) on hand to make those ‘spirits’ bright. And whether it’s a signature cocktail or big batch punch; N/A options or a festive, after-dinner spirit, be sure to stock up—not just for the holiday season, but in anticipation of super-cozy sipping all winter long. Below are some must-haves to add to your (bar) cart.

Bitters: While it is important to *always* have the classic Angostura Aromatic Bitters on hand, adding a few alternative bitters is an easy way to add nuance to any drink. Mole, Chocolate, Grapefruit, and Orange are a good place to start. See my post “Build Your Own (Summer) Bar” for more bitters info!

No ABV Options: The good news is that the field is positively littered with alcohol-free options, which makes mixing and matching a snap. Give prepared potions an upgrade with your own homemade simple syrup, add a fancy seltzer, and keep some herby sprigs/citrus peels on hand for garnish to create mixers anyone can enjoy.

Festive Glassware: Depending on the size of your group, you may need to add some extra glassware to the mix. Luckily, this can be done without splashing too much cash. Unless you host a lot and are willing to invest in the good stuff, it’s pretty easy to find plastic ‘glassware’ that’s colorful, festive, and best of all, unbreakable (in the event someone has too much holiday cheer). You can always wash, store, and reuse them for summer soirees, too!

A Bottle of Red, A Bottle of White: Has Billy Joel ever spoken truer words? Having at least one bottle of each on hand at all times is an absolute must (especially during the holiday season). This practically guarantees that you will always be able to crack open a bottle at a moment’s notice and be able to adequately pair your vino with what you’re serving. Win-Win. And if your guests bring a bottle to the party? Even better.

Get Drinkin’

The same advice for your summer bar goes for your winter bar, too—be sure to stock up on the basics, while also experimenting with some new flavors and recipes. Here are some chill drink ideas to get the ball rolling!

A Dark ‘n Stormy is the perfect way to try out that new rum.

Ever had a Black Manhattan? Me neither. But I’m going to try it this winter with a smooth dark rum and my fave Amaro.

The Remember the Alimony is not only a great pun, but the perfect way to highlight that new bottle of Cynar.

Le Fatigue may be what you’re feeling this winter, but it’s also what you’ll be drinking, too.

The Northern Standard gives you the chance to try not one but two different kinds of Amaro. You can thank me later.

Burned out on the Negroni Sbagliato? Then try the Suplada Spritz, an adventurous variation that inspires cocktail creativity (and it’s a chance to try Mole Bitters!)

The Stranger in the Alps is a seasonal splurge (think Douglas Fir brandy rinse), that’s well worth it for the big holiday vibes.

Happy Sipping and Happy Holidays!

Lisa is a freelance writer, book reviewer, and (very) amateur photographer. In her spare time she likes to read, write, bake, cook, watch U.K dramas/police procedurals and panel shows, and have her heart broken by the Philadelphia Phillies (during baseball season, of course). Though she generally avoids social media, you can sometimes find her on Twitter and Instagram @dolphy_jane.

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