During the colder months I spend a lot of time indoors trying to find new ways to expand my lineup of cocktails that warm me, given February’s best attempt to remind me spring has not yet sprung. Often I lean towards spirit-forward cocktails to soothe even the chilliest of nights. Spirit-forward is a family of cocktails that have a robust base spirit and a very light amount of sugar and often bitters. This family contains familiar cocktails such as the Old Fashioned, Manhattan, Sazerac, and Negroni. Typically smaller in size to the tall, fruity cocktails of summer, these petite libations pack a serious punch. These drinks are comprised of mostly booze, using only bitters, sugar, vermouth, liqueurs, or other boozy modifiers. They are not the light, fizzy refreshing drinks of warmer months that call for bubbly water and citrus. Spirit-forward cocktails are stiff drinks comprised of mostly spirits that are designed to be slowly sipped and warm us on cold winter nights. When making these drinks at home, you’ll find that most of the recipes call for stirring rather than shaking. This is because the general rule in cocktail making is that drinks containing citrus are shaken and those without are stirred. While aggressive shaking is key to incorporating citrus into drinks (not to mention achieving proper texture, froth, and aeration), most bartenders agree that stirring is better suited for spirit-forward cocktails. This gentler method of mixing is ideal for proper dilution and preserving the character of the ingredients in these boozier style cocktails.
When crafting drinks as such I recite to myself the golden formula of “2-1-2”. Many of these drinks follow a simple ratio of 2 ounces of base spirit (often whiskey or other oak-aged spirits), one barspoon or ounce of something rich and sweet (like demarara sugar, syrup, or vermouth), and two dashes of bitters. Because I’ve got idle hands and I tire of making the same drink over and over, I use the 2-1-2 as a foundation to build off of while swapping out the standard ingredients for exciting substitutions. One of my favorite winter cocktails is the Sleepy Tiki. Its warming and spiced combination of New Deal Distiller’s Workshop Spiced Rum, pineapple syrup, and chocolate bitters is the perfect remedy for those evenings it’s too cold to go outside but I still want to at least pretend I’m somewhere tropical.