Mulled wine and spiked hot apple cider have long been boozy cold weather staples. This winter, cocktails connoisseurs are taking the concept to the next level, embracing aromatic craft cocktails with flavorful herbal infusions, like this rosemary syrup from Food & Wine, or the tipples in Minneapolis-based Tattersall Distillery’s recently released Winter Cabin Cocktails Recipe Book, which features cocktails incorporating aromatic bitters and seasonal ingredients, like birch bark.
We tapped some bar managers who are showcasing aromatic concoctions on their winter menus for some intel on the trend your customers will be asking for all season long. Whether it’s sage, rosemary or thyme, herbs have perceived health benefits for guests–and very real ones for your wallet.
Sage the Day
North of NYC, in Westchester, Harvest on Hudson beverage director Ben Liberatore updates his menu each season with four “seasonal selections,” often incorporating herbs from the restaurant’s garden. One of his winter offerings is the Sage the Day, made with muddled dehydrated winter sage, Tanqueray dry gin, Canton ginger liqueur, sparkling wine and simple syrup, with a sugar rim.
“This cocktail was completely inspired by our garden. One night last winter I took a stroll and found some herbs that had been left over from the end of summer ‘clean-up,’ specifically sage and rosemary,” Liberatore says. “Both products were much more fragrant than their store-bought counterparts—perfect for a cocktail.”
Liberatore explains that gin was his first choice for its botanical and citrus profile that would complement the herbs. He then consulted with the executive chef before adding ginger liqueur to further complement the sage.
”It’s not just about mixing together a spirit and juice and calling it a day.” – Equinox’s Peter Grimm
“The most exciting, and possibly most impactful, aspect of this cocktail is the sage and sugar mixture applied to the edge of the glass,” Liberatore says. “The garden sage was dehydrated and ground very fine into a powder and mixed with an equal portion of sugar. This added a sweet component to round out the drink, while the added sage made that flavor truly stand out.”
As for why he thinks herbal and aromatic cocktails are on the rise, he says, “I truly believe that cocktail drinkers’ palates are expanding. Long gone are the days where vodka and cranberry would pass as a well-balanced cocktail. Cocktails are becoming as meticulously crafted by bartenders as food is by chefs. With this expansion, it is only natural to delve into more ‘unconventional’ flavor combinations. Herbs and other aromatics provide unique and desirable flavors, while also offering consumers a perceived health benefit.”
Blackberry Thyme Margarita
TAMO Bistro + Bar, a swanky Boston hotel bar, is serving up a cold weather twist on a summer staple with their Blackberry Thyme Margarita, which mixes Corzo Reposado tequila, Cointreau, muddled blackberries and thyme and fresh lime juice.
“We like to offer a broad spectrum of flavors and textures on our cocktail list, and the complexity that the thyme delivers adds a nice savory note, transitioning what could be a cocktail you’d sip in the summer into a cold weather beverage,” explains beverage director Eric Loring.
Loring is no stranger to herbal ingredients, citing sage, thyme, rosemary and basil as some of the herbs he likes to incorporate into winter cocktails. “They each contribute an added layer of flavor to the drink,” he says. “Integrating aromatic herbs turns the experience into a more sensory one, as you activate your sense of smell before the cocktail ever touches your tongue.”
He also feels that such herbs are an upgrade to more traditional winter flavor profiles: “We like to make the most of seasonal ingredients, and winter herbs provide a nice alternative to the typical flavors we see during this time of the year like pumpkin spice, cinnamon, and peppermint.”
Fresh Mint Drinks
Temazcal Tequila Cantina’s winter bar menu features a Cerza Fresca made with Grey Goose Cherry Noir vodka, Cointreau-infused cherries, Gosling’s ginger beer, lime and fresh mint. “As we head into the winter months, there is a limited variety of fruits and herbs available that have the freshness and consistency we normally utilize in our cocktail program,” says Paul Braun, general manager of the Boston Mexican restaurant. “Therefore, we turn to heartier fruits with later harvest times and dried spices to bring a different depth to our winter cocktails. Aromatics like the mint in the Cerza Fresca add a savory element that takes the cocktail one step further, it also creates a balance between the tartness of the cherries and the acidity of the lime.”
