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Spirits of the Season 2018: The best easy cocktail recipes and picks by category

DiSaronno has released Trussardi decorated bottles for the holidays! Pic credit: DiSaronno
DiSaronno has released Trussardi-decorated bottles for the holidays! Pic credit: DiSaronno

Full disclosure: Monsters & Critics received free samples of the products mentioned in this article for review. However, the opinions expressed are independent and our own.

The year has come to an end, and many of us will be raising a glass in either a “good riddance” or an “it was a wonderful year” toast, depending on how good 2018 was to you and yours.

Our Spirits of the Season annual roundup, now in its tenth year, wraps up with the perfect newcomers, classics and fun picks for cocktails (and gifts) for the important “eves”, Christmas and New Year’s. Or whenever you need a dust-up on your go-to repertoire.

Everyone loves a new cocktail recipe to try. We have you covered.

Our list includes everything from classics to punches along with some of the best choices for after-dinner drinks and a range of both affordable and splurge-time bubbles for you to try out as well.

Bookmark this page for whenever you want to venture out and explore easy new recipes and dazzle your holiday guests.

The Whiskeys: Rye

Knob Creek Rye

The Maine Event needs a spicy rye like Knob Creek. Pic credit: Knob Creek
The Maine Event needs a spicy rye-like Knob Creek. Pic credit: Knob Creek

Knob Creek Maine Event

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 parts Knob Creek Rye
  • 1 part sweet vermouth
  • 1 whole fresh cherry
  • Rinse of coffee liqueur
  • 1 dash Angostura Bitters

METHOD

Muddle 1 cherry in a mixing glass.
Add Knob Creek Rye, sweet vermouth and Angostura bitters to the glass, and let it sit about a minute.
Fill the glass with the largest ice cubes available and stir until cold.
Put a dash of coffee liqueur around the inside of a chilled, stemmed glass.
Pour the cold drink into a rocks glass, using a strainer to catch any cherry bits.

Redemption Rye

A classic sour works great with rye whiskey. Pic credit: Redemption Rye
A classic sour works great with rye whiskey. Pic credit: Redemption Rye

Redemption Rye classic Whiskey Sour

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 parts Redemption Rye
  • 3/4 Part Lemon Juice
  • 3/4 Part Sugar Syrup
  • 1 Egg White

METHOD

Dry shake ingredients without the ice.
Shake ingredients with ice.
Strain into a chilled coupe glass (or rocks glass).
Garnish with Aromatic Bitters.

The Whiskeys: Bourbon

Basil Hayden’s Bourbon

You can make this in a rocks glass if coupes are too fussy for you. Pic credit: Basil Hayden's 
You can make this in a rocks glass if coupes are too fussy for you. Pic credit: Basil Hayden’s

Basil Hayden’s Spiced Fig

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 parts Basil Hayden’s Bourbon
  • ¾ part Fresh Lime Juice
  • ¾ part Simple Syrup
  • 2 Ripe Figs, halved
  • Ground Cloves
  • 1 Lime Wedge (for garnish)
  • 1 Rosemary Sprig

METHOD

Muddle figs in a shaker.
Add Basil Hayden’s Bourbon, lime juice and simple syrup to shaker and shake with ice.
Strain into a coupe glass and top with ground cloves.
Garnish with a lime wedge and rosemary sprig.

Maker’s Mark Bourbon

Maker's Mark Bourbon Maple Chai Punch is easy and serves small crowd. Pic credit: Maker's Mark
Maker’s Mark Bourbon Maple Chai Punch is easy and serves small crowd. Pic credit: Maker’s Mark

Maker’s Mark Bourbon Maple Chai Punch

INGREDIENTS

  • 1⁄2 cups fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cups strong chai tea, brewed
  • 2 cups apple cider
  • 1 1⁄2 cups maple syrup
  • 4 dashes orange bitters, preferably Fee Brother’s West Indies
  • 3 cups Maker’s Mark Bourbon
  • 2 cups dry hard cider
  • 4 cups sparkling water
  • Apple slices, for garnish
  • Lemon slices, for garnish
  • Cinnamon sticks, for garnish

METHOD

Combine lemon juice, maple syrup, chai tea, apple, and hard apple ciders, bitters, and bourbon in a large punch bowl.
Immediately before serving, add a few generous scoops of ice and top with sparkling water.

