It’s been a warm autumn, and while we’ll all hope the same for the upcoming winter season, we know it just won’t last. Chilly temperatures are inevitable and let’s face it, your puffy coat, skully, and gloves may not cut it. You need something else to warm up your soul, something that will always be there for you at various bars in lower Fairfield County…Cocktails.
I recently visited my favorite bars around the county to seek out the best seasonal cocktails. While this is MY list, I did try my best to switch up the flavor profiles and the spirits used, otherwise they’d be all bourbon and whiskey based, or it would be a list of Old Fashioneds and Sazeracs. There are some clear liquors involved, as well as warm beverages and seasonal flavors such as apple, cinnamon, clove, and even carrot.
I tried my best to include every city or town up 95 from Greenwich to Westport, but that wasn’t the end result. I wanted to go further north but this “research” would’ve stretched into another season. I found that Norwalk and Westport had the most seasonal stuff going on when it comes to booze, so don’t be offended if your favorite bar in your neighborhood didn’t make it. It doesn’t mean I didn’t like it, I just simply met my quota for this list, and my liver told me to “just stop already.”
Hopefully this helps with your drinking adventures, and hopefully you have some cold weather cocktail suggestions at your most frequented haunts, because we’re all always looking to warm our souls with good libations.
Cask Republic, Norwalk: Christmas in Kentucky
Eagle Rare Bourbon, Luxardo Plum Triple Sec, Fernet, mulling syrup, black walnut bitters
I’m a beer nerd to the fullest, and it takes one hell of a good cocktail like this one to get me to switch. Bartender Lyles Williams says it “tastes like a Christmas cookie,” and it kind of does! Blended in with all the dark liquors is a mulling syrup with spices like clove and allspice that give it that holiday baked goods effect. Cask isn’t just about beer, folks.
Kawa Ni, Westport: Harmony Sazerac
Hibiki Harmony Whisky, thyme, Pechaud’s Bitters, cacao infused Angostura Bitters, Chartreuse, absinthe rinse
Kawa Ni has always been my kind of place. It’s small, the room is always abuzz, and the bar, run by Craig Ventrice, is as legit as it gets. Sazeracs are my thing, so when Craig posted a photo of this drink on Instagram I knew this was a contender for this list and I wasn’t disappointed in the least. The “Harmony” doesn’t follow an exact Sazerac blueprint, but it doesn’t stray too far away either. The noticeable difference is the herbaceousness, a result of the additions of thyme and Chartreuse. I’d drink these all day.
Eastend, Greenwich: Ashmead Kernel
Absolut Elyx, apple liqueur, homemade apple cider, lime juice, orange-chocolate truffle tea, spiced brown sugar simple syrup, herbal bitters, apple shrub bitters
Juan Meyer took home top honors as voted on by the judges at this year’s Greenwich Wine + Food Festival for this multi-ingredient drink. It’s served ice cold in a thick copper “pineapple,” it’s got a terrific apple taste, some herb flavor for balance, and it gets style points for the smoky wood chips that invigorate your senses when you open the mug.
Match, Norwalk: Carrot Tease
Copper & Kings Immature Brandy, iced chai tea, apple cider, carrot-vanilla reduction
Besides its eye-catching color, what’ll strike you when you drink the Carrot Tease is how damn good it is. My first thought when I took the first sip was, “This is like a juice bar juice, that’s spiked.” Bar manager Kate Fiore’s reduction—that retained a lot of its carrot color— results in a classy looking cocktail that’s pleasantly sweet, and the vanilla comes through too. You’ll have to fight the urge to chug it.
Neat, Westport: Big Apple
Laird's Applejack, Cocchi Rosa, Grapefruit Bitters
Sure, you could get coffee at Neat, but if you’re looking to kick back and relax, do the opposite and have alcohol instead. Molly Shulman makes beautiful looking drinks, case and point, the Big Apple. You’d be wise not to judge a book by its cover here. It looks innocent, but it packs a punch, albeit a smooth one. It’s not overly apple tasting as its McIntosh apple garnish indicates, but there’s a faint apple flavor from the brandy, that’s kicked up a bit more with the addition of the Cocchi Rosa, a pink aperitif wine that’s on the bitter side.
South End Uncorked, New Canaan
Four - Mexican hot chocolate, Ancho Reyes Tequila, holiday marshmallows
An adult hot chocolate that looks this fun can singlehandedly get you in the Christmas spirit, or it’ll help you escape the madness of it all. Duck into SE Uncorked and have Michelle Mauro whip you up a well-balanced spiked chocolate treat. It’s not a super thick cup of hot chocolate—achieved by using both milk and water—and it’s not too sweet either. The Mexican dark chocolate is rich, and the Ancho Reyes Tequila, made with dried and smoked poblano peppers, adds a twinge of spicy heat. And yes, that is a homemade marshmallow “Peep” accompanying your drink.
Rothbard Ale + Larder, Westport
Mulled Wine - Red wine, cloves, cinnamon, star anise, bay leaves, brandy, Stroh 160 rum, orange juice
I searched for a sangria addition that would be to my liking but none fit the bill until I went to Rothbard. The wine is heated with an array of spices and is then spiked with brandy, a little O.J. to sweeten it up, and a Stroh 160 floater (an Austrian rum) that’s briefly set on fire. It’s not served boiling hot, but it’s perfect for those chilly nights.
El Segundo, Norwalk
Plantation Hot Cider – Ceylon organic cinnamon & star anise, organic cider (mixed/infused with butter, brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon), Plantation Original Dark Rum, fresh grated nutmeg garnish
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t big on warm cocktails until I started writing this list, and this was the first “hot toddy” that made me a believer. Sean Nye—the bar manager for both El Segundo and The Spread—created something that tastes like a mashup of fresh-out-of-the-oven holiday pies. The piping hot cider is sweet, buttery, and has a strong apple flavor. The Plantation Rum, a blend of Trinidadian and Jamaican rums, is disguised so well, making this a pleasant and delicious drink to sip on.
Napa & Co., Stamford: French Nog
Cognac, B&B (brandy & Benedictine), Yellow Chartreuse, simple syrup, half & half, whole egg
Napa & Co. is known for having some of the best food in Stamford but when it comes to drinks, people think “wine.” Not so fast! Their cocktails shouldn’t take a backseat! When searching for an eggnog drink, their French Nog—named for ex-bartender and still good friend Eric Ribeiro—more than fit the bill. This quick made nog is first given a dry shake (that means with no ice) for five seconds to better incorporate (and froth) the egg with the rest of the ingredients, and then it’s shaken with ice, strained, and served up with grated nutmeg. It’s creamy, it’s sweet, and the pre-batched booze blend gives it some proper strength.
Room 112, Norwalk: Old Tom Fashioned
Ransom Gin, Antica sweet vermouth, tangerines, cherry, sugar, Angostura Bitters, orange slice and brandy cherry garnish
An Old Fashioned was making this list no matter what. If you’re a fan of this classic cocktail, you may be used to bourbon, just like I am. This version can be enjoyed in eclectic, gothic atmosphere that Room 112 provides. What’s different about it? The barrel-aged Ransom Old Tom Gin is on the sweeter side, and when paired with the muddled tangerine slices and sugar, it results in what I would dub a tropical version of this popular drink, suitable for even an entry-level Old Fashioned drinker. It goes down easy, but you’d be wise to take it slow.
Photos: Carrot Tease c/o Kate Fiore) and Room 112 Tom Collins c/o Go Nation