Temazcal also boasts an impressive tequila selection—more than 250 varieties, to be exact—which also gets in on the herbal trend. “In the winter, our bartenders often recommend adding a subtle cinnamon flavor [to the tequila] to give it some warmth,” Braun says.
At The Bluebird Cocktail Room, a Baltimore cocktail destination, owner and head bartender Paul Benkert is serving up the Idle Youth, a drink made with beet juice, scotch and absinthe, and garnished with a rim of dehydrated carrot and lovage powder.
“For the most part, cocktails should be refreshing—we always drink to quench our thirst. But I’m not necessarily thirsty for a traditional daiquiri or Pimm’s Cup in the dead of winter,” says Benkert. “To achieve a little seasonal balance we take earthy herbs and vegetables—like rosemary, sage, lovage, beets, etcetera—and make them into powders, infuse them into liquors, juice them, or use them as simple garnishes. I love pairing lovage powder with beet juice in the wintertime. Add a little scotch and lime and you got yourself a party.”
Hints of Tarragon & Fennel
Nandini Khaund, resident “spirit guide” at Cindy’s, was inspired by elements of mysticism, travel and classic apothecaries when creating her bar program. She incorporates a number of herbal notes into her cocktails, like the use of Apologue Celery Root herbal liqueur in the Daisy D’Apio, a savory, botanical riff on a margarita, and a Spanish-style gin and tonic that employs aromatics like a tarragon garnish and a housemade fennel-calamansi tonic.
“The addition of herbal elements and ingredients to cocktails, particularly winter cocktails, adds another layer and dimension,” Khaund says. “The whiff of fresh tarragon, pine, or other aromatics set the scene for the drink and engage another of your senses before you actually taste the beverage.”
All-Spice & Everything Nice
The ReelHouse, a new East Boston spot, just updated their winter menu with The Eddy, a warming cocktail of Michter’s bourbon, Averna amaro, blackberry all-spice and Q ginger beer. Sal Boscarino, managing partner of Navy Yard Hospitality Group & ReelHouse, explains that they chose to use the blackberry all-spice to “bring a warm and familiar winter/holiday feel to the cocktail experience. The spices added to the bourbon are reminiscent of the type of cocktail one drinks cozied up on a snowy evening by the fire. The ginger beer fuses the aromas and adds a refreshing finish to the drink.”
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Hints of Earl Grey & Rosemary
The Trademark Taste + Grind, a retro-inspired New York spot inside Midtown’s Hotel Le Soleil, serves up a Duke of Earl, made with Earl Grey tea, Plymouth gin, citrus, egg white and rosemary, which “adds a flash of seasonality and some savory complexity,” says Will Benedetto, cocktail curator for Trademark’s parent company In Good Company Hospitality. Benedetto is drawn to such herbal elements for his winter cocktail menus because, he says, “There’s a real rhythm to the way we cook and drink, and the natural cycle of the seasonal world. By winter, we are well after the first frost in New England. Flowering plants are colorless and fruiting trees lie dormant, yet plenty of herbs are still abundant and even more are quite easy to dry and are resilient on shelves and in pantries.”
Sprigs of Rosemary
At Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse, bartender Erin Rae is serving a Rosemary Amarena Bourbon, made with Bulleit Bourbon and a housemade amarena infusion, served in a rocks glass and garnished with a rosemary sprig.
”Long gone are the days where vodka and cranberry would pass as a well-balanced cocktail.” – Harvest on Hudson’s Ben Liberatore
“We decided to take advantage of one of winter’s most used herbs, rosemary, in our seasonal cocktail menu,” Rae says. “Rosemary is often incorporated into our lunch and dinner menus, so we figured why not create a festive herb cocktail, too. We found that the tartness of Amarena cherry was the perfect counterpart to the woody and mint flavor of rosemary.”
