These Are The Best And Worst Christmas Cocktails

The holidays are packed with traditions, like lighting a menorah, decorating a Christmas tree, or the gut-wrenching stress of gift shopping, as well as rituals unique to your family. With the winter holidays come decorations, music, and lots of delicious foods and drinks rarely served at other times of the year. 

Each time the holiday season comes around, a bevy of beverages get their brief moment as seasonal cocktails reappear on the menu. Whether you think of these drinks as Christmas cocktails, seasonal treats, or drinks that, for any other reason, you only sip in the dead of winter, the time has come for enjoying the best winter cocktails. That means, however, that this is also the season when some truly terrible drinks are brought back out. For every delectable glass of spiced rum and eggnog, there's an awful peppermint cocktail that tastes about as good as mouthwash and still leaves a coating of sugar on your teeth.

Here are the best and worst Christmas cocktails. Some you won't want to miss, while there are some we recommend you avoid.

When in doubt, stick to the classic cocktails like Martinis or enjoy the wonderful seasonal beers that come out every winter. On the other hand, if you truly love a cup of mulled wine or a Cranberry Gin Fizz, go ahead and sip any time of year you want. We'll even tell you the best way to make it, so it might actually taste better than usual.

Best: Eggnog with rum and spices

Eggnog (or egg nog, since both spellings are fine, by the way) is one of those drinks that is beloved by many, reviled by a few, and a mystery to the rest. Love it or loathe it, eggnog is inarguably a classic of Christmas cocktails. As Homer Simpson said: " 'Tis the season, Marge! We only get 30 sweet noggy days. Then the government takes it away again." Granted, you can find store-bought eggnog for a bit more than 30 days, but it's not around for long. 

Sipped on its own, eggnog can be cloyingly sweet. That's why it's best served with spices and, of course, booze. You can use bourbon, brandy, or various other brown liquors with your nog, but for a robust yet nuanced Christmas cocktail, it's hard to beat rum. And for the record, if you want to make your nog from scratch, more power to you. But store-bought is fine, and light eggnog is plenty rich and sweet, and usually the best choice.

Cocktail ingredients:

  • 6 ounces light eggnog

    2 ounces rum

    1 pinch ground nutmeg

    1 Pinch ground cinnamon

Prep: Combine rum and nog and stir thoroughly, then sprinkle spices atop. Best served in a mug or highball glass.

Worst: Candy cane cocktail

If you love a drink so sweet it's like sugar-sweetened with honey with a peppermint backdrop and a serious alcohol punch, then by all means give this candy cane Christmas cocktail a shot, so to speak. In case it's not clear, this is not an endorsement. The best thing a candy cane cocktail has going for it is its presentation. Properly mixed, and with a rim of cracked up red and white hard candy and a candy cane stirrer to boot, this is definitely an Insta-worthy cocktail. But it's just not all that good, so maybe after staging all those snaps for social, slink off and grab a nice craft beer instead, ey?

If you must make this cocktail, then here's how to do it:

Cocktail ingredients:

  • 1 part rum

    1 part white chocolate liqueur

    1 part peppermint Schnapps

    Candy cane for garnish

Prep: Combine booze in a glass prepped with broken candy cane bits on the rim or with candy cane stirring stick, then stir. Photograph and discard, or sip if you must.

Best: Mulled wine

If you hate the taste of mulled wine, then you're not alone. But, you probably are in a group comprised of unfortunate souls who have yet to have a great glass or, better yet, a mug of the stuff. Far too often people make mulled wine with so much sugar that it ends up tasting like sickly sweet kids' cough syrup rather than a rich, complex, lightly spiced, and deeply satisfying drink just perfect for a cold, dark winter night. Also, because some of the alcohol tends to cook off, you can sip several glasses without your memories of the said night going dark as well.

The key here is to use a rich red wine that's not too dry. The natural sweetness of a Malbec or Zinfandel, for example, means there's less need for added sugar or honey without sacrificing flavor. Provided you don't choose a bone dry or super sweet red, you can't go wrong. That is, unless you go with some exceptional bottle that has no business being sipped other than on its own.

Cocktail ingredients:

  • 3 cups red wine

    1 large orange, cut into the discs

    1 lemon, cut into thin discs

    1/2 cup brown sugar (or honey)

    2 cinnamon sticks

    5 whole cloves

    3 cardamom pods, cracked

Prep: Combine all ingredients in a slow cooker on low or pot on simmer and stir until sugar (or honey) dissolves. Simmer for another 30 minutes, then serve with orange slice garnish.

