Award-winning cocktail recipes for the holidays
Planning on mixing up a few cocktails over the festive period? We put a multitude of signature serves to the taste test – here are the recipes of the top performers.
With the on-trade closed over the past months, cocktail lovers have had to take matters into their own hands and mix up their favourite drinks at home. Spirits brands have also gotten in on the trend, developing new recipes to showcase their liquids and help consumers have high-quality cocktail experiences away from the bar.
In November we hosted our first Cocktail & Signature Serve Masters, seeking to determine which brands’ recipes deliver on both flavour and accessibility for at-home mixing.
We assembed a panel of experts at the Novotel Hotel in London Bridge to taste through the serves: Melita Kiely, editor of The Spirits Business; Matt Chambers, spirits writer and founder of the Whisky for Everyone blog and North London Whisky Club; Evan Prousaefs, bar manager and assistant general manager of Los Mochis restaurant in London’s Notting Hill; David T Smith, spirits writer, consultant and co‐founder of the Craft Distilling Expo; Bernadette Pamplin, freelance spirits writer and founder of the Under the Ginfluence blog; Nicola Carruthers, deputy editor of The Spirits Business; and Dimple Athavia, founder of All Things Drinks.
Our tasting delivered some real standouts, from a complex, stiff Martini riff, to a festive mulled gin, to well-balanced after-dinner cocktails. Find the recipes for our favourites below.
Emperor Cucumber & Mint Gimlet
For a refreshing spin on the Gimlet, shake up this drink from Emperor Vodka. With a festive twist from fresh mint and the brand’s Mojito Vodka, the serve was given the highest honour of all the cocktail recipes in our competition – the Taste Master award – and our judges found it “well integrated, quaffable and refreshing”. It would also work well batched and served in a pitcher over ice for a holiday gathering.
Fresh cucumber and mint leaves
60ml Emperor Mojito Vodka
30ml Fresh lime juice
20ml Sugar syrup
10ml Cucumber syrup
Lime slice, for garnish
Muddle cucumber and mint leaves in a shaker. Add the rest of the ingredients except the garnish to the shaker and fill with ice. Shake well and strain into a coupette glass. Garnish with the lime.
This drink from gin brand Stranger & Sons takes the Dirty Martini to the next level by switching out the usual splash of olive brine for pickled apricot brine, bringing a salty, fruity twist. Our judges called it “delicious and vibrant on the nose”, and awarded it a Master medal.
60ml Stranger & Sons Gin
10ml Pickled apricot brine
5ml Dry vermouth
Pickled apricot, for garnish
Combine all the ingredients except the garnish in a mixing glass filled with ice. Strain into a chilled Nick and Nora glass and garnish with the pickled apricot.
Villa Massa & Tonica
When it comes to spirit-and-tonic drinks, there’s a whole world out there beyond the G&T – and this serve, using Villa Massa Limoncello, proves it’s well worth exploring. Sweet and zesty lemon comes through on the palate, complemented by a herbaceous hit from fresh basil.
1 part Villa Massa Limoncello
3 parts premium tonic water
Fresh basil leaves
Place four to six large ice cubes in a wine glass. Add the Villa Massa Sorrento Limoncello and tonic water. Crush a few fresh basil leaves in your hands to release their aromas, then add to the glass and mix.
Emperor Beige Russian
If you prefer to take your dessert in cocktail form, this is the serve for you. Emperor Chocolate Vodka anchors the drink, and then gets supercharged by Kahlúa coffee liqueur, milk and vanilla syrup. Expect notes of dusky chocolate, toffee, cocoa powder and white chocolate – perfect for post-prandial sipping.
25ml Emperor Chocolate Vodka
75ml Whole milk
15ml Vanilla syrup
Cocoa powder, for garnish
Combine all the ingredients except the garnish in a shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously until chilled and pour into a rocks glass over fresh ice. Dust the cocoa powder on top for decoration.
When you don’t feel like drinking alcohol, there are still plenty of top-notch cocktail recipes out there. Case in point: this Sour, which features a base of alcohol-free ‘gin’ Bôtan Citrus Spice. It gets its great texture from the use of egg white, and offers a “nice balance of sweet and sour”, according to our judges.
50ml Bôtan Citrus Spice
30ml Sugar water (one-to-two ratio)
25ml Lime juice
10ml Egg white
Lime zest, for garnish
Combine all the ingredients except the garnish in a shaker without ice. Shake hard to create foam, then add ice cubes to the shaker and shake again until ice cold. Double strain into a chilled coupe glass and garnish.
The Carajillo is a traditional Spanish drink that marries liquor with fresh hot coffee, and Licor 43’s version shows why it’s a classic. This riff is served over ice instead of hot, and is vigorously shaken to ensure the whole thing is creamy and smooth.
50 ml Licor 43 Original
1 Freshly brewed hot espresso
Combine the Licor 43 and espresso in a shaker and shake without ice. Fill the shaker with ice (a mix of large and small ice cubes works best) and shake again. Strain over fresh ice and serve immediately.
Winterful Mulled & Hot
Sometimes a mulled drink is the only thing that will do on a cold winter’s evening, and this recipe, made with Martin Miller’s Winterful Gin, should be the next one you make. Our judges enjoyed its “lovely balance of sweet and spice” and its “rich flavours”.
50ml Martin Miller’s Winterful Gin
125ml Lolea Sangria No.1
50ml Licor 43
Simple syrup or honey, to taste
Juice of one lemon or orange
Cinnamon stick and orange slice, for garnish
Combine all the ingredients except the garnishes into a saucepan. Bring to a simmer and reduce to taste. Do not boil. Pour into a heatproof glass and garnish.
Pur Sang Select Recipe No.7
The Espresso Martini has established itself as a favourite in the pantheon of modern classic cocktails, and this pour from soon-to-launch vodka brand Pur Sang is a great variation. The panel found it to have a “rich nose, good balance of chocolate and coffee with a hint of vanilla”. They also dubbed it “quite sessionable” – the perfect fuel for a night out.
45ml Pur Sang Select Vodka
30ml Cazcabel Coffee Liqueur
15ml Cherry and vanilla syrup
45ml Double espresso
Combine all the ingredients in a shaker filled with ice and shake hard. Double strain into a chilled coupe.
No.3 London Dry Gin & Tonic
No.3 London Dry Gin’s version of the classic G&T is all about highlighting the spirit’s flavour profile, which it does beautifully thanks to a thoughtful garnish of grapefruit and rosemary (it’s incredibly festive-looking, too).
50ml No.3 London Dry Gin
150ml Tonic water
Pink grapefruit slice and sprig of rosemary, for garnish
Combine the gin and tonic water in a Highball glass filled with ice. Garnish with the slice of pink grapefruit and rosemary sprig.