DIY Craft Cocktails: Lighter Holiday/Winter Cocktails

I'm making a pact with myself to not feel gross this winter. Usually this time of year, I succumb to the temptation to eat too much and then keep that same pace with drinks, leaving me generally sluggish and grumpy by the end of January. This holiday season, I'm planning to be more moderate with everything: I'll eat less salt, avoid starches, and eat fewer snacks and desserts. Also: more vegetables with as much color in them as possible and no giant meals with animal protein at their center. If I walk into a room and someone throws a Chateaubriand en croute at me, I'm not catching it, I'm ducking. (Unless it turns out that it was prepared by Jacques Pépin.)

Along with eating lighter, I'm going to drink lighter, too.  Festivities are no fun if you feel dulled out and sleepy, giving in to the biological temptation to hibernate. My plan for cocktails this winter is to keep my drinks simple. The only thing I'll be imbibing is Monster energy drink with a jaunty splash of Everclear. 


Totally kidding. But I do plan to drink brighter and simpler this winter, and to that end, here are my takes on some classic cocktails.


Note: Each of these recipes is for a single drink, but the ingredients can be multiplied to make more. As always, drink responsibly. 



Scotch and Soda, Sweet

Scotch and soda is a classic drink for good reason, but I like to make it more sessionable (to borrow from beer terminology, i.e. a beverage with a lower alcohol content). Due to this version’s larger-than-usual glass, the recipe is more diluted, making it a drink that you can keep in hand throughout the evening, one that serves as a palate cleanser for a variety of foods. The addition of a drizzle of sweet liqueur on top (and leaving it unstirred) makes the drink's flavor profile change as you spend time with it. It starts out gently sweet, then becomes sour, and finally finishes, well, scotch-y. 



1 oz shot scotch

1/2 oz shot of honey liqueur (such as Bärenjäger) (alternate: peach schnapps, triple sec, or other citrusy/fruity liqueur.)

soda water

slice of lime



Fill a pint glass with ice. Add the scotch and fill the rest of the glass with soda water, up to about half an inch from the top. Drizzle the liqueur over the top and garnish with lime.



Chai Nog

Traditional, from-scratch egg nog always gives me a stomachache, as do the chemical-tasting mixes and flavored milks on offer this time of year. My delicate constitution aside, I understand the appeal of dessert in a glass, but I offer this cleaner, less dense alternative instead. It still has the warming and sweet appeal of eggnog, but it’s both lighter and simpler than the traditional route, using spices that are already in your kitchen.



1 oz shot of rum or brandy

1.5 cups rice milk

1 teaspoon honey

1 four inch cinnamon stick

5 whole peppercorns

1 slice of ginger, 1/4 inch thick (about the diameter of a quarter)

4 cardamon pods

5 whole cloves

hot water



  1. Simmer the rice milk, honey, spices, and ginger in a covered pot for twenty minutes. Stir occasionally, and make sure it doesn't come to a full boil.
  2. Meanwhile, preheat a mug by filling it with hot water, either from the tap or from boiling some in a tea kettle.
  3. After the spices have steeped in the rice milk, pour out the hot water from the mug and add the rum or brandy.
  4. Pour the milk mixture through a strainer into the mug, reserving the cinnamon stick to garnish the drink.



Mulled Faux Sangria


Mulled wine can be delicious, but I've never been able to figure out the correct simmering temperature that ensures a well-infused beverage that hasn't had its alcohol burned off. There's also the issue of having to tend to the pot all night, and if you’re hosting a party, then said pot can (and often will) eventually become a reduced, overly sweet, scorched syrup that only sort-of resembles wine by the end of the evening. As a simple fix to these issues, I like to make individual glasses of mulled wine, shaken like a cocktail and strained into a glass filled with ice. Think of it as a cold-weather version of sangria, but with the flavor profile of mulled wine, with less work and attention required.



1 oz port

3-4 ounces of a sturdy red wine (Syrah, Malbec, Carbernet Sauvingon)

1/8th teaspoon freshly grated ginger

pinch of ground cinnamon

pinch of ground clove

1/2 teaspoon of honey

four slices of citrus (lemon, lime, orange, blood orange, etc – the more variety the better)

cinnamon stick (for garnish)

extra citrus slice (for garnish)

ice for glass



  1. Add port, spices, and honey to a cocktail shaker. Squeeze juice from the citrus slices into the shaker and discard them. Shake well. Note: Do not add ice to the shaker as this will prevent the honey from dissolving.
  2. Fill a wine glass with ice and add the port mixture. Fill the rest of the glass with wine and garnish with cinnamon stick and slice of citrus.



Winter Fruit Old Fashioned

(pictured at top)


In keeping with the goal of drinking lighter, I like to make Old Fashioneds with as much winter fruit as I can, and then use less bourbon than usual. I also finish the drink with a little hard cider. The result is a drink that is smooth, fruity, and bright. If I had a medical degree, this cocktail would be among my prescriptions for seasonal affective disorder.



1 oz bourbon

2-3 oz hard cider

1 slice of persimmon (cut in half)

1 slice orange (cut in half)

1 tablespoon pomegranate seeds

1 tablespoon sugar (preferably raw/turbinado)

3 dashes bitters

lemon slice (for garnish)

ice for glass



Muddle the fruit, sugar, and bitters together in an old fashioned glass. Note: raw/turbinado sugar will break down the fruit faster. Add ice, bourbon, and top off with cider. Garnish with lemon.




Peter Groynom is a graduate of Carleton College and the San Francisco School of Bartending. He is an avid home cook, a writer, and a Photoshop enthusiast. His photography can be found at Arts and Hovercrafts. He lives in Minneapolis. His last post for SGT was DIY Craft Cocktails: Make Your Own Garnishes.