Winter Cocktails Give Weary Midwesterners the Strength to Hold On Until Spring

A summer cocktail is a tall, cool splash.

A winter cocktail is an earthy brew that settles in your belly, sends spicy warmth coursing through your veins and gives you the courage to fight on.

The secret to a great winter cocktail? Spirits and spice.

“In the summer you want lighter, brighter citrusy flavors. In the winter you want heavier flavors,” said Patrick Smith, bartender at the Violet Hour in Chicago. “You’re definitely looking more toward the brown spirits. You’re looking for something with more body.”

Said Nikola Govich, who slings spirits at Eat Street Social in Minneapolis: “Even though the drink is coming at you cold, it’s got warm spices in it.” Favorites include cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and a variety of bitters.

Traditional winter drinks have a centuries-old heritage. Think eggnog, mulled cider and gløgg. Today’s bartenders are moving beyond those tired concoctions. With bold names like Monkey’s Heart, Witch Hazel and the Notorious F.I.G., these cold-weather cocktails invite savoring.

Some drinkers know what they want, winter or summer. But others are happy to take the bartender’s recommendation. That’s when mixology really comes into play, Smith said.

“You get people who say, ‘Make me something that fits this weather.’ Or, ‘Make me something that you would want to drink right now,’ ” Smith said. “I don’t mind making things for them. It allows for a little more creativity. It gets them to try something they might not try at other places.”

“In the winter you want heavier flavors. You’re looking for something with more body.”
Patrick Smith, Violet Hour


Get out tonight, you weary Midwesterners, and put some fire back in your belly. Or, stay at home and whip up one of these recipes from some of our favorite Midwest barkeeps.

Patrick Smith, Violet Hour, Chicago: Monkey’s Heart

  • 1 1/2 ounces Encanto Pisco
  • 1/4 ounce Smith & Cross Jamaican Rum
  • 1/8 ounce St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
  • 1/2 ounce Orgeat (roasted almond syrup)
  • 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
  • 1 dash orange bitters
  • 1 orange slice (muddled)

Build in shaker. Shake. Strain into a rocks glass with a large ball of ice. Garnish with mint and Angostura bitters.

Note: Pisco tends to be known as more of a summer spirit. It’s very light and floral. But I wanted to create a Pisco drink that was more suitable for the winter. The rum, allspice dram and orgeat give it the lovely spices you expect from a winter cocktail.


Nick Kosevich, Eat Street Social, Minneapolis; Blue Jacket, Milwaukee

Queen Scheherazade

Make chai by using one bag of chai and 5 ounces of water. Measure out 4 ounces of prepared chai and combine with syrup, Benedictine and Cognac into small pan. Bring to temperature, but not to a simmer. Pour into mug and add 1/4 ounce of heavy whipping cream. Finish with a few drops of cherry bark vanilla bitters.

Witch Hazel

  • 2 ounces brown butter-infused Great Lakes Distillery Pumpkin Spirit (see below)
  • 1/4 ounce maple brown sugar syrup
  • 1 dropper cherry bark vanilla bitters
  • 1/2 dropper orange bitters
  • 1/2 dropper black strap bitters

Build cocktail and stir ingredients until softened. Pour over large piece of ice in a rocks glass. The aromas of the cocktail are the perfect garnish.

Note: To make brown butter-infused spirit, melt one stick of butter in a sauté pan and continue to heat until butter turns brown and separates. Pour the browned butter into a jar along with one 750-ml bottle of pumpkin spirit. If you have trouble finding this unique liquor, try this same cocktail and process it with your favorite 90 proof bourbon instead.