B lustery winds, truncated hours of daylight and snow in the forecast make this the perfect season for homebound pleasures: curling up under a blanket with a good book or resurrecting unfinished domestic projects.
But don’t get too comfortable. When it comes to New Haven’s liquid delights, fortune never favors the bold so much as in wintertime.
My own adventure started at cocktail mecca 116 Crown, where the drink menu fills several pages with offerings grouped into tempting categories, like “Bracing and Bold,” “Flavorful, Complex and Diverse” and the daunting “For Professionals.” Undaunted due to a recommendation from one of the always-knowledgeable bartenders, I picked my drink from that last group, having asked for something that fits the winter mood.
The cocktail’s called Lauren’s Driving Home, and—by all means—have someone drive you home. This is a strong one, guaranteed to halt the chattering of teeth and knocking of knees. Made from Booker’s (a small-batch bourbon aged six to eight years), Benedictine, The Bitter Truth Krauter Liqueur and grapefruit juice, the drink is served straight up in a large martini glass. Adorned with a floating, coolly purple hibiscus flower, its wintry vibe comes from a deep brown color; herbal, spicy notes thanks to the Benedictine; and that grapefruit, which grows in the colder months of the year.
You may want to take it down a notch after something so strong, which is as easy as walking a few blocks to The Cask Republic, a restaurant and bar known for its dizzying array of draught and bottled beers. Currently they’ve got an entire section labeled, “Holiday Ales, Winter Ales & Et Cetera.” Exactly what we’re looking for.
The Anchor Christmas Ale—my choice—is a dark spiced brew, reminiscent of a stout, and with a slightly bitter finish. Others in the special section include the Rogue 19 Original Colonies Mead (which is light like a champagne, with notes of honey), the Widmer Brrr (how can you resist the name?) and three different “winter warmers” (a malty, sweet style of beer usually offered around the holidays).
The selections range in alcohol content—clearly labeled on the menu—but all are bound to produce a festive mood, from the ale itself to the accompaniments, like the stemmed glassware Cask uses for special varieties to the decorative seasonal beer bottles. Mine featured a Christmas Tree.
And, speaking of Christmas trees, what’s a winter drinks tour without a cocktail that tastes a little like one? ZINC Restaurant, around the corner on Chapel Street, features a drink aptly called The Evergreen. It’s a mix of Berkshire Mountain Distiller’s Ethereal Gin, Zirbenz Stone Pine Liqueur, fresh lime juice and rosemary simple syrup; the ultimate in wintry flavors.
If notes of pine and spice are a little too of the moment, simply head up Chapel to The Study at Yale, specifically the bar at Heirloom restaurant and order the more forward-looking Cherry Blossom Rita.
Cherry blossoms bloom in early spring, but this bright red drink, served in a pint glass with a straw, looks like something best sipped on a summer day. Check out the ingredient list, though, to see why this concoction is still a great wintertime pick-me-up. Made with Sombra Mezcal tequila, Cherry Heering, lime juice, soda and the kicker—muddled cranberry—this drink is essentially a cold-weather margarita, and, unlike more familiar warmer-weather tequilas, the Sombra Mezcal provides a lingering smoky finish, which is warm comfort on a cold day.
Indeed, there are a few long, frigid months ahead, and plenty of spirits—and theories—to explore, says John Ginnetti, owner and mixologist at 116 Crown, including unconventional mixes you might overlook at first. “The use of vodka and other un-aged spirits in the cold has always intrigued me, as in the wine pairing ethos, ‘if it grows together, it goes together,’” he says. “Ice-cold vodka from Russia or Poland as well as Aquavit from the Nordic countries should be well suited for the cold weather.”
Still, after all my exploring, a classic turned out to be my favorite cold-weather drink, found in the cozy Irish bar Christy’s on Orange Street: a proper Irish coffee with whiskey and cream, served in a glass mug. (Of course, if you want to question the objectivity of that determination, just look at my last name.)
Whatever’s in your glass, raise it high—to winter!
Written and photographed by Cara McDonough.