2023 Forbes Holiday Cocktail Guide

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Whether your idea of holiday spirit involves whiskey, gin, tequila or rum, having a festive cocktail to serve them in always makes the season a little merrier. The 17 recipes in this year’s Forbes Holiday Cocktail Guide were created by award-winning bartenders from New York to Norway. With ingredients that celebrate classic winter flavors and scents (and a few that magically transport you to the tropics), many of these drinks are meant to evoke nostalgic memories. And if you mix them up just right, you might even make some new ones.

Simone Caporale (2014’s International Bartender of the Year for his work at Artesian in London’s Langham Hotel) and Marc Álvarez (the former beverage director at Ferran and Albert Adrià’s acclaimed El Barri culinary group) are the new Kings of Cocktails. The pair have been shaking up the Barcelona nightlife scene with Sips, a “drinkery house” that was named World’s Best Bar and Best International Cocktail Bar at the 17th annual Spirited Awards at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans—in addition to topping the 2023 World’s 50 Best Bars list. And while Sips prides itself for “couture cocktails at prêt-à-porter prices” Caporale (above, left) and Álvarez (right) kept it simple for the holidays with a three-ingredient 1:1:1 concoction. “For festive seasons there’s nothing better than a cocktail that brings back Christmastime,” Caporale says.

“Creating drinks using spices such as cloves, mace, and rhubarb are key—so Amaro Santoni, infused with 34 botanicals, is perfect for this.”

This holiday season, Giorgio Bargiani, the Italian-born assistant director of mixology at London’s Connaught Bar, is looking to Mexico for inspiration. “The Paloma certainly holds a special place in our hearts because we all love the country and have had the chance to visit quite often,” says Bargiani, who was named International Bartender of the Year at the 2023 Spirited Awards. “It’s part of The Connaught Bar’s mission to elevate cocktails to an experience that’s memorable for our guests—and Kindred Joy is no exception.

On top of adding an extra layer of flavors and carbonation, we designed the cocktail to be served in a magnum bottle, as a nod to celebratory occasions with Champagne. It’s a bright and approachable drink from a taste perspective, but it was conceived to make your memories in the company of your loved ones truly special.”

“The beauty of the Turtledove is in its simplicity,” says McLain Hedges, who along with his wife, Mary Allison Wright, own the acclaimed Yacht Club in Denver, which came in at No. 42 at this year’s North America’s 50 Best Bars. “Inspired by the now-famed Jungle Bird, this cocktail is truly greater than the sum of its parts, which is why a version of this drink has been a staple at the bar since day one. Like most of our drinks, we take the split-base approach with fortified wine and, in this case, believe it’s a great way to expose people to the wonderful world of Madeira. We also love this drink because Denver (especially during the holidays) can leave you wanting to go on a little tropical escape—so this cocktail transports you, while still giving you all warming spices that people love during the season.”

It’s been a winning year for Tokyo-born bartender Takuma Watanabe, a nine-year veteran of New York cocktail institution Angel’s Share. Watanabe—who cofounded Martiny’s in 2022 at the three-story Manhattan carriage house that was once home to French-American sculptor Philip Martiny—took home two major honors this year: ranking No. 29 at North America’s 50 Best Bars and winning Best New U.S. Cocktail Bar at the Spirited Awards. And while his Martiny’s drinks menu is best left for the cocktail professionals, the batchable drink he’s serving up for the holidays is far more approachable for the home bartender. “I’m making an old fashioned-type cocktail called Potter’s Old Fashioned—my take on the butter beer from the Harry Potter movies,” Watanabe says. “Chai has a lot of winter spices—like cinnamon and cardamom. And the butter gives you toasted notes and a creamy, oily mouthfeel. It’s an amazing winter Old Fashioned and feels like Christmas and campfire.”

At the 2022 Spirited Awards in New Orleans, Ryan Chetiyawardana (a.k.a. Mr. Lyan)—the hospitality mogul behind Lyaness in London’s Sea Containers Hotel and Silver Lyan in Washington D.C.’s Riggs Hotel—roared to victory with three major wins: World’s Best Bar and Best International Hotel Bar for the former and Best U.S. Hotel Bar for the latter. A year later, his momentum hasn’t slowed: In September, Chetiyawardana published a new edition of Mr. Lyan’s Cocktails at Home, which contains 70 easy (but innovative) drinks for the novice bartender. He also recently collaborated with Michelin-starred Eleven Madison Park and Noma Projects. So Chetiyawardana has a lot to celebrate—with an appropriately merry cocktail, of course. “Christmas to me is marked by warming flavors and convivial over-indulgence,” he says. “This drink uses great festive seasonal ingredients, but also cuts through the richness that often accompanies the period. The name is a nod to Coke’s color branding of St. Nick that was so redolent of Christmas adverts for me growing up, and the aromatic elements that go into the famous soda.”