Novelty whisky/whiskey:

Limited Edition White Walker By Johnnie Walker Whisky

This is THE gift to get a Game of Thrones nut and carefully put in their stocking.  White Walker by Johnnie Walker Whisky is presented in a stunning bottle and has the classic “winter is coming” look enhanced with the icy blue bottle. A sipper, the blend has carmelized apple, toasted vanilla and brown sugar notes in this blended scotch whisky best served cold and by itself.

Winter is here so grab this limited edition fast! Pic credit: Johnnie Walker
Winter is here so grab this limited edition fast! Pic credit: Johnnie Walker

This is a limited edition so act fast!

Root Out Root Beer flavored whisky

Root beer whiskey done right, add cream or even ice cream and blend! Pic credit: Root Out
Root beer whisky done right, add cream or even ice cream and blend! Pic credit: Root Out

Root Out The Little Death

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 parts Root Out Whisky
  • 3 Parts coffee liqueur
  • 2 Parts Cola
  • 1 Part Whipping Cream
  • 1 Teas White sugar
  • Piece of Chocolate

METHOD

Combine all ingredients except the cream in a shaker filled with ice.
Shake vigorously and strain into martini glass.
In a separate shaker combine sugar with 2 ounces heavy cream-no ice. Shake until right viscosity (15 shakes, the cream still needs to be liquid enough to be layered).
Carefully layer on top of the drink base-let distribute until the topping is 1/4 inch thick, garnish with shaved chocolate.

Scotch:

(These are meant for giving and sipping neat or with a tiny splash of cold water, do not mix anything into these malts)

Highland Park Magnus

Magnus is a richer darker malt, akin to Dark Origins. Pic credit: Highland Park
Magnus is a richer darker malt, akin to Dark Origins. Pic credit: Highland Park

Named for Magnus Eunson who was a direct descendant of the Vikings, and who settled on Orkney Island hundreds of years ago. His earliest years as a distiller in what now is called Highland Park (which was founded in 1798) has inspired this newer expression of a single malt whisky.

Magnus is matured in American oak sherry-seasoned and bourbon casks netting notes of sweet vanilla and a floral peat smokiness. Dark Origins fans will love it, and it’s reasonable, around $55 SRP.

Highland Park The Light

Inspired by summer's promise, this lighter scotch is in a stunning bottle. Pic credit: Highland Park
Inspired by summer’s promise, this lighter scotch is in a stunning bottle. Pic credit: Highland Park

The Light is a newcomer and a special release of only 28,000 bottles (it is costly, about $239. SRP) meant to celebrate the spring and summer in Orkney, where winter’s hibernation is shed as spring heralds the warm long bright days of summer.

The embossed green glass bottle boasts a serpent dragon inspired from the great Norse sagas as it embraces both the high sun of the summer solstice and the low sun of the winter solstice.

Light golden color out of the cask with no color additives, A lighter in flavor expression with fruity notes like caramelized pear, spices like nutmeg, vanilla, and a peat floral smoke that is described as ‘ethereal.”

Highland Park The Dark

The Dark is a richer more caramelized and complex expression meant to savor on a cold night. Pic credit: Highland Park
The Dark is a richer caramelized and complex expression meant to savor on a cold night. Pic credit: Highland Park

Newcomer The Dark continues this Viking connection and is also a special release of only 28,000 bottles. Highland Park celebrates the dark months of autumn and winter on Orkney; a time to gather together with friends and family in long nights of conversation and laughter around the fire. This is a pricey gift ($239 SRP) but for a scotch lover, a great pick.

The embossed black glass bottle boasts the serpent dragon design also inspired by great Norse sagas and embraces both the high sun of the summer solstice and the low sun of the winter solstice. Natural cask-driven color with notes of cedar wood, dried fruits, cinnamon, nutty toasted almonds, and a peat floral smoke aromatic nose.

