Warm up with classic winter drinks

Public Safety Director Smedley D. “Duckboards” Butler is shown destroying kegs of beer with an ax to uphold Prohibition in 1924. / Photo by Underwood & Underwood, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Dale DeGroff is known as King Cocktail, so he should know how to keep warm with drink in the winter. He has been credited with elevating the profile of the bartender and kicking off the cocktail renaissance.

A master mixologist, DeGroff has tended bar at such legendary watering holes as New York’s Rainbow Room and is president of the Museum of the American Cocktail in New Orleans, La. He is a James Beard Award winner in the “wine and spirits professional” category, and his “Craft of the Cocktail” won the International Association of Culinary Professional’s Julia Child award for a first book.

As we prepare to mark the Jan 16, 1920, anniversary of the onset of Prohibition, DeGroff has put together for AFR an annotated list of his favorite winter drinks. Each recipe makes 1 drink.


General Harrison’s Nog

This 19th-century nog is a personal favorite, adapted from a recipe in the 1862 edition of “How to Mix Drinks” by Jerry Thomas. It is a lighter take on eggnog, and is made as a single-serve drink instead of a punch like regular eggnog. This drink includes a raw egg, so you need to shake the hell out of it. The original was non-alcoholic. The bourbon and bitters are my addition.

General Harrison’s Nog / Photo by David Kressler for “The Essential Cocktail” by Dale DeGroff

1 ½ ounces bourbon

4 ounces fresh apple cider

1 small egg (or 1/2 large egg)

1 ½  teaspoons sugar

Ground cinnamon or nutmeg

In a cocktail shaker with ice, assemble the bourbon, cider, egg and sugar. Shake very well to completely emulsify the egg. Strain over ice into a large goblet and top with a pinch of ground cinnamon or nutmeg.

Irish Coffee 

Originally prepared at an inn near Foynes Field in Ireland during World War II, Irish coffee found a home in the United States at the Buena Vista Cafe across from Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.

1 ½ ounces Irish whiskey

3-4 ounces hot coffee

1 ounce warm brown sugar syrup*

Lightly whipped unsweetened cream

Warm Irish coffee glasses (or other heat-resistant glasses) with hot water. Combine Irish whiskey, coffee and syrup in the glass.  Ladle 1 inch of cream on top.

* Mix 1 cup of brown sugar and 1 cup of warm water and stir until the sugar dissolves.


The toddy preceded the cocktail by well over 100 years if you place the birth of the cocktail at 1806, as we do at MOTAC. Punch was an import, very popular with the tony set in London and beyond, but expensive since it contained spice and citrus. So in the New World, the spice and lemon often were absent, except for a bit of grated nutmeg, which was less expensive and easily stored with a long shelf life.

1-2 ounces full-bodied rum (“full bodied” is a kindness in the case of the rum widely available at the time)

4 ounces hot water or hot tea

1 teaspoon sugar (sugar meant loaf sugar in colonial times and contained a lot more molasses so a lot more flavor)

Splash lemon juice

Freshly grated nutmeg (optional)

In a mug or stem glass, mix the rum with the remaining ingredients and stir.

Perfect Manhattan

Originally made with rye whisky, Manhattans today usually are made with bourbon. But premium rye whiskey brands are making a comeback. Traditionally, Angostura bitters is dashed into this iconic 19th-century American classic. I offer a variation with my pimiento bitters to add a deeper allspice note.

2 ounces bourbon

¾ ounce sweet vermouth

½ ounce dry vermouth

2 dashes Dale DeGroff’s pimiento bitters™

Marinated cocktail cherry

Pour all ingredients over ice in a mixing glass and stir. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with cherry. Note: If you prefer a dry Manhattan, use dry vermouth and garnish with lemon peel.

Blood and Sand

Blood and Sand / Photo by David Kressler for “The Esssential Cocktail” by Dale DeGroff

“Blood and Sand,” the silent movie starring Rudolph Valentino, came out in 1922. The cocktail of the same name was created for the release of the movie. This forgotten classic is enjoying a revival.

¾ ounce Scotch

¾ ounce cherry brandy (such as Cherry Heering)

¾ ounce sweet vermouth

¾ ounce fresh orange juice

Orange peel

In a shaker, combine Scotch, cherry brandy, sweet vermouth and orange juice. Shake with ice and strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with orange peel.

Hot Buttered Rum

In colonial America, northern winters were very cold. This drink would be mixed while a hot poker with a little ball at the end was placed in the hot fire. When the drink was ready, the ball end of the hot poker was put into the goblet.

1 ounce dark rum

1 ounce light rum

Pat or teaspoon of compound butter*

½ ounce simple syrup

Hot water or hot apple cider

Cinnamon stick

In a goblet glass, mix all ingredients  and stir a few times to melt the butter. Garnish with cinnamon stick.