More than 75 percent of the spirits served at Himkok, the Oslo-based bar/distillery/laboratory, are actually produced in-house. Ranked No. 10 by the World’s 50 Best Bars, Himkok prides itself on a zero-waste policy and locally sourced ingredients—particularly root vegetables like parsnip, which thrive in the Nordic climate. “Parsnips have a natural sweetness and a slightly nutty flavor, making them the perfect addition to a whisky-based cocktail. It’s a versatile vegetable—synonymous with winter and Christmas and make for a great option for adding to cocktails,” says Maroš Dzurus, Himkok’s Slovakian-born bar manager. “In this particular drink, the vegetable is used to add a touch of spiciness and earthiness—elevating the classic Old Fashioned-style drink to a new level of sophistication.” And as always, the bar stays true to its sustainability ethos: “After the infusion, the leftover parsnip is then given to a nearby local Oslo restaurant, Grezzo.”

Because of its foolproof 1:1:1 ingredient ratio, the Negroni is one of those easy-to-make classic cocktails that inspires infinite iterations. And at London’s Swift Borough—the third outpost of Bobby Hiddleston’s multi-award-winning bar that’s renowned for its 300-plus whisky list—there’s a Negroni variation that’s made for Yuletide carousing. “Swift’s Tannenbaum Negroni was made originally as a one-off winter-spiced Negroni,” general manager Rachel Reid explains.

“But it proved so popular that we kept it on the menu for a couple of seasons, and are always happy to recommend it. We find it makes our guests feel warm and cozy, away from the chilly outdoors.”

For Melbourne native Grant Sceney, the beverage director at Vancouver’s Fairmont Pacific Rim’s Botanist bar, Christmastime is all about nostalgia. “The holidays evoke fond moments from my childhood. And one in particular is playing Mario Kart over the holidays with my brothers—and my favorite character was always Donkey Kong and dropping banana peels on the course,” says Sceney, whose watering hole is ranked the No. 19 this year by North America’s 50 Best Bars. “A nod to the classic eggnog, a ‘flip’ is a cocktail that uses the whole egg, not just the whites. This indulgent and rich cocktail is warming with winter spices, banana, and maple—and will have you doing backflips of joy.”

KOL, a Michelin-starred Mexican restaurant in London’s Marylebone neighborhood, has been packed since it opened in October 2020. And for many good reasons. Among them, KOL has a basement mezcaleria that boasts a rather extensive agave menu and antojitos—snacks that literally mean “little cravings.” For the holidays, Matthias Ingelmann, KOL’s group bars manager, is mixing up a Mexican variation on the French 75. “The Fig Leaf & Pine French 75 cocktail has got quite the flavor combination—very fresh and very rich at the same time. We always try to work with seasonal flavors and combine them with Mexican spirits,” Ingelmann says. “And Tequila Ocho has this incredible minerality but also grassy notes. The floral, chocolatey notes of the fig leaf and the fresh forest flavors of the spruce tips mix together with the Ocho to make a great drink to enjoy when the weather gets chilly: British flavors but with a Mexican heart!”

For Jacob Martin, the beverage director at Bar Banane in Toronto and 2023 World Class Global Bartender of the Year, festive cocktails need to be versatile enough to be enjoyed by everyone in the family. “A perfect holiday cocktail is a painting best done with broad strokes. So, best to focus on flavors 99 percent of the world enjoy,” says Martin. “Espresso, coffee liqueur, alpine amaro, and a stout-and-toasted-grains syrup is a surefire way to make your bar skills the definitive Christmas miracle the whole clan has been waiting for. Feel free to substitute the Guinness syrup with a rich 2:1 simple syrup if you burn the goose and don’t have the time!”

Legendary rum-loving bartender Kevin Beary, the beverage director at Chicago’s award-winning Three Dots and a Dash and The Bamboo Room, is a master of tiki cocktails. But this season, he’s veering away from his beloved rum to create something brighter and more festive. “Holiday cocktails often solely focus on fall and winter spices, such as clove, allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg—paired with dark spirits,” Beary explains. “But for this tipple, we wanted to incorporate tropical notes into the mix with flavors of guava and pineapple. Additionally, we use a split-base of bonded apple brandy and tequila, adding further intrigue to the cocktail—since these are not the usual suspects, which would typically be bourbon, rye, or Scotch.”