Vodka

Van Gogh Vodka

A lighter cocktail with a citrus pop. Pic credit: Van Gogh Vodka
A lighter cocktail with a citrus pop. Pic credit: Van Gogh Vodka

Van Gogh Crimson Orange

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 ½ oz. Van Gogh Vodka
  • ¾ oz. Aperol
  • ½ oz. fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ oz. simple syrup

METHOD

Add ingredients to cocktail shaker with ice and shake well.

Strain into a martini or coupe glass. Garnish with a floating orange slice, fresh or dried.

Rum:

Humboldt Distillery Spiced Rum

Easy as apple pie. Pic credit: Humboldt Distillery
Easy as apple pie. Pic credit: Humboldt Distillery

Humboldt Distillery Organic Spiced Rum Cider

INGREDIENTS

  • 1-gallon fresh apple cider
  • Humboldt Distillery Organic Spiced Rum
  • Orange slices for garnish

METHOD

Heat the apple cider in a large stock pot or electric urn. To serve: in a mug pour 1.5 oz spiced rum. Add hot apple cider and garnish with orange slice.
For extra spice, wrap 5 whole cinnamon sticks, 1/2 tsp whole cloves, and 1/2 tsp allspice in a cheesecloth. Let the spices soak in the apple cider for 15 minutes while it heats up.
This also tastes great as a cold drink. Pour 1.5 oz spiced rum over ice. Add cold apple cider and garnish with orange.

Sugar Island Spiced Rum

Mai Tai for the rum lovers, light and potent. Pic credit: Sugar Island Rum
Mai Tai for the rum lovers, light and potent. Pic credit: Sugar Island Rum

Sugar Island Rum Get Shipwrecked Mai Tai

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 ounces Sugar Island Spiced Rum
  • 1 dash Pernod
  • ½ ounce Orange Curacao
  • ¾ ounce Fresh Lime Juice
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters

METHOD

Fill a shaker with ice. Add 1-ounce of rum, lime juice, Curacao, bitters and Pernod; shake well. Strain into a rocks glass filled with cracked ice. Float the remaining rum on top.

Batiste Rum Silver Ecoiste

A classic Negroni with a rum twist. Pic credit: Batiste Rhum
A classic Negroni with a rum twist. Pic credit: Batiste Rum

Batiste Rum Silver Ecoist Negroni

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/2 ounces Batiste Rum
  • 1 1/2 ounces Campari
  • 1 1/2 ounces Sweet vermouth

METHOD

Lightly shake on ice then strain over onto new ice into rocks or old-fashioned glass.

Tequilas:

Alacran Mezcal

This is another easy refreshing cocktail to try. Pic credit: Alacran
This is another easy refreshing cocktail to try. Pic credit: Alacran

Alacran Lemongrass Horchata

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 parts of Alacran Mezcal
  • Zacate Lemon

METHOD

Serve in a tall glass with ice and fill with horchata water.
Garnish with cinnamon powder and stick

Alacran Reposado

A spicy apple, you can even add a touch of cayenne to the rim salt, woot! Pic credit: Alacran
A spicy apple, you can even add a touch of cayenne to the rim salt, woot! Pic credit: Alacran

Alacran Spicy Apple Margarita

INGREDIENTS

  • 1.5 parts Alacran Tequila Reposado
  • 1 part lemon juice
  • Apple, fresh jalapeño and candied ginger slices

METHOD

Shake all ingredients Serve in a glass rimmed with pink Himalayan salt, cinnamon, and ice.

Tres Agaves Reposado Tequila

Looks the part for the holidays! Pic credit: Tres Agaves
Looks the part for the holidays! Pic credit: Tres Agaves

Tres Agaves ‘Tis The Spritzer

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 oz Tres Agaves Reposado Tequila
  • 1 oz Fresh Squeezed Blood Orange Juice
  • .5 oz Aperol
  • .5 oz Cranberry Juice
  • Champagne
  • Cranberries (Garnish)

METHOD

Add all the ingredients into a shaking tin and fill with a handful of ice. Shake for 5 seconds and strain into a Collins glass. Top with Champagne and garnish with a few cranberries.

