We Asked Bartenders To Tell Us The Right Booze For Holiday Hot Chocolate

It’s officially hot drink season, so don’t bother making any ice cubes until at least April. These are the long, cold nights when hot apple cider, hot toddies, Irish coffee, and spiked hot chocolate run the show. It’s time to Netflix & chill and then warm-up — when we live on our couches with alcohol-infused scalding beverages pressed to our lips.

Jim Wrigley, beverage manager at Kimpton Seafire in the Cayman Islands, loves hot drink season whenever he makes a winter trip to the mainland. And if he has a hot drink in hand, you can bet it’s hot cocoa spiked with Ilegal Reposado Mezcal.

“I love to go back to the origins of cacao and the Aztec xocolātl [bitter water in Nahuatl], which was prepared with peppers and chilis to spice it up, long before our modern milk chocolate bars,” he says. “I use high percentage cacao single origin chocolate, and melt it down with pink and telicherry peppercorns, chili flakes and smoked sea salt, before adding a ‘healthy’ measure of Ilegal Reposado Mezcal from Oaxaca. The soft agave and smoky notes of the mezcal really tie the drink together, as does the light spice from this awesome spirit.”

He’s definitely not wrong, but there are multiple schools of thought on this (surprisingly divisive) matter. That’s why we asked some of our favorite bartenders to share what they like to add to make a steaming cup of hot chocolate kick.

Rumple Minze

Cole Newton, bartender and owner at Twelve Mile Limit in New Orleans

I love a nice, rich hot chocolate, and a little mint can really take it up a notch, as they say. If you want to go easy, try some Creme de Menthe, but if you want to go hard, drop in a shot of Rumple Minze. It’s unfairly maligned as a bit of a dude-bro shot, but it’s legitimately a very good mint liqueur, and at 100-proof it’s got real teeth.

Fernet-Branca Menta

Rebecca Edwards, bar manager at Tavola in Charlottesville, Virginia

Fernet Branca Menta. It’s bright and minty without the cloying sweetness of a peppermint Schnapps’ or other minty liqueurs.

St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram

Jay Oakley, bartender at B & O Brasserie in Baltimore

St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram is a liqueur that specializes in such spices as clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and star anise. It blends so well with hot chocolate and adds a wonderful spiced flavor.

Diplomatico Exclusiva Reserva Rum

Slayde Martin, bar operations manager at Pescado in Rosemary Beach, Florida

Rum and Hot chocolate pair well together, especially a nice dark rum. Diplomatico Exclusiva Reserva is nice mixed with some cocoa. The sweet notes of oak and vanilla pair very well and are delicious.

Dolin Génépy des Alpes

Lauren Mathews, lead bartender at Urbana in Washington, DC

I love Dolin Génépy des Alpes in my hot chocolate. It lends a nice herbaceous taste and a great hint of pine to make hot chocolate a little more interesting.

Amarula Cream Liqueur

Erick Arce Martín, bartender at Bosque Bar at Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa in Costa Rica

There is more than one possible pairing for hot chocolate. I would choose Amarula Cream because it
has a sweet and creamy taste and makes me feel like I am drinking something special and smooth.

Tempus Fugit Creme de Cacao

Seth Weinberg, head bartender at Bourbon Steak in Nashville

Tempus Fugit Creme de Cacao is a 19th-century chocolate liquor that uses Venezuelan Cacao and Mexican Vanilla bean. It can add deep dark and unctuous chocolate and vanilla notes to any hot chocolate.

Ardbeg 10 Year Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Benjamin Rouse, head bartender at Henley in Nashville

The Ardbeg 10 Year Single Malt is the perfect move for a delicious hot chocolate. It adds the right touch of smoke to a nice dark chocolate and marshmallow beverage.

Espolon Anejo Tequila

Brandon Lockman, lead bartender at Red Star Tavern in Portland, Oregon

Tequila! And maybe throw in a little cayenne and cinnamon for good measure. For spiked cocoa, I would use something with a little age on it, like Espolon Anejo.

Green Chatreuse

Zarko Stankovik, beverage manager at Time Out Market in Miami

That would be Green Chartreuse. I tried this combination for the first time in Aspen a few years ago, and I fell in love immediately. The botanical punch from 130 different herbs just mellows out and takes on a subtle sweetness.

Casamigos Anejo Tequila

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Christa Costa, owner and mixologist at The Artisan’s Palate in Charlotte, North Carolina

I like to add an aged tequila to my hot chocolate like Casamigos Anejo. The nutmeg, raisin and orange blossom notes in the tequila pair perfectly with the hot chocolate. I also add a pinch of chipotle and cayenne pepper along with a touch of cinnamon simple syrup. The spices and aged tequila contrast perfectly with the warm, rich chocolate.

Belle Isle Cold Brew Coffee Moonshine

Will Witherow, beverage director at Live Oak in Alexandria, Virginia

If I’m spiking hot chocolate, it’s with Belle Isle Cold Brew Coffee Moonshine. This turns hot chocolate into a mocha, plus it has caffeine.

Averna Amaro

Will Lee, beverage director at Second Best in Detroit

Fernet-Branca or Averna. Both more herbaceous, bitter liqueurs, the latter being a touch sweeter and more approachable. Those earthy, bittersweet notes are natural pairings with chocolate and the slightly lower alcohol content makes them perfect for digestif dessert cocktails

Siete Leguas Reposado Tequila

Jose Medina Camacho, lead bartender at Automatic Seafood & Oysters in Birmingham, Alabama

Siete Leguas Reposado – I love using Reposados and or Anejos, while people may judge me for mixing, it adds depth to cocktails. For example, this reposado will add nuttiness and spice to hot chocolate.

Nikka Coffey Vodka

Bryan Mayer, bartender at Azabu in Miami

If I’m adding anything to hot chocolate, it’s Nikka Coffey Vodka. This is because it creates a reminiscent feel of the classic white Russian.