“One of my favorite creations and one that has graced a few international drinks lists has been the Beyond Smoke & Mirrors,” says Kate Boushel, director of beverage and education at Groupe Barroco—creators of Montreal’s Atwater Cocktail Club, which came in at No. 32 in North America’s 50 Best Bars and No. 3 at Canada’s Best Bars. “It’s a velvety fortified wine-focused cocktail that reminds me of a lightly floral orange wine.”

A subterranean cocktail lounge at Dallas’ Joule Hotel, Midnight Rambler can be a quite a scene, especially on the weekends when DJs command the music—playing a wide-ranging mix of afro-beat, funk, and jazz. But the bar’s cocktail expert Gabe Sanchez is turning down the volume and going stress-free for the holidays this year. “I love the Apple Lit Punch because it’s super easy and can be made collaboratively as a group. Last year, I set out the shot glasses, labeled the bottles with a corresponding number of shots, and it was done,” says Sanchez, whose bar was named one of the Tales of the Cocktail Regional Top 10 Nominees for Best U.S. Hotel Bar last year. “A punch is so much better than standing at the counter, micromanaging the cocktail making. And this one is super tasty, but not overly sweet and has just enough of a kick to get my karaoke rendition of ‘Africa’ by Toto going.”

Cocktail guru and James Beard Award winner Leo Robitschek has been in the hospitality business for more than a decade, first making his name as the head bartender at New York’s acclaimed Eleven Madison Park. “For me, seasonality isn’t only based on the ingredients that you’re consuming, it’s also how it evokes sense memories. A lot of times in the fall, you drink things that remind you of the holidays, whatever that holiday is to you,” says the Venezuelan-born Robitschek, now vice president of food and beverage at the Andrew Zobler’s Sydell Group and the NoMad London bar team. “Or you drink things that remind you of your parents or wherever you grew up. So you think of more warming drinks when the seasons are changing and becoming a little cooler.”

70 Pine Street in New York’s Financial District is home to two of the city’s more notable Michelin-starred restaurants: James Kent’s Saga and Crown Shy. And perched atop the 64th floor, with a wraparound terrace and 360-degree views of the Manhattan skyline, is Overstory—a tiny boîte that ranks No. 17 at this year’s World’s 50 Best Bars. Harrison Ginsberg, who has run the award-winning bar from the start, has a penchant for cocktails that gravitate towards umami and earthy flavors. “This cocktail was inspired by bringing groups of friends together to enjoy holiday drinks,” he says. “The idea of combining eastern-style distillation—in this case, with Tokki Soju, a rice-based spirit—with a western approach in the form of a very traditional turn-of-the-century-style punch, was a fun way to introduce soju into the modern cocktail world. The soju is the same proof as many other western-style spirits, which makes it fun to swap into cocktails. The deep-roasted rice notes really play well with the hōjicha and make for a really great punch.”

Juliette Larrouy, a native of Southern France, has been in the food and beverage industry since age 14. Trained in classical French cooking, in 2016, she traded her pots and pans for bar tools to work at Paris’ legendary Le Syndicat before joining another award-winning bar in 2020: Moe Aljaff’s Two Schmucks in Barcelona. These days, Larrouy is in New York helping build Aljaff’s forthcoming “five-star dive bar” on the Lower East Side—this time as a business partner. “This is my take on the super American eggnog,” she says. “For me, winter holiday cocktails should be comfy and dessert-y—and eggnog fits the bill. Blending all the cocktail ingredients gives it a really interesting foamy texture—and a feeling of lightness. And the Cognac and amontillado give it a long and warm finish, perfect for New York City’s chilly winter months.”

Jason Asher and Rick Furnari’s locomotive-themed Platform 18 at Century Grand in Phoenix was named Best U.S. Cocktail Bar at this year’s Spirited Awards in New Orleans. Known for its inventive drinks, including a slew of 1930s- and 1940s-inspired cocktails, the Piña Panela Sour is one of the bar’s imaginative holiday concoctions—preferably paired with a carb-forward dessert. “The inspiration for this comes from aguapanela, which is a tea-like beverage that my family back in Colombia drinks,” bartender Ricky Cubillos explains. “Hardened cane sugar is boiled down into a tea and if we’re ever under the weather we would add lime juice and some baking spices. The syrup itself is made like demerara, and has really nice notes of molasses and spice. To complement that, baking spices go into the tequila, bringing out more cooked agave notes, which are similar to cane sugar. Finally, the egg white adds velvety creaminess and a nice classic look. Then, we sprinkle a little crumble mixture of salt over the top, along with that same cane sugar. Overall, it goes well with pies or cakes that have a good amount of baking spice notes.”

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