Whether you’re tackling the Eaton Centre crowds or a family shindig or the third verse of “Good King Wenceslas,” it never hurts to have a little liquid courage. In that spirit, we’ve canvassed the city’s top bars for 25 fortifying winter cocktails, each one admirably heavy on the holiday cheer. (Holiday cheer means booze.)
Mistletoe Margarita, $13
Reposado, 136 Ossington Ave.
Creator: Megan Jones
Inspired by Charlie Brown Christmas trees, Jones took a standard margarita, infused the blanco tequila with pine needles, and added in lime juice, Grand Marnier, and her house-made cranberry winter-spice syrup. The drink is garnished with cranberries, cinnamon, and a sprig of pine needles, which, she notes, is helpful both in staving off scurvy and as a pain reliever. The same can be said about any margarita, incidentally.
Chestnut Roasting on an Open Fire (pictured at top), $13
Soho Metropolitan Hotel, 318 Wellington St. W. (available at the Sunday School pop-ups on Dec. 2 and 9; at the GwaiLo pop-ups on Dec. 30–31).
Creator: Christina Kuypers
Setting booze on fire is always risky business, partly because nobody wants to wind up in emerg, but mostly because flaming liquor comes dangerously close to jumping the shark. Yet Kuypers walks this fine line with restrained elegance, giving us a warm, nutty brandy cocktail, livened up with some bitterness from Nonino, her favourite Italian liqueur.
Mistress for Christmas, $12
The Harbord Room, 89 Harbord St.
Creator: Dave Mitton
This Mistress for Christmas is the embodiment of naughty and nice: It’s named after a nearly pornographic AC/DC song, and it’s modelled after the wholesome spiced-wine traditions from happy Scandinavian countries. Laced with ginger, honey, cinnamon, and blood-orange bitters, it’s a rich, spiced-aperitif libation that is so light in alcohol—especially compared with the straight brown liquor we usually throw back at The Harbord Room—it’s probably even good for you.
Winter Beet Daiquiri, $12
Ursa, 924 Queen St. W.
Creator: Robin Goodfellow
Hovering just this side of borscht, the Winter Beet Daiquiri is such a beautiful cocktail that it can be hard to take that destructive first sip. You get over it: This daiquiri is super-easy drinking, its savoury beet tastes wrestled to the floor with the sweet-tart combination of lime juice and syrupy Demerara rum.
Winter Mojito, $10
Café Belong, 550 Bayview Ave.
Creator: Renata Clingen
This Winter Mojito is a rare breed: a cold-weather cocktail that manages to be refreshing while simultaneously warming the soul. The combination of ginger beer, cranberry, mint, and festive cheer (or, as it’s sometimes known, rum) is inspired, rescuing the much-maligned mojito.
Churchill, 1212 Dundas St. W.
Creator: Sandy de Almeida
This cocktail is vintage Sandy de Almeida. It’s a straight-up, well-balanced combination of bourbon, apple brandy, maple syrup, and a tinge of the bitter herbal spirit fernet, but it’s given a slight twist—a stiff hit of cedar. For some, it’ll conjure up memories of a sauna, but as de Almeida’s favourite new drink on her menu, it’s definitely worth a try.
Copper Pot Coffee, $16
Brassaii, 461 King St. W.
Creator: Jordan Stacey
When you need a boost between gift-shopping raids on Queen Street, dip down to King West and indulge in a quick Copper Pot Coffee. This sophisticated take on the espresso martini (but with Grand Marnier and Galliano liqueur thrown in for good measure) will fortify you to fight the holiday crowds.
Sleigh-Bell Sling, $10
Cold Tea, 60 Kensington Ave.
Creator: Matt LaRochelle
Most people think that a Singapore Sling is a pretty childish drink, but as LaRochelle well knows, Christmas is really about the kids anyway. His version of the cocktail comes heavy on the cinnamon and orange that we all love this time of year, but a punch of pineapple keeps the Sling true to its tropical roots.
Uncle Garth, $12
The Comrade, 758 Queen St. E.
Creator: Jessica Toombs
This nostalgic cocktail doubles as an herbal remedy, sure to soothe an ailing throat and the odd brush with seasonal affective disorder (which east-coaster Toombs knows a thing or two about). Uncle Garth, a maple-citrus and Earl Grey tea–infused bourbon drink, is inspired by memories of her Newfoundland cottage and the strong, cheek-flushing liquids her family enjoyed there.
The Banknote, $14
Parts & Labour, 1566 Queen St. W.
Creator: Rob Turenne
With aged rum, tawny port, coffee-vanilla syrup, and egg white, this drink sounds like it could skew too rich, but the lemon and mole bitters give it surprising balance. It’s a little like if a super-talented soda jerk reinterpreted your grandfather’s drink of choice.
Brown Butter Maple Old Fashioned, $14
Drake Hotel, 1150 Queen St. W.
Creator: Rudy Ollson
Between the cigar and chocolate tinctures, maple syrup, brown butter, and bourbon, this cocktail is a composite of sins. Served over a large ice cube, it’s rich and sweet with a hint of Havana, and should remind you of more temperate places while you try to stay warm on the patio at the Drake Hotel.
Hoof Mulled Cider, $11
The Black Hoof, 928 Dundas St. W.
