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Winter (Cocktail Season) Is Coming

December marks the official start of winter in NJ, and we’re thinking about the things that make it the coolest season of all: snow, cozy sweaters, piping hot soups, the holidays, and of course, toasty winter cocktails to chase the chill away. But what makes a “winter” cocktail different from other drinks? Drinking in a North Face jacket? Serving it over snowflakes?

“I think it’s about flavors,” said sommelier and Morris County resident Vanessa Da Silva. Da Silva worked the floor at New York City’s Megu restaurant and lounge, and is currently the Wine Studies Coordinator at the International Culinary Center. “Winter makes me think of spices like cinnamon and cloves, roasted, earthy flavors, things found in the foods we like during winter and around the holidays. It makes sense that you’d want a drink to compliment all of those things.”

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Francis P. Schott, co-founder and beverage director of Stage Left and Catherine Lombardi Restaurants in New Brunswick agreed. “Hard spices — baking spices like cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, ginger — also tend to make one think of the holidays and feel all warm and cozy in winter. Port wine also quite transports one to the Downton Abbey Christmas party for the servants in the parlor.”

Another factor is tradition, Schott points out. After all, the holidays are a time of gathering with family or friends, food and rituals that help connect generations across the years.
“Tradition plays a big role,” he said. “What did your grandma drink at Christmas? My mom and grandmother drank Brandy Alexanders so between that history and the cream, that seems a holiday drink to me.

“I mean, you would not want to drink a cream drink on the beach in July, unless it was 1981 and you were having a white Russian before a Chaka Khan concert,” Schott continued. “Hot drinks also make the list for obvious reasons: hot buttered rum, hot buttered cider, hot toddy, Tom & Jerry.”

Now it’s time to break out the fuzzy slippers and cocktail jiggers! Here are a few easy recipes to make your own cozy winter cocktails capturing the essence of New Jersey’s cool.

The Belfast Cocktail

Belfast-Cocktail_Francis Schott“Here is a drink that I invented for and served to the Lord Mayor of Belfast on his official [visit] to the City of New Brunswick,” Schott said. “The drink was served in Belfast City Hall, when our Mayor Jim Cahill brought a delegation from New Brunswick to Belfast, and it remains on a few cocktail menus here and there. Its use of cinnamon and port and brandy really make a very Christmas/winter drink, which is surprisingly light.”


1½ oz ruby port*
1½ oz cognac (Hennessy VS)
½ oz Poire Williams (Purkhart)
1 dash Bitter Truth Orange Bitters
½ oz cinnamon syrup (recipe below)
1 dash Dale DeGroff’s Pimento Bitters, as an aromatic garnish
1 orange twist, as garnish



  1. Make the Cinnamon Syrup: Combine 1 cup of water, 1 cup of sugar, and 1 cinnamon stick in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is completely dissolved. Put ingredients into a pan and heat and stir till sugar is dissolved. Reduce the heat to low and continue cooking for 5-10 minutes, or until the desired cinnamon flavor strength has been reached. Set aside until ready to use.
  2. Combine the ruby port, cognac, Poire Williams, and bitters. Stir over ice, and then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
  3. Light a match, then hold the orange peel, (orange side down) a few inches above the flame. Twist and squeeze the orange zest over the lit match, then extinguish the match and throw it away. Rub the flamed orange peel around the rim of the glass and garnish with Dale DeGroff bitters.

*For a fun twist, try this recipe with a New Jersey port-style wine, such as Vat 19 Port from Unionville Vineyards or Homestead from Plagido’s Winery.
(Recipe courtesy of Francis P. Schott)

Baltimore Eggnog and Classic Eggnog

“We’ve found references to this [Baltimore] Eggnog in a 1957 Esquire and in a different [Eat, Drink & be Merry in Maryland: An Anthology from a Great Tradition] one from 1932,” Schott said.

“A modern mutation swaps the Madeira, called for in the original recipe, for Peach Schnapps — an abomination we won’t mention any further. Below that is a very old fashioned egg nog.  This is my grandmother’s egg nog.  It must be made in advance and then chilled. It’s best spiked at the last minute. It will keep for a few days. You can keep it in the fridge and pour out glasses as people come over. Spike or don’t spike at will.  Always grate cinnamon and nutmeg on the top of each glass.

Christmas cocktail - traditional eggnog

“You can also add it to a punch bowl at a party,” adds Schott. “Grate cinnamon and nutmeg over the bowl. We usually put a glass bowl inside another bowl full of ice and water to keep it cold. You can either spike the punch bowl or leave the bowl un-spiked and leave various bottles around so people can spike it how they like. This works with almost any spirit: Spiced rum is great. Try El Dorado, Irish whiskey — what I grew up on — bourbon,  brandy, and, believe it or not Mezcal works an amazing Feliz Navidad vibe.”