Worst: Hot buttered rum

Look, if they're made well, hot buttered rum Christmas cocktails can be delicious. But, if you care at all about your arteries, then it's really best to skip this fat-heavy libation. Instead, go for a hot toddy made with good whiskey, which will totally scratch that warm, savory cocktail itch. That said, warming cocktails containing butter and rum have been around for centuries, with a notable example of an early hot buttered rum drink found in How to Mix Drinks: The Bon-Vivant's Companion, first published in the year 1862. 

The recipe below is for a classic hot buttered rum. Note that you can enjoy this cocktail using a good deal less butter, which makes it a good deal healthier. And you can choose to go easy on the sugar, too, though we haven't here.

Cocktail ingredients:

  • 2 ounces dark rum

    4 ounces boiling water

    1 teaspoon sugar

    1 tablespoon butter

    1 pinch cinnamon

    1 pinch nutmeg

    1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Prep: Muddle spices together in a glass, then drop in a dollop of butter. Pour in the hot water, then immediately add rum and stir until butter is melted and all ingredients combined.

Best: Cranberry gin fizz

Fair warning: this drink tastes more like a delicious Christmas soda than a boozy concoction. Don't sip one when you're thirsty, because it will go down faster than water. On the other hand, gin is a light, refreshing alternative to all the hot and spicy Christmas cocktails you normally think of. It will surely be a welcome change of pace. And with sliced lime wedges, cranberries afloat, and garnishes of varied greenery, the cocktail makes a great looking accessory to your outfit and for your photos. By the way, if you could not care less about your holiday tableau photo-wise, more power to you, we're just saying is all.

There's plenty of latitude with this one. You may add more gin to make holiday banter with extended family easier or add less and amp up the seltzer to make a session sipper. And go wild with the garnish or take 'er easy.

Cocktail ingredients:

  • 2 ounces gin

    1 ounce cranberry juice

    1/2 teaspoons sugar

    1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice

    1/2 ounce elderflower liqueur

    2 to 3 lime wedges

    5 to 6 fresh cranberries

    1 large sprig thyme

    Seltzer water

Prep: Combine gin, juice, liqueur, and sugar and stir to blend. Add ice, then berries. Slightly squeeze and then add lime wedges. Top with seltzer, add sprig, and enjoy.

Worst: Black forest martini

People bandy the word "martini" around as though it could refer to anything. It's actually the name of one specific drink, namely the 007 go-to made with gin, vermouth, an olive or two, and occasionally a twist of lemon. That's it. Okay, a vodka martini is adjacent to acceptable, provided you say "vodka martini" instead of assuming it's already part of the drink. So, this particular cocktail already has some strikes against it, nomenclature- and culture-wise. The strike that gets it out, though? It usually comes out tasting like terrible cold medicine, not a cocktail at all.

With apologies to Nigella Lawson, who included a Black Forest Martini in her 2009 book Nigella Christmas, this one just needs to go away. But if, for some reason, you just need to try it, here it is for you.

Cocktail ingredients:

1 part vodka 

1 part cherry brandy

1/2 part crème de cacao

Prep: Combine all ingredients in shaker with ice, shake well, this discard and grab a beer. Or pour into a martini glass and "enjoy".

Best: Smoked old fashioned

Quick, name your desert island Christmas cocktails! That one mixed drink that's the only mixed drink you'll ever get to enjoy again! Did you say "old fashioned"? Great choice. There's a reason this OG cocktail has had two centuries of staying power: it's sublime. Made with bourbon or rye, bitters, sugar, a twist of citrus, and ice, an old fashioned is the height of elegant simplicity in quaffable form. 

While it's essentially impossible to improve on a well-made old fashioned, you can put twists on this stellar elixir that makes it perfect for varied occasions. For the holidays, the best variation is a bit of smoke. This can be literally smoke, by the way. To do that, you burn a bit of wood and let the smoke drift up into the glass, or else place a large bowl over the (safely) smoking wood and leave the prepped cocktail in there with it for a short time.

But, let's take the easy route here and use smoked bitters, shall we?

Cocktail ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 ounces bourbon

    1 sugar cube (or about 1/2 teaspoon sugar)

    2 – 3 dashes smoked bitters

    1 slice orange

    1 teaspoon water

    1 large ice cube

Prep: Muddle sugar into water until largely dissolved, then add bourbon and bitters and stir. Add citrus slice, then ice cube, and let it all rest a minute before sipping.

Worst: Champagne punch

Good Champagne belongs in a glass on its own and, occasionally, sprayed into the air and atop the heads of friends in celebration. It does not belong mixed up with lots of other ingredients that disguise, alter, and can outright ruin the delicate, delicious flavor of this sparkling libation. If you insist on making a Champagne punch, at least have the decency to use a cheap knock off, because you will hardly be able to appreciate the bubbly at the base of the beverage. Or, heck, use ginger ale and save the wine altogether.

