Besides shopping for presents and doing your best to make it look like you’re intently listening to your aunt’s favorite conspiracy theories, the holidays are a time for booze. That’s right, you can go ahead and claim that the season is all about wholesome Netflix movies and cloyingly sweet, sugary, frosted Christmas cookies, but it’s really the one time of year where we don’t feel strange enjoying an alcoholic beverage at 11 am as long as it’s mixed into hot cider or eggnog. In fact, when we visit relatives, it’s expected that we’ll enjoy a glass of Scotch, wine, or a can of domestic beer at any moment of the day.
This is why many people have nostalgic memories of the holidays that are totally connected to the alcohol they were drinking at those particular, now nostalgia-hazed moments. For John Walter, lead bartender at Outlier in Seattle, it’s a memory of sharing an expensive drink with his father year after year.
“My dad had a bottle of Marquis de Caussaude Armagnac from like 1949 just hanging out in the liquor cabinet of otherwise nameless liquor,” he says. “It had a blue butterfly on it, and it would come out for holidays now and then. I think of that often.”
Mike Wolf, the author of Garden to Glass: Grow Your Drinks from the Ground Up, doesn’t have a memory of a well -aged bottle of Armagnac, but he does associate the holidays with one particular spirit.
“Definitely whiskey, or even an Irish cream like Bailey’s with whiskey,” he says “Whiskey is great for sitting around the fire after a big meal and feeling nostalgic when you’re hanging out with your family. It just gives you a feeling of warmth.”
These and other tales of holidays infused with booze are why we decided to ask some of our favorite bartenders to tell us the one spirit that most makes them think of the season. Check their answers below!
Hennessy VSOP Privilege Cognac
Drew Hairston, beverage manager at Dirty Habit in Washington, DC
Hennessey VSOP Privilege Cognac is the bottle that comes to mind. During my friends’ holiday parties, we use it for everything from Hot Toddies, Tom & Jerry’s, and Spiked Eggnog.
Maker’s Mark Bourbon
Danny Caffall, Lead Bartender at The Mansion Bar in Dallas
Maker’s Mark. That distinct red wax dipped bottle is ever-present in any respectable home bar or collection of imbibeables. More parties and gatherings mean I get to see more people’s personal stash and Makers Mark is always welcome.
George Dickel No. 12 Tennessee Whiskey
Graham Courter, bar manager Main Street Meats in Chattanooga, Tennessee
At all family gatherings, no matter how many bottles were brought someone, always had a bottle of George Dickel 12. Growing up in Chattanooga my father had a very serious rule about a certain black labeled Tennessee whiskey not being allowed in the house. Even at our annual Thanksgiving morning football game, someone would always have a flask of Dickel to celebrate the rare scoring of a touchdown. My uncles still quietly ask each other whenever they’re out of my grandfather’s earshot, ‘You bring the Dickel?’
Kyle Ritchie, bar manager at Doug Fir Lounge in Portland, Oregon
When it comes to holiday spirits, Becherovka is by far one of our favorites, a splash will take any warm beverage to the next level with its natural alpine and winter spice.
Luxardo Limoncello Cordial
Taha Ismail, bar manager at the Round Robin Bar in Washington, DC
The holidays call for Luxardo Limoncello Cordial. My in-law’s background is Italian so it’s a family tradition to cheers with Limoncello.
Mount Gay Rum
Devon Daley, bar manager at Sternewirth in San Antonio
Mount Gay Rum comes to mind. When I first came of age and started partaking of alcohol, I like many others, turned to rum. Mount Gay quickly stood out as a delicious and well-balanced option to a lot of the sickly sweet choices. Years later, my younger cousin, also a rum drinker, was looking for better options and I introduced him to Mount Gay. Since then, it has been a family staple.
Courvoisier VS Cognac
Tony Gonzales, lead bartender at District in Los Angeles
I think of Courvoisier VS Cognac when I think of the holidays. There is something synonymous with brandy and holiday season.
Drew Breen, bar manager at Jianna in Greenville, South Carolina
Laird’s Applejack makes me think of the holidays. So many amazing cocktails to be made with this super versatile spirit.
Casey Faden, bartender at Sabroso+Sorbo in Philadelphia
We’ll keep with a tried and true Philly tradition for this one. Bluecoat Gin. It’s an ideally flavored dry gin that pairs well with whatever you want. However, we also have a nice sangria here at Sabroso+Sorbo that would be great for the holidays. We make ours with spiced Captain Morgan Rum, colorful fruit, and a bottle of medium-bodied red wine.