Liqueurs

Five Farms Single Batch Irish Cream Liqueur

Gorgeous bottle with creamy fresh happy cow creaminess from Ireland. Pic credit: Five Farms
Gorgeous bottle with creamy fresh happy cow creaminess from Ireland. Pic credit: Five Farms

Hands down – Five Farms is the creamiest, freshest and best in this category. Great bottle too-make sure to find it and gift this season. Add some Irish whiskey to it for more fun on a cold night.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 oz Five Farms Irish Cream Liqueur
  • 0.5 oz Irish Whiskey

METHOD

In a shaker, add ice, Five Farms, and whiskey. Shake until chilled and serve in a shot glass.

Chambord liqueur

This is a great punch for a holiday crowd. Pic credit: Chambord
This is a great punch for a holiday crowd. Pic credit: Chambord

Chambord Punch Royale

INGREDIENTS

  • 8 oz Chambord Liqueur
  • 8 oz Cranberry juice
  • 2 cold bottles (750mL) Korbel Brut California Champagne
  • Raspberries and/or blackberries

METHOD

Take two bottles of cold champagne, cranberry juice, and Chambord.
Pour into a punch bowl or large pitcher.
Stir and garnish with raspberries or blackberries.

Amaretto DiSaronno wears Trussardi (in special gift box)

This pretty DiSaronno Wears Trussardi Limited Edition comes in full sized bottles in a gorgeous box or two sets of mini bottles, in packages of three. They’re the perfect gift for the fashionista or collector.

A great gift for a collector, bottle can be refilled. Pic credit: DiSaronno
A great gift for a collector, the bottle can be refilled. Pic credit: DiSaronno

Disaronno Sparkling

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 part Disaronno
  • 3 parts prosecco

METHOD

Pour ingredients in a flute and garnish with a red currant.

Cognac: The Splurges

(These are meant for giving and sipping neat if you have deep pockets)

Camus XO Borderies Family Reserve

Camus is a classic smooth cognac, in a stunner bottle. Pic credit: Camus
Camus is a classic smooth cognac, in a stunner bottle. Pic credit: Camus

Camus XO Borderies Family Reserve is made from grapes grown on one single Borderies vineyard belonging to the Camus family. It is over $100 a bottle, and is tasty pour with complex notes combining caramel, candied lemon peel, floral, apple, nutmeg, tobacco and has a dryish finish. It’s smooth.

Deau Black

Deau Black, if you are rolling in actual dough, it's fantastic. Pic credit: Deau Black
Deau Black, if you are rolling in actual dough, it’s fantastic. Pic credit: Deau Black

Deau Black Cognac is a sexy showstopper in presentation, and a perfect to gift a collector if you have the dough to buy the Deau. ($300 SRP) This is a is a sophisticated, sweeter and more floral cognac than most and is an aromatic blend of Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne cognacs. Lovely served neat.

Cognac: The Steal

H by Hine VSOP Fine Champagne Cognac

Hine tastes like big money, costs little money. Pic credit: Hine Cognac
Hine tastes like big money, costs little money. Pic credit: Hine Cognac

H by Hine VSOP Fine Champagne Cognac is a stone cold steal for under $50, you can likely find it on sale for well under that too. Smooth, complex and aged for a minimum of four years, this cognac earned the Gold Medal at the International Spirits Challenge in 2007. And it’s fantastic. Tastes like it costs three times the price. (SRP $49.99)

Port

(This is meant for giving and sipping neat)

Fonseca Porto Siroco

This is a great gift to bring to a party. Pic credit: Fonseca Porto
This is a great gift to bring to a party. Pic credit: Fonseca Porto

This lovely white Port is a drier style perfect to serve as an aperitif (chilled). A blend of Malvasia Fina grapes with smaller proportions of Gouveio, Viosinho, Rabigato and Arinto grapes, grown in the Douro Valley. (SRP averages $16 +/-)

For the ‘Eves’…celebratory party bubbles

Mezza di Mezzacorona Italian Glacial Bubbly Estate Grown

Inexpensive and very tasty, this is a winner. Pic credit: Mezza
Inexpensive and very tasty, this is a winner. Pic credit: Mezza di Mezzacorona

Mezza di Mezzacorona is an affordable, crisp, Italian glacial bubbly sparkling wine made with estate-grown grapes from the foothills of the Italian Alps, and is a citrus-tinged, drier pour that should be served chilled. A very good sparkling wine for the price. (SRP $14.99)

