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Warming Winter Cocktails to Make Right Now

December 11, 2013

All photos by Tara Striano

In María del Mar Sacasa’s native Nicaragua, the temperate climate meant that warming winter drinks were a foreign concept. No hot apple cider. No mulled wine. No hot toddies.

"Growing up, there really was none of that," del Mar Sacasa us. "It is definitely something that I started paying a little more attention to when I started living in New York."

The food stylist and recipe developer was so charmed by them that she wrote a book on the topic: Winter Cocktails, published this fall by Quirk Productions. 

The tome covers a range of impressive seasonal staples—hot cocktails, punches and party snacks—along with several variations on classics such as eggnog and hot chocolate. And, thank goodness, they’re all pretty easy to execute.

One of the most interesting? Classic mulled wine, turned on its head. Del Mar Sacasa swaps the traditional base of red wine out for white, spicing it with sage, thyme, lemon rind and peppercorn. 

Another standout is a chamomile- and pear-infused gin elixir. Fizzed up with Champagne and sweetened with honey syrup, it’s sleepy chamomile’s sexed-up debut. Don’t be discouraged by the advance planning the drink requires––the spirit needs to infuse for three to five day. Del Mar Sacasa’s instructions are easy-peasy.

Of course, it’s impossible to talk winter cocktails without mentioning eggnog. Del Mar Sacasa’s rompope, the Mexican version of the drink, is light, sweet and a touch tart thanks to the addition of lemon rind—a far cry from the stuff you find in the grocery store aisle. Finely-ground almonds add a velvety note. ”It winds up being this really frothy, really delicate drink,” says del Mar Sacasa.

Seem too far-flung from the traditional nog you know and love? This stuff goes way back—it was first concocted by nuns in a Mexican convent in the 17th century. Turns out nuns are our holiday party inspiration this year. We didn’t see that coming.

Mulled White Wine

Serves 4


  • 2 tsp. black peppercorns
  • 2 tsp. whole cloves
  • 1 750-ml bottle white zinfandel
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 small bunch sage
  • 1 small bunch thyme
  • Rind and 2 Tbsp. juice from 1 lemon
  • 1 cup pear eau-de-vie or brandy
  • 1 firm, ripe pear, peeled, cored and thinly sliced

Place peppercorns and cloves in a medium saucepan. Stir over medium heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add wine, sugar, sage, thyme and lemon rind and juice and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring until sugar is completely dissolved. Reduce heat to lowest setting and simmer for 10 minutes.

Strain mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl and discard solids. Return mixture to saucepan and stir in eau-de-vie and pear slices. Simmer over medium-low heat until pears are fork-tender but still retain their shape, 8 to 10 minutes. Serve.

Sweet Surrender 

Makes about 13 cups, Serves 24


  • 1 750-ml bottle chamomile-pear infused gin or vodka
  • 2 cups brewed chamomile tea, chilled
  • 2 cups honey syrup
  • 1/4 fresh lemon juice, strained
  • 2 750-ml bottles champagne, chilled
  • One large ice ring or ice cubes, for serving

For the chamomile-pear infused gin or vodka

  • 1 cup dried chamomile flowers
  • 2 pears, peeled and diced
  • 1 750-ml bottle gin or vodka

Place flowers and pears in a 1-quart airtight glass jar or other lidded container. Pour in gin or vodka, close tightly and shake. Store in a cool, dark place for 3 to 5 days, shaking jar 2 to 3 times a day to redistribute ingredients.

For the chamomile tea

  • 2 1/2 cups of water
  • 1/2 cup dried chamomile flowers or 8 chamomile tea bags

Bring water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add dried chamomile or tea bags and allow to steep until mixture comes to room temperature. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing down on solids to release all liquid. Discard solds.

For the honey syrup

  • 1 cup honey
  • 1 cup water

Combine honey and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring, until honey is completely dissolved. Let cool to room temperature and store, refrigerated, in an airtight container. Syrup will keep indefinitely.  

Stir infusion, tea, syrup and lemon juice together in a punch or other serving bowl. When ready to serve, stir in champagne. Add ice ring to bowl or ladle each drink into a glass containing ice cubes. 


Serves 6 to 8


  • 2/3 cup blanched almonds
  • 1 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar, divided
  • 6 cups whole milk
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • Rind of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 8 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup white rum or aguardiente

Pulse almonds with 2 tbls of the sugar in a food processor until ground to a fine paste.

Bring milk, cinnamon, lemon rind, vanilla and baking soda to a boil over medium-high heat in a large heavy-bottom saucepan. Reduce heat to a medium-low and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk egg yolks, the remain 1 1/2 cups sugar, and ground almonds until thick and pale. Remove cinnamon and lemon rind and discard. Whisking constantly, slowly add the milk to the yolk mixture.

Return mixture to pan and cook over low heat, constantly stirring and scraping the bottom and sides of the pan, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, 5 to 7 minutes. set aside to cool completely, about 2 hours.

Stir in rum or aguardiente. Serve.