Creator: Jen Agg
Agg showcases a simple mulled cider at the Hoof, which throws together dark rum, apple cider, vermouth, a splash of orange juice, and the requisite seasonal spices, like cinnamon, ginger, vanilla, allspice, and clove. It starts off pretty darn great but gets even greater as it mulls, causing the whole restaurant to smell like apple pie.
Actually, given the carnivore’s delights on offer here, better make that porky apple pie.
Autumn Sour, $12
Goods and Provisions, 1124 Queen St. E.
Creator: Aaron Beaudoin
The bourbon sour is one of the few cocktails that goes down just as well in cold weather as it does in warmer climes. That’s especially true with the Autumn Sour, which is given some holiday spirit with nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, and allspice, then enriched with a little maple syrup and garnished with a gingerbread twist for good measure.
Gene Snyder’s Spiced Morello Sour, $12
1857 Miller Tavern, 31 Bay St.
Creator: Rob Montgomery
Gene Snyder was a Kentucky Republican embraced across America for introducing a Congressional resolution
to declare bourbon a “distinctive product of the United States.” A fitting homage to the politician, this spicy-cherry bourbon sour evokes southern hospitality and good cheer—and comes with a grated gingersnap-cookie garnish to boot.
The Triple Black, $12
The Spirit House, 487 Adelaide St. W.
Creators: Brad Gubbins and Clinton Pattemore
To all outward appearances, the Triple Black looks like a dark and serious winter drink. But tucked in between the Canadian whisky and subtle notes of walnut and bitter orange, there’s an inner child–appeasing whiff of Welch’s grape juice.
Royal Port Eggnog, $15
Weslodge, 478 King St. W.
Creator: Jonny Gray
With a healthy dose of cream and a whole egg, the savoury Royal Port Eggnog is about as hedonistic as it gets. (It also does a very good impression of chocolate milk.) The five pounds we put on this holiday season will be traced directly to this cocktail.
Winterly Old Fashioned, $12
Fynn’s Temple Bar, 489 King St. W.
Creator: Robin James Wynne
Wynne shows his Anglophile sympathies in this spirit-forward drink: Its rum, bourbon, and orange-cinnamon flavours taste like Christmas pudding with a kick. That’s especially true after you eat the garnish—whisky-soaked drunken cherries.
La Carnita, 501 College St. W.
Creator: Japhet Bower
With coconut milk, ginger, nutmeg, star anise, cinnamon, and lime, La Carnita’s C.R.E.A.M. strikes the perfect balance between tropical flavours and holiday tradition. What’s more, we think that this pseudo-nog may have found the true spirit of Christmas: tequila.
Kentucky Dream, $16
Blowfish Restaurant and Sake Bar, 668 King St. W.
Creator: Nishantha Neplungoda
The Kentucky Dream is a creamy bourbon sour with a pinch of smoke, salt, honey, and—because there are hipsters in Kentucky, too—preserved pickled lemons. With layers of bitter Campari and herbal chartreuse, this drink is designed to put you into a reverie. It works.
Atholl Brose, $13.50
25 Liberty, 25 Liberty St.
Creator: Kyle Burch
It’s hard to understand why every restaurant in town doesn’t feature the creamy, honeyed Scottish Atholl Brose as a substitute for dessert. Could be they’re put off by the drink’s traditional use of oatmeal. At 25 Liberty, Burch tosses out the actual oats and opts for a balance of tawny port, Gaelic whisky, and orange oil–sugar instead.
Olde York Flip, $14
Origin, 107–109 King St. E.
Creator: Taylor Corrigan
There’s a hint of cough syrup in this modified flip, thanks to the eucalyptus and mint flavour lent by the spirit fernet. That earthy bitterness is mellowed out with egg, cream, crème de cacao, and a good pour of whisky; the herbal, coffee-flavoured nog is served up in a coupe and garnished with nutmeg.
Antique Formula, $14
Bar Chef, 472 Queen St. W.
Creator: Frankie Solarik
The Antique Formula is a nod to the refined elegance of old-timey cocktails, but brought into the 21st century with cardamom, fennel, and smoky notes. The peaty Scotch, bitter almond, orange, and apricot finish liven it with warm holiday flavours.
Yukon Hot Toddy, $12
The Yukon, 1592 Queen St. W.
Creator: Katy McLean
Toronto’s wild west has recently been tamed with a ban on new liquor licenses, so raise a glass to the drinking you still can do on the Parkdale strip. The Yukon’s Hot Toddy is a simple classic made with honey, lemon, cinnamon, orange slices, and Forty Creek Confederation Oak Reserve whisky.
Fresh Powder, $14
Momofuku, 190 University Ave.
Creator: Benjamin Deacon
This cocktail is what you’d call high-concept: The fresh powder is actually dehydrated bay leaves sprinkled over the drink’s fluffy egg-white crest, giving the impression of evergreens dotting a snowscape. But this pretty number packs a serious bourbon-apple-maple-cinnamon punch, like a hidden mogul on a long, smooth run.
The Glenville, $16
The Oxley, 121 Yorkville Ave.
Creator: Joshua Prout
Prout finds middle ground between British Christmas pudding and classic American cocktails with the Glenville, a malty plum take on the Manhattan. Inspired by sugar plum fairies, Prout says he wants to simulate them dancing in your head. Enough of these and that’s liable to happen.