When frosty travelers peel off their coats and scarves and grab a seat at your bar, it’ll be near impossible for them to say no to your most popular cocktails. That's because you know how to be a good bar manager, and you've created a collection of classic, easy winter cocktail recipes.
What makes these seasonal cocktails profitable is that they’re irresistible and you already have most, if not all, of the ingredients. And they're easy to make. Just like our profitable and easy summer cocktails, spring cocktails, and fall cocktails. Routinely coming up with drinks like these is a matter of bartending 101 and a reason why bars are profitable.
So, let’s dive in! Here are our 7 most profitable easy winter cocktails.
Here’s a simple drink if ever there was one. The Polish szarlotka is a delicious, crumbly apple cake. It’s also a delicious cocktail. What’s great about the szarlotka is how deceptively easy it is. Deceptive mostly because of the name. The sz is pronounced similar to zh, but people will mostly say sarlotka. That’s okay! To a lot of people, it’s an exotic word with an unfamiliar combination of consonants. Yet, even with that exoticism and unfamiliarity, there is simplicity. The drink has two ingredients. Talk about an easy, profitable cocktail.
The standardized recipe calls for the Polish Żubrówka vodka, which contains a single blade of bison grass in each bottle. That gives Żubrówka a very slight light green hue and a fresh, herbaceous character. The combination of the earthy vodka with apple juice is pure fall magic. Somerset Maugham, British playwright, wrote in his 1944’s The Razor’s Edge Żubrówka “smells of freshly mown hay and spring flowers, of thyme and lavender, and it’s soft on the palate and so comfortable, it’s like listening to music by moonlight.” But, honestly, you can use any vodka. The point is that, regardless of the vodka, the drink is easy, popular, and profitable.
It’s an easy fall cocktail because it has two liquid ingredients. It’s a popular fall cocktail because it’s eye-catching and delicious. And it’s a profitable fall cocktail because of the first two reasons. Na zdrowie!
- 1 ½ ounces vodka, ideally the Polish Żubrówka, though any vodka works
- Apple juice
- 1 pinch ground cinnamon
- Shake vodka and apple juice with crushed ice in a shaker
- Strain into a martini glass
- Dust with pinch of cinnamon
Hot Gin Toddy
The hot toddy, like other hot winter cocktails, is a beautiful melange of winter spice and warming alcohol. But the hot toddy is the hot winter cocktail to rule them all.
There is no standardized recipe for a hot toddy. There is a general outline to follow. From there, you’re free to tweak your toddy as you wish. What a toddy must have is a liquor, water, honey, and herbs and/or spices. That means your freedom revolves around the choice of liquor, herbs, spice, and quantities. Trial and error is usually the way to go when discovering the toddy recipe that lives within you. And that’s a great thing, too, because it’s almost impossible to screw a hot toddy up. Any combination of the above ingredients is tasty.
But our recipe is a good one. In it, the crisp herbaceousness of gin is tempered with honey and cinnamon, while orange juice provides a livelier edge than the typical whiskey toddy. The juniper in gin is arguably the foundation for some aprhodisiac drinks, too.
A popular theory goes that the hot toddy was named after palm wine drinks in South and Southeast Asia, also called toddies. And the earliest known usage of hot toddy comes to us from 1786. Like the hot buttered rum recipe of the same era, the origins of the hot toddy are fairly clear. In times when commodities weren’t as immediately available as they are today, people combined stuff. They threw everything they had to eat into a stew. And, often, they threw most of what they had to drink into a toddy. The bubbling brew was made in batches and entire families would let it warm their bodies and spirits. Let it warm yours, too.
Gin Toddy Ingredients
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 ounce gin
- ¼ cup hot water
- 2 tablespoons orange juice
- Cinnamon stick
- Lemon twist
Gin Toddy Recipe
- Pour gin, honey, and orange juice in a mug
- Top it off with hot water and mix until honey dissolves
- Garnish with lemon twist and cinnamon stick
Spiced Winter Mojito
Here we have a serene, wintry take on a tropical standard. Making it is a lot like a regular mojito, except you’ll be mixing your own simple syrup. A gingerbread syrup, to be precise.
Wait a minute, this is supposed to be an easy cocktail. Making a gingerbread syrup sounds anything but. It’s just boiling and reducing spices, sugar, and water together. It’s easy, trust us. We’ve made it before in our office kitchen. Turned out great.
The combination of cool mint leaves in mojitos complements the punch of citrus and the smooth-yet-fiery rum. Cool, citrus, fiery, all words that sound right at home in the summer. And that’s true! Mojitos are undoubtedly a summer drink. But the anise and cloves change everything. Let us explain.