*Bring a pound of butter to room temperature to soften. Mix 1/4 teaspoon each of ground cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and allspice into the butter along with 2 ounces of maple syrup. Mix well and place a teaspoon in each drink.

Bobby Burns

Named after the Scottish poet, this cocktail is often served at a Burns’ Day supper, celebrating Burns’ birth on Jan. 25. This version is adapted from Frank Meier’s recipe for  the Ritz Bar in Paris.

2 ounces Scotch

½ ounce sweet vermouth

½ ounce dry vermouth

¼ ounce Benedictine

Prepare as you would a Manhattan.  Garnish with a shortbread cookie on the side.

Bloody Bull

This is a traditional New York steakhouse lunch favorite.

1 ½  ounces vodka

Dash fresh orange juice

4 dashes Tabasco

Dash pepper

3 ounces Campbell’s beef broth (Yes I mean Campbell’s. It really works for this drink.)

2 ounces tomato juice

Orange peel, for garnish

In a mixing glass, combine all ingredients and roll back and forth to mix.  Strain into a goblet glass over ice. Garnish with orange peel.


Brandy Milk Punch / Photo by David Kressler for “The Esssential Cocktail” by Dale DeGroff

Brandy Milk Punch

Jerry Thomas, the father of the American bartending trade, may have introduced brandy milk punch to New Orleans.  In 1862, Thomas published “How To Mix Drinks or The Bon Vivant’s Companion,” the seminal cocktail book of the century.  His recipe called for a half wine glass of rum. Contemporary New Orleans dispenses with the run and adds instead a dash of vanilla extract. Probably saves a few cents.

2 ounces brandy

1 ounce simple syrup*

4 ounces milk

Dash vanilla extract

Freshly ground nutmeg

Shake all ingredients with ice and serve in a highball glass. Dust with nutmeg.

* Sugar can be used for this recipe but the syrup mixes faster and easier.

Coffee Cocktail

This recipe dates to the 1890s. I learned to make it from a man who worked as a bartender at speakeasies and private clubs during Prohibition. This was one of the ultimate after-dinner winter drinks at the Rainbow Room. It contains no coffee, but when you shake it all together, you get a drink that looks just like coffee with milk.

1 ounce cognac

1 ounce ruby port

1 small egg (or ½ large egg)

½ teaspoon sugar

Grated fresh nutmeg

Shake all ingredients well with ice and strain into a port glass. Dust with nutmeg.

Black Russian/White Russian

This drink probably dates to post-World War II America when vodka was being heavily marketed. It’s never really gone out favor.

1 ounce Kahlua

1 ounce vodka

Build over ice in an old-fashioned glass.

For a white Russian, add cream.

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8 Responses to Warm up with classic winter drinks

  1. Stephanie Deutsch January 11, 2013 at 2:38 pm #

    Mmmmmm….It’s at least forty years since I had a Manhattan but I remember them fondly!

  2. Profile photo of Eddie Ribo
    Eddie Ribo January 13, 2013 at 4:23 pm #

    Love love love Irish coffee. To decorate the top of our mug, my uncle always drizzled a tiny bit of green creme de menthe on top. It looked so pretty on the whipped cream and added a little mint flavor that was really nice.

    • Profile photo of Bonny Wolf
      Bonny Wolf January 13, 2013 at 8:47 pm #

      What a nice idea Eddie. Many Irish whiskey glasses have a green shamrock so the creme de menthe would nicely pick up that color. I agree. It is an excellent winter drink.

  3. Profile photo of Adri Barr Crocetti
    Adri Barr Crocetti January 13, 2013 at 9:27 pm #

    Well, now there’s lots to enjoy here, no doubt about that, and being fan of a good tipple. I plan to do just that! Thanks AFR!

    • Profile photo of Michele Kayal
      Michele Kayal January 14, 2013 at 6:31 am #

      I’m currently drinking tea. 6am. Too early for Irish coffee? Even if it’s pretty?

  4. Debbie Rose January 17, 2013 at 12:44 am #

    I just discovered Tom and Jerrys at an open house for 12th night. It’s similar to your Geneal Harrison’s Nog in that it has egg in it. But the egg is separated and the white is whipped and added at the end. Mine was made with Bourbon, but I understand it can be made with whiskey or scotch.
    I looked for it on your list and was surprised not to see it.

    • Debbie Rosse January 17, 2013 at 1:03 am #

      typed my name wrong…blame Diane’s peanut brittle for making my fingers sticky…

      • Profile photo of Bonny Wolf
        Bonny Wolf January 18, 2013 at 10:12 am #

        Debbie, I absolutely agree about the Tom & Jerry. I remember my parents making them at the holidays — they even had a Tom and Jerry punch bowl (I know because it said “Tom and Jerry). Looks like it was a traditional holiday drink in the 19th century then fell out of favor. Here’s a link to a NY Times story from December. Thanks for mentioning it.