Cremant d’Alsace Willm Blanc de Noirs

Willm Blanc de Noirs is a brilliant sparkling wine to buy in lieu of champagne. Crémant d’Alsace is what they call the white and rose sparkling wines of the Alsace wine region of northeastern France. Willm is consistently one of the best and recently earned 90 points from Wine Enthusiast. (SRP $15)

Cremant d’Alsace Gustave Lorentz

 

If you like bubbles, French Cremants may be your favorites if you are unfamiliar. Try them! Pic credit: Gustave Lorentz
If you like bubbles, French Cremants may be your favorites if you are unfamiliar. Try them! Pic credit: Gustave Lorentz

Gustave Lorentz is an elegant Cremant, with notes of yellow apple and a sweet cake aromatic nose. The palate is rounded out with yellow plum and lemon notes, with a creamy yet pleasing structured mineral finish. It veers dry and citrusy and is a great sparkler to serve with any seafood dishes. Full of flavor. (SRP $24.99)

Laurent-Perrier La Cuvée Brut Champagne

A classic champagne, great to give and reasonable considering how highly rated it it. Pic credit: Laurent Perrier
A classic champagne, great to give and reasonable considering how highly rated it is. Pic credit: Laurent Perrier

Highly rated by all the big wine enthusiasts, Laurent Perrier is a structured and sophisticated crisp pour with aromatics of white stone fruit with a berry fruit and spice palate, and yet almost toasty with the Chardonnay grape influence.

Also, Pinot Noir and Meunier grapes make it a fantastic champagne that delights to no end and is a great choice to serve with appetizers or a charcuterie and cheese board. Elegant and a winner, and tastes like it should cost more which is always a nice surprise. (SRP $49.99)

Moët & Chandon Champagne Brut Imperial/Moët & Chandon Rose Imperial

Moet has the new holiday limited edition bottles and they are stunning ready-made gifts ready to give, easy! Pic credit: Moet & Chandon
Moet has the new holiday limited edition bottles and they are stunning ready-made gifts ready to give, easy! Pic credit: Moet & Chandon

Gifting made easy: Moët Impérial Brut Art-of-Living Bottle & Gift Box is presented in a stunning gold decorated bottle with a bit of glistening glamour to all end-of-year festivities.

The golden straw yellow sparkler is a blend of 30-40% Pinot Noir grape with 30-40% Pinot Meunier and 20-30% Chardonnay for a well structured sophisticated lingering palate. It’s a clean, dry finish with creamy lingering notes that delight.

Serve with a cold seafood tower or white meats like roasted turkey or chicken. Limited edition bottle and gift box (complete with a naked bottle) are sold separately (SRP $39.99)

Moët Impérial Rosé Art of Living Bottle & Gift Box is a more intense fair, with 30-40% Pinot Noir blended with 30-40% Pinot Meunier (10% is red wine) and Chardonnay at 10-20%, making it perfect to serve with heartier beef dishes or a spicy ratatouille.

The radiant pink crisp pour has an undercurrent of peach, pepper, and spice. and is a complex rose champagne that is also a pretty in pink festive gift for the holiday, a total winner. Also, it is a limited edition at a great price, so act fast! (SRP $49.99)

Laurent Perrier Cuvée Rosé Champagne

This is the most costly champagne we recommend but still far less than many out there, a highly rated champagne. Pic credit: Laurent Perrier
This is the most costly champagne we recommend but still far less than many out there, a highly rated champagne. Pic credit: Laurent Perrier

This is a gorgeous champagne to gift or to get.

Laurent Perrier Cuvée Rosé Champagne is an elegant, crisp, drier and exquisite rose champagne, and presents in a light salmon pink color, with top aromatic notes of berries, watermelon, cherries and a hint of citrus.

The flavor is tinged with raspberries and strawberries for a refined and delicate finish. Crafted from Pinot Noir grapes, this champagne earned a score of 96 points from The Connoisseur’s Guide. (SRP $99.99)

Drink responsibly and here’s to your health and for a happy and safe 2019!

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April is an accredited entertainment writer, interviewer and television critic. She is a current member of the Television Critics Association (TCA), Gay and Lesbian Entertainment... read more
April Neale
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