Anise is a primary flavoring component in sambuca, absinthe, Galliano, and countless other liqueurs. It has a bright licorice flavor that feels simultaneously sweet, bitter, and cool. And, importantly, it’s very strong. It utterly changes the character of a mojito, launching it from a refreshing summer drink to a cozy, easy winter cocktail all on its own. But we didn’t stop there.
Cloves, like anise, are a holiday-spice standard and strong. They’re the unopened, dried flower buds of an evergreen tree. The dark, woody spice of clove firmly shuts the door on summer. Where anise adds a breadth of flavors, clove adds depth. Both spices expand the winter mojito’s flavor profile to the point that the mint is no longer the refreshing, playful mint you met in the summer. It’s the sweeter holiday mint from a candy cane. That plot twist makes this one of the most surprising and satisfying winter cocktails possible.
Gingerbread Syrup Ingredients
- 5 ounces sugar
- ½ cup water
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 3 cloves
- Pinch of ground cloves
- 3 star anise
- 1 orange peel
- ½ teaspoon allspice
Gingerbread Syrup Recipe
- Bring all the ingredients to a boil in a small sauce pan
- Let it cool and thicken
- Strain it
Spiced Winter Mojito Ingredients
- 1.5 ounces white rum
- 1 ounce gingerbread syrup
- 10 mint leaves
- Juice of 1 lime
- Ginger beer
Spiced Winter Mojito Recipe
- Combine rum, gingerbread syrup, 8 mint leaves, and the lime juice and muddle
- Pour over a highball glass half full with crushed ice
- Top off with ginger beer
- Garnish with remaining 2 mint leaves
Ancient Mulled White Wine
If you’ve read a lot of the information about drinks on this site, you know that the 18th and 19th centuries come up often. That’s when most of the cocktails we know today began evolving. But move over, other drinks. Because mulled wine is here, and mulled wine came all the way from at least the 2nd century A.D. to be with us today.
There was once a man named Apicius who wrote a book that history has generously handed down to us. It’s the single remaining ancient Roman cookbook in the world. In it Apicius details a recipe for conditum paradoxum, or created by paradox. That’s what he called the mulled white wine he created.
Mulled wine is traditionally made with red wine, so white is an interesting choice. It’s obviously not as heavy as red, nor as tannic. You’d think that spices would overpower it, but think again. Apicius did and we’re still talking about him.
The result is a vibrant yet calming union of crisp wine and warm spice. While it’s not technically a winter or Christmas cocktail, it’s the perfect combination for the paradox of holiday craziness and the calm that follows.
Ancient Mulled White Wine Ingredients
- One 750 ml bottle of white wine
- 1 cup honey
- 1 date
- Half teaspoon black pepper
- Half teaspoon of fennel seed
- 2 bay leaves
- A pinch of saffron
Ancient Mulled White Wine Recipe
- Combine all the wine, the honey, and the date in a sauce pan and bring to a boil
- Add the rest of the ingredients, bring again to a boil then let simmer for 10–15 minutes
- Strain and serve in a mug or heat-proof glass
The difference here is that you’ll be infusing the gin with easily found, affordable holiday spices. Again, with the infusions? Yes. You’ll find that, like the resourceful people of the past who made batches of hot buttered rum, hot toddies, and mulled wine, infusing a liquor you already have with spices you already have is easy and budget-friendly.
Also, like the winter mojito, we’ll be morphing a drink into its winter version with the help of anise and clove. But this time it’s star anise, which is related to anise but completely different. We use the subtler star anise in this recipe because it has to tangle with gin, the champion of herb-infused spirits. There’s no point in slamming into gin’s door with the battering ram of anise. There’s plenty of woody, herbal flavors in gin already. We’ll instead use the doorbell chimes of star anise to gently summon gin down the stairs.
The drink still has the complexity of a Negroni—with the potable bitters of Campari interacting beautifully with grassy gin and spry vermouth. The spicy seasonal makeover expands the cocktail’s flavor profile. It turns the Negroni from an interesting friend to an interesting friend wearing a fashionable parka and holding a box of cinnamon rolls.
Infused Gin Ingredients
- 1 bottle of gin
- 6 cloves
- 3 star anise
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 teaspoon fennel seed
- ¾ cup of sugar
- ¾ cup of water
- Half an orange peel
Infused Gin Recipe
- Bring all ingredients except the gin to a boil
- Turn down heat and simmer for 10 minutes until it thickens a bit (to about the consistency of simple syrup)
- Pour into an airtight container, combine gin, and store for a few days to a week (the longer the better)
Winter Negroni Ingredients:
- 1.5 ounces infused gin
- 1 ounce Campari
- 1 ounce sweet vermouth (or vermouth rosso)
- Orange twist
Winter Negroni Recipe
- Stir infused gin, Campari, and vermouth in a cocktail shaker
- Pour over ice into a rocks glass
- Garnish with orange twist
In 2018, the World Health Organization found that the cooler the temperature and the less daylight hours experienced, the more likely a person is to drink different types of alcohol.