Rae also says that the cocktail serves a practical purpose as well: “This cocktail offers a warmth that is certainly needed for making it through another New England winter.”
Cinnamon To Taste
Equinox Restaurant, an award-winning D.C. restaurant, is also making good use of rosemary in their bar program this season, according to bar manager Peter Grimm, who uses the aromatic herb in his Pear Necessities, which melds vodka, pear juice, lemon juice and fresh rosemary.
“We added rosemary and bitters to give it an aromatic first scent and then the finish is a lemon-y taste that stays with you,” Grimm says. “Rosemary, pear and pine notes evoke a feeling of holiday cheer. We add baking spices like cardamom, cinnamon and allspice to the puree to accent those winter notes. There are a lot of layers to the cocktail.”
Grimm says that he likes using herbals flavors in his tipples for added depth: “Bitters add complexity to the cocktails, It’s not just about mixing together a spirit and juice and calling it a day. Herbal components bring freshness to cocktails, as well as depth and aromatics.”
He also nods to the nostalgic elements of the flavor profile. “We poach the pears in water and baking spices for the puree, and let that infuse and blend it all together. The spices warm up the pear, which is very refreshing—it gives it a warm, homey feel. When I think of the holidays I think of nutmeg, cinnamon, and rosemary. These are all flavors that remind me of my childhood and the holidays—whether from a pumpkin pie or mulled cider.”
Cherry Infusion With Spice
Beat Brasserie a jazz-inspired spot in Cambridge, Massachusetts is bringing the holiday spirit with the Cheer-leader, a festive cocktail made with rye, chicory liqueur, cherry Heering, dram bitters and Laphroaig simple malt whiskey.
“Beat recently introduced seasonal cocktails to the menu that bring elements of the classic winter cocktails to a new level. The Cheer-leader is a cocktail that brings genuine flavors to the forefront without having too much sugar,” says private events manager Adrienne Grigorieff. “Cherry Heering is a great example of a liqueur that infuses cherries and spice to give a complex, slightly sweet, yet tart finish to its profile. The rye has a dry spiciness that pairs perfectly with the cherry Heering.”
Seasonal Herb-Based Cocktails
The master mixologists and founders of Brooklyn cocktail startup Liquid Lab NYC, Parker Boase and Gregory Lucas, have whipped up a host of herb-based cocktails for the holiday season.
“Using herbal ingredients in cocktails is one of our favorite techniques. It’s a great way to add an extra layer of flavor to any concoction,” they say. “The great thing about herbs, such as basil, mint, sage, and thyme, to name a few, is that they are full of oils which infuse into syrups and liquor quite quickly, which is why people love using them on their winter menus. … Herbs also make a fantastic garnish. The trick is to give them a little slap with your hands before garnishing so it wakes up the aroma and gets the oils going. That way you absorb the aroma while sipping.”
One such concoction is their Merry Mulled Wine, made of brandy, clove tincture, cinnamon, grenache, orange, dried cranberry and blackberry reduction, with an orange/clove garnish.
Healthy Herbal Cocktails
Danny Shapiro, bar manager at Chicago’s The Moonlighter, crafts seasonal cocktails like the Kick Step, made with Scofflaw Old Tom Gin, Peychaud’s aperitivo, strawberry and lemon.
“It’s a fun, bright, herbal take on a Tom Collins and we felt that the herbal profile of the Peychaud’s Aperitivo was a perfect match for the Scofflaw Old Tom Gin.”
He says that he’s drawn to herbal cocktails for their “health benefits.”
“I enjoy herbal cocktails because I enjoy a flavor profile that tricks me into thinking what I’m imbibing is healthy. Herbs are healthy, right?!,” he jokes. “Also, as the weather gets cooler, the wintry herbs, like pine and rosemary —forest family components—make me feel cozy and happy.”