Holidays are the time to get a little festive with your whisky. That might mean breaking out a rare bottle or dressing up an old favorite in a fancy glass, but for many whisky lovers—especially those who make it—a special holiday cocktail is the ideal way to celebrate. Often these recipes are family favorites, developed over years of gathering and enjoying whisky together.
We asked several whisky distillers and blenders to share their holiday drink traditions. From Scotland to Seattle, single malt to bourbon, here are some favorite festive cocktails from the people who make whisky.
Rachel Barrie of BenRiach Distillery Company: Blood & Sand
Rachel Barrie, master blender for BenRiach, GlenDronach, and Glenglassaugh in Scotland, likes to serve this version of the classic Blood & Sand cocktail, incorporating two GlenDronach expressions for balance. “I love the luscious zingy fruitiness balanced on a base of deep, velvety sherry cask notes,” she says. “It showcases the duality of GlenDronach 12 year old perfectly, of light and dark, top notes and base, sweet and dry. A tiny measure of the peated whisky balances out the sweetness.” Barrie suggests using an eyedropper to add the peated whisky, with guests finishing off their own drinks. “Then everyone can decide on their perfect sweet to dry balance.”
- 1 oz. GlenDronach 12 year old single malt scotch
- ¾ oz .Cherry Heering liqueur
- ½ oz. sweet vermouth
- ¾ oz. freshly squeezed blood orange juice
- GlenDronach Peated single malt to taste
- Garnish: Cherry and/or orange peel
Shake all ingredients, except peated whisky, with ice until well chilled. Strain into rocks glasses over fresh ice. Drop peated whisky over to taste. Garnish with a cherry, orange peel, or both.
Wes Henderson of Angel’s Envy: Henderson Family Christmas Treat
Wes Henderson, co-founder of Angel’s Envy, makes a batch of this infused bourbon every year to enjoy with his family during the Christmas season. You’ll need a few weeks’ lead-time to make this delicious infusion, but it’s well worth the wait.
- 1 bottle of Angel’s Envy bourbon, emptied with the bourbon set aside
- 1 bag of dehydrated Apples
- 1 Madagascar vanilla bean
- 1 cinnamon stick
Place apples, vanilla bean, and cinnamon stick into the empty bottle, then pour Angel’s Envy bourbon into the bottle until almost full. Top off with 2 oz. tap water. Cap the bottle and then mix by tipping back and forth. Allow to infuse for at least 4 weeks before enjoying.
Matt Hofmann of Westland Distillery: Westland Winter Toddy
“Winters in the Pacific Northwest can be dark, dreary, and long,” says Matt Hofmann, master distiller at Seattle’s Westland Distillery. “There’s no better drink in my mind to get through the months of grey and shake the bite of the cold than the classic Hot Toddy. It’s simple, delicious, and curative.” This particular toddy was designed by Westland’s whiskey ambassador Brian Mura, specifically for Westland Winter single malt. “The subtle sherry and peat influences in the whiskey play perfectly with the warm winter spices infused into the winter simple syrup, which adds dimension,” Hofmann says. “This is the only remedy you will need.”
- 2 oz. Westland Winter American single malt whiskey
- ¾ oz. winter simple syrup (recipe below)
- ½ oz. fresh lemon juice
- ½ oz. honey
Mix all ingredients together in a mug. Top off with hot water.
How to make winter simple syrup:
Combine 4 star anise, 8 whole cloves, 1 cinnamon stick, 1 1/2 cups water, and 1 cup sugar in a pot. Bring to a boil to dissolve sugar, then turn heat to low and let simmer for 20 minutes. Strain and cool.
Stephen Teeling of Teeling Whiskey Company: Ultimate Irish Coffee
It’s all in the family at Teeling Whiskey Company: brothers Jack and Stephen Teeling are following in the footsteps of their father, John, to create high-quality Irish whiskey. But as the younger generation, their vision is more contemporary. “We like to put a spin on old classics,” Stephen says. “Our own Teeling Family Irish Coffee is made up of our Small Batch whiskey matched with a specific style of robust Dublin coffee, balanced with some nutmeg, and a unique Spiced Stout Syrup.”
- 1 ½ oz. Teeling Small Batch
- 6 oz. freshly brewed robust coffee
- ½ oz. spiced stout syrup (see below)
- Freshly whipped cream
- Garnish: grated nutmeg
Preheat a glass with some warm water and discard. Then add the whiskey, stout syrup, and brewed coffee. Stir to combine. Warm a large spoon and gently pour the cream over the back of the spoon and onto the coffee. Garnish with a light dusting of grated nutmeg.
How to make spiced stout syrup:
- 1 liter Guinness or other Irish stout
- 4 cups demerara sugar
- ½ cup whole cloves
- ½ cup allspice berries
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 1 whole orange, zested
- 2 inches fresh ginger, grated
- Pinch of salt
- 3 whole star anise pods
Add all ingredients to a saucepan and bring to a boil. Allow to simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and steep for 5 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve and cheesecloth, and bottle. Keeps for 2 weeks in the refrigerator.
Nick Franchino of Cotswolds Distillery: Sweet Manhattan
Nick Franchino, head distiller at England’s Cotswolds Distillery, likes to make a sweeter version of a Manhattan with his single malt whisky at this time of year. “‘Sweet’ has unfortunately become synonymous with being unhealthy, but the holidays are certainly not times to be loading up on salads,” he declares. “If you are going to binge on sugar cookies, why not throw in a Sweet Manhattan for more joy? It’s the perfect drink for the family because it doesn’t require rocket science. It’s a few simple ingredients that you can even batch out beforehand, so the consumption remains constant to help spread the holiday cheer!”
- 2 oz. Cotswolds single malt whisky
- ¾ oz. sweet vermouth
- Bar spoon vanilla syrup (see below)
- 2 dashes orange bitters
- Garnish: orange peel
Shake all ingredients with ice. Fine strain into a Martini or coupe glass. Garnish with orange peel.
How to make vanilla syrup:
Heat 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar in a saucepan with two split vanilla beans. Stir until sugar dissolves. Remove vanilla beans and allow to cool before using.