Punch is a party mainstay, so, as sacrilegious as it may be to use Champagne in the mix, here's how to do so if you just can't go without.

Cocktail ingredients:

  • 3 cups Champagne

    1 1/3 cups ginger ale

    1 cup vodka

    1 cup cranberry juice 

    2 shots Triple Sec

    2 shots pomegranate juice

    Orange and lemon slices

    Fresh berries

Prep: Combine all liquids in a big bowl, top with fruit, and then regret using your Champagne like this.

Best: Irish coffee

Ah, Irish coffee. It's the perfect drink amongst all the Christmas cocktails to enjoy after a far too large holiday dinner when there are still hours ahead in which you'll swap gifts, tell stories, sing and laugh, and eventually get up enough energy to put the kids to bed. You can make your Irish coffee just a tad bit alcoholic, with the booze adding flavor but not much octane. Or, you can really go for it and make a full-on cocktail that just happens to use coffee as an ingredient.

We're meeting things in the middle here with a good but not overwhelming dose of liquor.

Cocktail ingredients:

  • 6 ounces strong black coffee, freshly brewed (or instant, because reality)

    1 1/2 ounces Irish whiskey 

    1 ounce cream liqueur

    Whipped cream for topping

Prep: Blend whiskey and liqueur into piping hot coffee and stir well, ideally in a lovely clear mug, then top with sweet cream. Then sip slowly. Oh, and you can always use decaf if you love the taste but hate the sleep disruption.

Worst: Mudslide

Provided Christmas dinner was a small house salad with balsamic vinaigrette dressing, followed by skipping dessert, then you can go ahead and enjoy a mudslide cocktail. If you ate heartily, however, probably best to leave this calorie bomb on the table. Properly made, a mudslide can pack in well over 550 calories, which is roughly equivalent to eating a personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut, according to a report from Solv Health. Also, this is not only a calorie punch, but also a deceptively strong drink that can leave you tipsier than you'd expect from what is essentially dessert on the rocks.

If you want to imbibe your holiday cocktail in the form of sugared, creamy booze, here's how to make a mudslide.

Cocktail ingredients:

  • 2 ounces vodka

    1 ounce Kahlua

    1 ounce Bailey's

    2 ounces heavy cream

    1 tablespoon vanilla ice cream

    1 teaspoon chocolate syrup

    Pinch cocoa powder


Prep: Drizzle chocolate syrup around the interior of the glass, then mix all liquid ingredients together in a shaker with ice. Shake well, then strain into glass and sprinkle with cocoa powder. (You can use some Swiss Miss if that's what you have on hand.)

Best: Christmas sangria

An ice-cold glass of tangy, fruity sangria is perfect on a warm summer afternoon. Ah, but a spiced glass of sangria is just lovely for cold winter nights, especially those one spent beside a warm fire. An awful Christmas sweater is optional.

Sangria is one of the most forgiving cocktails you can make because you can use so many different ingredients, from a wide variety of wine to different fruits to different spices, and still make a great drink. In fact, it's a great way to dress up a cheaper bottle of red wine, and your guests will be none the wiser. You can even switch up spices, so, for example, if you don't have star anise, go wild with a bit of pumpkin spice. Go ahead and put your own spin on things here.

Cocktail ingredients:

  • 750 ml bottle red wine 

    12 ounces seltzer water or sparkling white wine

    8 ounces brandy

    2 tablespoons sugar

    1 cup fresh cranberries

    1 orange, sliced

    1 lemon, sliced

    3 to 4 cinnamon sticks

    4 to 5 star anise, slightly crushed

    1 pinch nutmeg

    rosemary sprigs for garnish in cups

Prep: In a large pitcher or punch bowl, combine all ingredients except for seltzer water (or sparkling wine), cover, and let sit in fridge overnight. Immediately before serving, add seltzer (or wine), stir, then pour into glasses over ice and add rosemary sprigs.

Worst: Mimosa

While the mimosa is a mainstay of holiday open houses, cocktail brunches all year round, and many a hungover morning, it may not be a good choice for your Christmas cocktails. The mimosa is a drink that denigrates rather than elevates its two components, even if you are using good juice and good Champagne, Prosecco, Cava, or another bubbly. It's also a drink many bartenders secretly loathe, Thrillist reports, so think twice next time you're about to order one while out and about. 

If you've got delicious, fresh-squeezed orange juice and a bottle of decent Champagne, then by all means enjoy them. But drink them separately. If you have some store-bought juice and sparkling swill wine, then sure, go ahead and mix them into this uninspired but ubiquitous drink.

Cocktail ingredients:

  • One part sparkling white wine

    One part orange juice

Prep: Mix the two liquids together in a glass and then drink it. Then, have four or five more glasses until the hangover subsides a bit.