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8 Classic Cocktails You Should Know How To Make For The Holidays

8 Classic Cocktails You Should Know How To Make For The Holidays

The holiday season likely means you’re in for a few weeks of social gatherings, parties, shindigs, and a lot more heavy meals than normal. Along with all that socializing and eating will likely be a drink or two. And while fine wine or a good beer are worthy social lubricants, there’s nothing like a well made cocktail with a flavor profile perfect for the occasion.

While whiskey is the popular choice for wintry cocktails, other spirits do the job as well. Just remember that the drink must also be reasonably easy to make (and make again) while a gawking crowd watches you. Don’t try to make an incredibly elaborate drink with an uncomfortable number of steps. A handful of ingredients and only a few steps is key.

Luckily, there are a few that fit the above criteria. And yes, most of them are whiskey-based. The aged spirit (whether it’s a single malt Scotch whisky, bourbon, rye, Canadian whisky, or other style) is guaranteed to be a warming start to any event.

These eight cocktails are perfect for the holiday season.

Old Fashioned

Old Fashioned

There are few cocktails as well-known as the old fashioned. This simple, easy drink is made with muddled sugar, Angostura bitters, water, and whiskey. Sure, there’s often an orange peel (and/or cocktail cherry) garnish, but otherwise, that’s it. While there are various stories about its origin, one of the most common is that it was created in the late 1800s at a private social called The Pendennis Club by a distiller and bartender named James E. Pepper (who now has a whiskey brand in his honor).

Old fashioned ingredients:

  1. 1.5 ounces rye whiskey (bourbon works as well)
  2. 2-3 dashes of Angostura bitters
  3. 1 sugar cube
  4. 1-2 dashes of water


Add the sugar cube to an empty old fashioned glass. Wet it with 2-3 dashes of bitters and some water. Muddle it until it’s dissolved. Add ice to the glass. Add whiskey. Slowly stir. Garnish with an orange peel and/or a cocktail cherry.

gold rush

Gold Rush

If you’ve never tried the gold rush cocktail, the holidays are a great time to start. Bourbon, honey syrup, and fresh lemon juice. What not to love? Booze, citrus, and sweetness. The drink might not have the history of some of the others on the list, but that’s not such a bad thing. It, just like the Scotch whisky-centered penicillin was created at the renowned New York City cocktail bar Milk and Honey in the early 2000s.

Gold rush ingredients:

  1. 2 ounces bourbon whiskey
  2. .75 ounces honey syrup
  3. .75 ounces fresh lemon juice


Add bourbon whiskey, honey syrup, and fresh lemon juice to an ice-filled shaker. Shake vigorously. Strain the ingredients into an old fashioned glass. Add a lemon peel garnish.



If you’re a fan of the old fashioned, you’ll love the very similar sazerac. This New Orleans classic originally was made with Cognac (and some bartenders still use the French spirit), but rye whiskey has taken over as the more popular base. Instead of Angostura bitters, it’s made with Louisiana’s famed Peychaud’s bitters. While there’s a sugar cube involved, there’s also a very important absinthe rise.

Sazerac ingredients:

  1. 1.5 ounces rye whiskey
  2. 1 sugar cube
  3. 2-3 dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters
  4. Absinthe rinse


Rinse a chilled old fashioned glass with about a quarter of an ounce of absinthe. In another old fashioned glass, add the sugar cube and 2-3 dashes of Peychaud’s bitters. Muddle the sugar cube. Add the rye whiskey. Add ice and stir it all together. Strain all the ingredients into the chilled absinthe-rinsed glass and garnish with a lemon peel.

french 75

French 75

Not all holiday cocktails should be boozy and whiskey-centered. The festive French 75 is like an elevated glass of sparkling wine. It’s a gin, fresh lemon juice, and simple syrup-based cocktail that gets its extra flavor and effervescence from a champagne topper. Many believe it was created in 1915 in Paris at Harry’s New York Bar and it takes its name from the French 75mm field gun because of its added kick.

French 75 ingredients:

  1. 1 ounce of London dry gin
  2. .5 ounces of fresh lemon juice
  3. .5 ounces of simple syrup
  4. Sparkling wine topper


Add gin, fresh lemon juice, and simple syrup to an ice-filled shaker. Shake vigorously. Strain into a Champagne flute and top with sparkling wine. Stir lightly to combine.



Some novice drinkers have a hard time distinguishing between the old fashioned and the Manhattan. This is because, save for one ingredient, they are seemingly the same drink. While the old fashioned is made with whiskey, sugar, and bitters, the Manhattan is made with whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters. Rye is the most common choice, but bourbon, and other whiskeys work as well. While its history, like many cocktails, is murky, it’s believed by many that the drink originated at a party for presidential candidate Samuel J. Tilden at New York City’s Manhattan Club in the late 1800s.

Manhattan ingredients:

  1. 2 ounces of rye whiskey
  2. .75 ounces sweet red vermouth
  3. 2-3 dashes of Angostura bitters


Add rye whiskey, sweet red vermouth, and Angostura bitters to an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir to combine. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cocktail cherry.

Vieux Carre

Vieux Carré

A vieux carré is always a good cocktail choice, and especially in the colder months. Created by a bartender named Walter Bergeron in 1937 at the famed Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans, it’s a complex, flavorful drink made with rye whiskey, cognac, sweet vermouth, Bénédictine, and Peychaud’s bitters. It’s known for its elegant mix of Cognac and whiskey sweetness and herbal, spiced flavors.

Vieux carré ingredients:

  1. .75 ounces rye whiskey
  2. .75 ounces of Cognac
  3. .75 ounces of sweet red vermouth
  4. .33 ounces of Benedictine
  5. 2-3 dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters


Add rye whiskey, cognac, vermouth, benedictine, and bitters to an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir to combine. Strain into an ice-filled old fashioned glass. Garnish with a cocktail cherry.

Hot Toddy

Hot Toddy

There are no wintry cocktails more warming than a classic hot toddy. Part of that is due to the ingredients, but most of it is because it’s a hot cocktail. Touted as a cure-all for the common cold for centuries, it’s a simple drink made with whisky (usually Scotch whisky), hot water, honey, and lemon. There are few drinks with a more mysterious origin story. It’s believed that it originated in the 1700s, possibly in India where it was referred to as a “taddy.”

Hot Toddy ingredients:

  1. 2 ounces of Scotch whisky
  2. 1 tablespoon of honey
  3. 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
  4. Hot water topper


Add Scotch whisky, honey, and lemon juice to a mug. Pour hot water to fill the rest of the mug. Stir to combine. Add a lemon wheel for garnish and extra flavor.



The Godfather is more than just an iconic mafia movie. It’s also one of the warmest, most flavorful, and easy drinks you’ll make this holiday season. It’s a classic cocktail simply featuring Scotch whisky and amaretto. That’s it. It’s boozy, sweet, and perfect for a cold winter day (or night). And yes, this drink which was popularized in the 70s and 80s is named for the Marlon Brand film.

Godfather ingredients:

  1. 2 ounces of Scotch whisky
  2. 1 ounce of amaretto


Add Scotch whisky (likely blended whisky) and amaretto to an ice-filled old fashioned glass. Stir to combine.