Johnnie Walker Black Label Scotch Whisky
Justin Miller, executive chef at Anthony’s Chophouse in Hamilton County, Indiana
The spirit that makes me think of the Holidays the most would have to be Johnnie Walker Black. There was always a bottle on the counter around Christmas. The funny part is that no one drinks Scotch in my family, except on Christmas.
Daniel Dameron, bar manager at Husk in Savannah, Georgia
Rumple Minze! I remember a younger me once bringing batched candy cane martinis to Christmas (yes they had a candy cane rim) and everyone hated them so we just drank the Rumple.
Don Papa Rum
Ben Rojo, bartender at Black Emperor in New York City
Over the past few years, Don Papa Rum has become a holiday staple in the Rojo household. A family friend brought a bottle back a few years ago from the Philippines and shared it after Thanksgiving dinner, and we were hooked instantly. The velvet body and ripe fruit dovetail nicely with the cavalcade of roasts that dominate the most wonderful time of the year, and warm notes of citrus peel and baking spice are perfect for sipping in an ugly sweater. When my parents inevitably ask me for a pre-dinner cocktail, Don Papa’s fruit-forward profile works stunningly with citrus and winter herbs, and my dad’s so taken with it that it now stars in the glaze on his Christmas ham.
Smith & Cross Jamaican Rum
Dan Schuettinger, beverage director at Oak Steakhouse in Alexandria, Virginia
I know a lot of people enjoy whiskey around the holidays, but in my house, my father would always make the adults Mai Tais on Christmas for cocktail hour before we sat down to dinner. When I reached a certain age and was finally allowed to have one of my own, it was one of the most delicious concoctions I’d ever had. Since then, rum always reminds me of the holidays. For me, I enjoy a rum with some backbone to it, like Smith & Cross Jamaican rum.
Cole Newton, bartender at Twelve Mile Limit in New Orleans
I’m not sure why, but Grand Marnier makes me think of the holidays. It’s a spirit with a lot of history and tradition behind it, so that’s probably a factor. It’s also sweet enough to appeal to people who might not usually gravitate towards straight spirits, but strong enough for those that do. Grand Marnier pops up in a lot of holiday recipes, both for food and drinks, and it makes a great gift – the kind of gift that’s as much for the giver as it is for the receiver.
Rebecca Edwards, co-bar manager at Tavola in Charlottesville, Virginia
Fernet-Branca. Even though we drink Fernet many (okay, most) days of the year there’s still something I find incredibly celebratory about it. When I first discovered Fernet I started bringing it to every holiday to combat the consequences of feasting. Not it’s become expected, and I would never show up without a bottle.
Will Witherow, beverage director at Live Oak in Alexandria, Virginia
Templeton rye really makes me think of the holidays. Templeton holds a special place in my heart because it’s the only whiskey a friend’s dad will drink. At Thanksgiving, we would get done stuffing our faces and he would pour us a healthy glass of Templeton and say “here this will help burn the food down.” Drinking will always invoke feelings and I love the thought of those Thanksgivings in my younger days.
St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram
Casey Bunch, bartender at The French Room Bar in Dallas
St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram. It just has all that cove, cinnamon and nutmeg spiced flavors that are synonymous with the holidays. It’s like Thanksgiving and Christmas got distilled and shoved into a bottle.
Gosling’s Black Seal Rum
Denis Cote, bartender at The Limelight in Ketchum, Idaho
I have to go with rum. I just love a good dark ‘n’ stormy with Gosling’s Black Seal rum with 2-3 dashes of Angostura Bitters. I also use Appleton Estate Rum to make a nice holiday punch to get the party going at an ugly sweater Christmas party.
Iwai Mars Japanese Whisky
Bryan Mayer, lead mixologist at Azabu in Miami
Iwai eggnog is the perfect holiday drink. Iwai Mars Japanese Whisky because of its Bourbon like qualities suits the pairing well with eggnog.
Jarhn Blutstein, area beverage manager for Gurney’s Montauk Resort & Seawater Spa in Montauk, New York
Bootlegger Vodka from Upstate New York. Espresso martinis are my mom and I favorite cocktail at family gatherings and this vodka a great value purchase.