Baltimore Eggnog Ingredients

½ oz 15-yr Malmsey Madeira (you can find a brand called Blandy’s in any good wine store)
1 oz heavy cream
½ oz Hennessy VS
1 oz whole milk
½ oz aged rum (El Dorado 8 year is a favorite at Stage Left and Catherine Lombardi)
2 barspoons light brown sugar
1 egg yolk


  1. Combine all ingredients and shake with ice.
  2. Strain the cocktail into a copita glass. Garnish with freshly grated cinnamon and nutmeg.

Eggnog drink in bowl and in two glass cups with ground nutmeg on top, photographed overhead on slate with natural light

Classic Eggnog Ingedients

½ cup sugar
3 egg yolks
¼ tsp salt
4 cups whole milk (scalded)
3 egg whites
1/8 tsp salt
¼ cup sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract (or vanilla bean in custard overnight)

Method: For the Custard

  1. Beat ½ cup sugar into the 3 egg yolks. Add the salt and slowly stir in the milk.
  2. Cook the custard in a double boiler over low heat, just until the mixture coats the back of a spoon.
  3. If desired, add vanilla beans and steep overnight for best results. Cool completely before using.

Method: For the Cocktail

  1. Add the 1/8 tsp salt to the egg whites, then beat until stiff.
  2. Next, Add ¼ cup sugar and beat well.
  3. Add the egg white mixture to the cooled custard and stir in vanilla extract, if using.
  4. Mix thoroughly and chill.
  5. Serve, spiked or simply, with grated nutmeg on top of each glass. “You can also add this to a punch bowl at a party,” Schott said. “Grate cinnamon and nutmeg over the bowl. We usually put a glass bowl inside another bowl full of ice and water to keep it cold. You can either spike the punch bowl or leave the bowl un-spiked and leave various bottles around so people can spike it how they like. This works with almost any spirit: Spiced rum is great (try El Dorado), Irish Whiskey (what I grew up on), Bourbon, Brandy are also classic and believe it or not Mezcal works for an amazing Feliz Navidad vibe.”

(Recipes courtesy of Francis P. Schott)

Blood Orange Crush

blood-orange-crush_devotion vodkaPacked with fresh orange juice, as well as citrus flavors (and vodka!), this cocktail is a much more fun way to get your much-needed dose of vitamin C this winter.


2 oz Devotion Blood Orange Vodka
Squeeze of fresh lime juice
½ oz triple sec
7-UP soda
Fresh orange juice


  1. Fill a highball class halfway with 7-Up soda, top with fresh orange juice.
  2. Add the vodka, lime juice and triple sec and stir. Strain and serve over ice.
  3. Garnish with a sliced orange.

(Recipe courtesy of Devotion Vodka)

Rum Manhattan

Petty Island-RyeThe classic Manhattan is usually made with whiskey, but this version from Cooper River Distillers offers a seasonal spin on the drink. Here, you swap out the standard whiskey for their Rye Oak Reserve Rum, which has notes of whiskey, as well as caramel, vanilla and spice.


3 oz Petty’s Island Rye Oak Reserve Rum
1 oz sweet vermouth
Dash of your favorite bitters
Orange twist


  1. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice.
  2. Add the rum, vermouth and bitters, then strain into a chilled glass.
  3. Garnish with an orange twist

(Recipe courtesy of Cooper River Distillers)

Ginger Cosmo

ginger cosmo_Jersey SpiritIWhen you think of Cosmos, you often think of the Sex and the City women holding sweet pink concoctions in martini glasses. And while this recipe does call for the classic Cosmo ingredient — cranberry — it adds a refreshing twist with ginger vodka and a candied ginger garnish.


2 oz Main Street Vodka infused with Ginger
1 oz Triple sec
½ oz Lime juice
1 oz Cranberry Juice
Candied ginger, for garnish


  1. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice.
  2. Add the Main Street Vodka infused with Ginger, lime juice, triple sec and cranberry juice.
  3. Shake and strain into a martini glass. Garnish the rim of the glass with a slice of candied ginger.

(Recipe courtesy of Jersey Spirits Distilling Company)

Apple Pie Shot

IapplepieshoThere’s nothing better than warm apple pie in the winter. But let’s face it: sometimes, you just want to do a shot. So, combine the two with this Apple Pie Shot, which incorporates organic apple juice into its recipe, and at least with this one, you won’t be tempted to make it à la mode.


1½ oz Main Street Vodka
½ oz organic apple juice
Dash of Cinnamon


  1. Pour the vodka and the apple juice in a tall shot glass.
  2. Sprinkle with a dash of cinnamon, and enjoy.

(Recipe courtesy of Jersey Spirits Distilling Company)

Looking to step up your kitchen game? Click Here to see Best of NJ’s Top Recipes & Kitchen Tips!

Hero (Top) Feature Image: © arinahabich/Dollar Photo Club
Additional Images (in Order):
Stage Left Restaurant / Francis P. Schott.
Unionville Vineyards.
Ildi / Dollar Photo Club
circleps / Dollar Photo Club
Devotion Vodka
Cooper River Distillers
Jersey Spirits Distilling Company
Jersey Spirits Distilling Company