Hack the Classics for the Holidays

This time of year, there is certainly no shortage of holiday cocktails, from eggnog to glögg and Hot Toddies to Tom and Jerrys. But there’s also a canon of tried-and-true, year-round classics that can easily shape-shift into holiday pinch hitters. Here, a few tips and recipes for adjusting the flavors of classic cocktails into cozier, festive drinks.

While the Manhattan in its pure form is already holiday-ready—the nutty spice of vermouth plus the bittersweet cinnamon and kola nut notes of Angostura, all wrapped up in whiskey—there are some subtle tweaks that can give it an extra holiday appeal. This can be as simple as swapping the brand of vermouth you choose: For spice and vanilla, go with Carpano Antica Formula; for a cooling herbal note, Tempus Fugit’s Alessio Vermouth di Torino; for a rich, bitter bite, Punt e Mes. You can also exchange the vermouth for another modifier altogether, like Amaro Averna, to make the Black Manhattan, or coffee liqueur, for a Revolver. Or split the vermouth portion with herbal yellow Chartreuse to stir up a Greenpoint.

Black Manhattan Cocktail Recipe

Black Manhattan

Averna stands in for sweet vermouth in this Manhattan-inspired modern classic.

Revolver Manhattan Cocktail Recipe


A coffee liqueur-laced twist on the Manhattan.

Greenpoint Manhattan Cocktail Recipe

The Greenpoint

A spin on the Brooklyn, itself a twist on the Manhattan.

No other drink, aside from perhaps the Piña Colada or the Mai Tai, is more synonymous with summer than the Daiquiri. A simple combination of lime, rum and sugar, it is stripped-down, poolside perfection. But the Daiquiri need not be shunted to the warm months. In fact, the simplicity of its formula and the availability of excellent citrus in winter make it the perfect template for holiday entertaining. One way to easily usher it into the winter is to up the richness with sherry; turn to raisiny Pedro Ximénez sherry to make Chantal Tseng’s PX Daiquiri, or nutty oloroso sherry for Matt Piacentini’s Sherry Daiquiri. Or, turn the Cuban classic into a pre-dinner drink with a dash of absinthe or pastis, as in the Greta Garbo, or a dose of Campari.

Greta Garbo Daiquiri

Greta Garbo

A Daiquiri riff that adds a few dashes of absinthe to the classic spec.

Little more than gin-spiked lemonade, the Tom Collins is one of the most malleable long drinks in the canon, particularly during the holidays. Lean into gin’s herbaceous botanicals, but with Chartreuse and cucumber vodka, as in Jackson Cannon’s Phil Collins, which also incorporates appropriately festive cranberry bitters. Alternatively, add rich pomegranate molasses, Campari and Bénédictine for Brad Farran’s Bitter Tom. And for something savory, turn to the Salted Plum Vodka Collins, which makes for a unique dinner pairing.

Phil Collins

Phil Collins

An herbal, cucumber-y highball designed to commemorate the Genesis singer’s birthday.

Bitter Tom Cocktail

Bitter Tom

A bitters-based Tom Collins with Campari and Bénédictine.

An easy party-starter, the Negroni has the ability to transform itself by swapping in a gin that’s heavy on the botanicals; the West Coast is where to look. But for something more brooding, do as Joaquín Simó does in the Kingston Negroni and swap out the gin for a big, ester-y rum, like Smith & Cross, or make it smoky with a mezcal base, like Sarah Morrissey’s Negroni Absinthe, which pairs the spirit with crème de cacao. The fairer Negroni can put on a winter coat, too; simply introduce génépy, crème de menthe and Cocchi Americano to the mix, as in Naren Young’s Alpine Negroni.

Mezcal Negroni Drink Recipe

Negroni Absinthe

A nuanced riff on the mezcal Negroni with a splash of crème de cacao.

Alpine Negroni

A winterized White Negroni with génépy, Suze and a bracing splash of crème de menthe.

The Whiskey Sour has spawned an array of riffs to choose from year-round. To make the drink a little more celebratory, add a float of red wine to make a New York Sour. For more richness, swap out simple syrup for maple syrup and add a hit of Angostura bitters, as Erik Adkins does in his Filibuster. Andrew King, at Charleston, South Carolina’s FIG, takes the bitters to the next level, adding a hefty 12 dashes of Peychaud’s to the Thirsty Monk, which gets an alpine twist by way of herbal génépy and Bénédictine. Finally, with Meaghan Dorman’s Whiskey Business, echo the spiciness of rye with smoky-spicy Ancho Reyes chile liqueur. The result is comforting and familiar while also bringing something new to the table.

Genepy Cocktail Recipe

The Thirsty Monk

Génépy and Benedictine join forces to add a spiced-herbal layer to this twist on a Whiskey Sour.

As with many stirred classics, the Martini isn’t bound to one particular season. But you can turn the template decidedly more winter-ready with a few small tweaks. Look to sherry once again for added richness, like in the Tuxedo, or chocolatey mole bitters, as in Jack Schramm’s Silent Night, which can easily be prepared ahead of time. In fact, pre-batching and -freezing may be the best hack for preparing to host a holiday party. And if you’re going to make a freezer Martini, you might as well make it the very best one.

Sherry Martini Recipe


A classic dry Martini with fino sherry standing in for vermouth.

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