What’s that have to do with the sidecar?
Well, there are two approaches to making a sidecar: the French and the English. In the French approach, equal parts Cognac, triple sec, and lemon juice are used. In the English, it’s a 2:1 ratio of Cognac to triple sec and lemon juice.
Given England’s latitude and penchant for drab, overcast days, they win the drinking contest. Sorry, England. Or, maybe, congratulations?
At any rate, the sidecar has an unusually large footprint in the history of cocktail making and mixology. It was invented just after WWI in either London or Paris and is named for the motorcycle accessory that the word commonly refers to.
In 1922, the first recipe for the sidecar appears in print in Harry MacElhone’s Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails. That same year it shows up in Robert Vermeire’s Cocktails and How to Mix Them. Then it was finally enshrined, almost two decades later, in David Embury’s The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks.
If you want to make it especially seasonal, replace half or all of the lemon juice with apple juice to make an apple sidecar. The szarlotka ain’t the only winter cocktail that knows its way around an apple.
- 2 ounces Cognac
- 1 ounces triple sec
- 1 ounce lemon juice
- 1 orange slice
- Shake Cognac, triple sec, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker with ice
- Strain into a martini glass
- Garnish with an orange slice
Hot Buttered Rum
This is the most wintery of our fall cocktails, but for good reason. Sometimes the swift wind and crackling leaves can make the world feel a little desolate. That’s when we turn to hot rum drinks, as we’ve been doing for hundreds of years. Sipping one is like slipping on an old, comfortable shoe. It’s also a great idea for a batch drink that’ll keep pour cost low, either as a happy hour idea or a bar promotion idea if some of your rum is inching toward its expiry date (see: does liquor go bad?).
During the colonial days in the U.S., hot rum drinks were popular, but we’re not sure what the exact recipes were. In the middle of the 19th century, two hot rum recipes show up in the written record. We can reasonably assume that they’re evolved from the earlier recipes and get an idea what pre-19th century hot rum drinks were like. The first recipe uses rum, sugar, cloves, allspice, butter, and hot water. Mix them all together and you’ve got what was called “hot spiced rum.” The second recipe calls for only sugar, rum, butter, and hot water; no spices.
When colonialism in the 18th and 19th centuries was in full swing, especially in Latin America and the Caribbean, rum was, in some places, more available than old-world spirits like brandy and Irish and Scotch whiskey. And so was sugar: U.S. sugar imports increased as sugarcane farming in the tropics of the western hemisphere picked up.
So we’ve got people all across the country living in homes heated by wood-burning stoves with a ready supply of sugar and rum. The stage is set. During the crisp months, they did what they could to stay cozy. That meant mulling whatever liquor was around with whatever other ingredients were around. And that eventually became the hot buttered rum recipes we have today.
So today, like days of the past, hot buttered rum evokes hearth and home, warmth and conviviality, and a happy place safe from the sometimes bleak fall weather.
Hot Buttered Rum Ingredients
- 1 stick butter
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1 cup rum
- 2 cups boiling water
- Dash of salt
- 4 cinnamon sticks
Hot Buttered Rum Recipe
- Mix the brown sugar, butter, and spices until smooth
- Add the rum and boiling water to the mixture and stir until brown sugar and butter are dissolved
- Pour into 4 mugs and garnish with cinnamon stick
Popular Winter Cocktails + Easy Winter Cocktails = Profitable Winter Cocktails
Any one of these fall cocktails would make a great happy hour idea or drink special. Just put these easy winter cocktails on your menu and you’re guaranteed to light the holiday-spiced fire underneath your guests. Which is great, because it’s cold out there! Just make sure to use good recipe costing so you make the most off of these drinks.
You don’t have to be a bar owner or bar manager to get excited about these winter cocktails. Maybe you’re just a person at your home bar looking for a simple way to impress some friends. The drinks will still be just as easy and great. You don't even need club soda for these great drinks. You definitely don't need a full bar liquor list.
But if you are a bar owner or manager, using popular cocktail recipes that have a few, common ingredients is a good way to lower pour cost. And given the average pour cost, you’ve probably got some opportunity there. And here’s how to calculate liquor cost if you’re not sure what your bar is running.
So good luck! May your winter be infused with good tidings, shaken with holiday cheer, and strained into a highball glass filled with mirth. You can also check out some of the best bartending books for more inspiration.