It’s that ephemeral time of year when crunchy leaves provide a constant soundtrack, and one is able to participate comfortably in outdoor activities without adding more than a sweater. If last winter is any indication, we could be in for some very cold, very snowy weather in a few months, so it’d be wise to make the best of fall while it’s still here. Conveniently, with the slight chill in the air comes the beginning of brown liquor season. It’s not that we don’t drink it all year, but few things are more comforting than whiskey–in cocktails, with a beer, or sipped straight up–and for this reason it’s especially well suited to all the hunkering down you’re going to be doing. Here we’ve rounded up some of the standout whiskey cocktails around the borough; they should carry you through the best of times (now) and the worst of times (February).
The classic combination of whiskey, sugar, bitters, and citrus in an old fashioned is one of the few instances where “basic” is in fact a great descriptor. It is argued that a proper old fashioned should be free of any muddled fruit and let the whiskey shine, and though we won’t turn down the occasional glass full of boozy cherries and orange slices, we emphatically agree that simple is best.
Old Fashioned at Dynaco
1112 Bedford Avenue, Bed-Stuy
This drink is a great place to start at Adam and Ben Forgash’s Bed Stuy bar. Since opening in 2013, Dynaco has established itself as an intimate local bar (and for its popular, homemade chocolate cake). There is no official cocktail menu on offer, just a special of the day, which means there’s a good chance that the bartender will know how to make a variety of classics. This Old Fashioned features WhistlePig Rye and little else to muddy it.
Old Fashioned at Jack the Horse Tavern
66 Hicks Street, Brooklyn Heights
There’s a lot to love about Jack the Horse Tavern’s old New York vibes – the oyster room, the backstory (husband and wife Tim Oltmans & Micki Schubert spent 14 years working toward their dream of opening it), the decidedly yesteryear website with inexplicably cute images of vegetables at the upper right hand corners of each page. The cocktail menu is what we love the most, though, featuring proper drinks in proper tavern form. The house Old Fashioned is sweetened with brown sugar, lending molasses-like flavor. Order it, and stay for a bite.
Old Fashioned Menu at Tooker Alley
793 Washington Avenue, Crown Heights
Owner Del Pedro was inspired by the subversive 1920s Chicago speakeasy, the Dil Pickle Club (yes, one L), and opened Tooker Alley in 2012 in its spirit with a mission in mind: to serve up culture (or counterculture) with each cocktail. In that vein, the bar features entire menus that pay homage to an iconic recipe. The Old Fashioned menu is a near-academic drinking experience, with variations that include the archetypal recipe alongside new age versions, such as the Ruffneck Old Fashioned with nut-infused bourbon, sherry, molasses, and a double-hit of bitters: Peychaud’s and black walnut.
Rye (or bourbon), sweet vermouth, and bitters stirred together – usually in a 2:1 ratio – create a sultry and just-sweet-enough gestalt of a drink that feels perfect on a crisp autumn evening. When barrel-aged, a Manhattan softens around the edges, developing rounded complexity. There’s also room for creative improvisation, such as subbing out sweet vermouth for another fortified wine in about the same proportion. Many of these versions can be found around town.
Manhattan at Post Office
188 Havemeyer Street, Williamsburg
Post Office is one of the seminal high-end whiskey bars in South Williamsburg, offering a large selection of the rare stuff, an array of cocktails that highlight the high-proof varieties, and a food menu that compliments both. In its early days, the bar served just a few drinks — sours, Old Fashioneds, and Manhattans — the latter of which is still our favorite, though the selection is expansive now.
Barrel-Aged Manhattan at Char No. 4
196 Smith Street, Carroll Gardens
Char No. 4’s beverage manager, Allan Roth, is knowledgeable about his whiskey – and there are over 150 kinds of it behind the bar. We love that here you can order an ounce or two straight and the bartender puts the bottle in front of you – allowing you to do the drinking equivalent of reading the cereal box as you eat its contents. Look toward the barrel-aged section of the cocktail menu, and you’ll find an aged Manhattan, a smooth alchemy of Rittenhouse Rye, Antica Formula, and bitters that goes down too easily.
El Fuerte at Colonia Verde
219 Dekalb Avenue, Fort Greene
For cold weather, Colonia Verde is doubly perfect: the restaurant is known for its wood-fired oven, and the drink menu matches it in warmth and creativity. El Fuerte is a shrewd choice, featuring Mezcal Bourbon, Aperitivo Cocchi, and Orange Xcolatl Mole Bitters. It’s the textbook combination of whiskey, fortified spirit, and bitters, but with a little smoke, citrus, and chocolatey spice in the mix.
A Proper Scotch Cocktail
While we’re on the topic of smoke, we would be remiss to leave out scotch. A well-made scotch cocktail is complex, even polarizing, with peat, smoke, and heat that comes through nearly any permutation of ingredients (in a good way, for those who enjoy the spirit).
Penicillin at Brooklyn Public House
247 Dekalb Avenue, Fort Greene
It probably won’t help your November sniffles, but the Penicillin is an excellent way to enjoy two kinds of scotch (blended and single malt Islay). The one at Brooklyn Public House is textbook with fresh ginger and honey, shot through with lemon. It’s light and spicy with a smoky, citrusy twang; characteristics that also make it an appropriate daytime drink.
Death of a Ladies’ Man at Ramona
113 Franklin Street, Greenpoint
Ramona is the ultimate first date establishment in North Brooklyn, with its candlelight, hOmE-designed space, and strategic mirrors, but the cocktail list is an impressive collection for spirits nerds. The Death of a Ladies’ Man is a distinguished concoction of rye, maple, Laphroaig 10 Year, Lemon, and Tobacco Bitters. Though it’s named after a not-very-good Leonard Cohen album, the drink is a winner; we like the smoke and tobacco flavors that are tempered by spicy rye and citrus.
Glasgow Dram at Isle of Skye
488 Driggs Avenue, Williamsburg
The Isle of Skye boasts an impressive selection of scotch from each region of Scotland, as well as domestic and international varieties. Flights aren’t the only way to go; the cocktail list showcases the versatility of scotch’s many varieties (and includes a muddled fruit Old Fashioned with Bowmore Legend, for the pro-fruity Old Fashioned camp). The Glasgow Dram, with Auchentoshan Classic, Apple Cider, St Elizabeth Allspice Dram, orange syrup and lemon juice is like the festive part of winter in a glass.
There’s no getting around it: hot cocktails are comforting and, in a way, restorative (who hasn’t remedied a cold with a hot toddy?). The caramel warmth of bourbon, smoke in scotch, and spiciness in rye make whiskey the ideal spirit for hot drinks, as the temperature rise brings out these inherent qualities.
Hot Toddy at Battery Harris
64 Frost Street, Williamsburg
Jamaican food, frozen drinks, and outdoor seating aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when the sun starts setting at 5pm, but Battery Harris does a stand-up job at keeping its customers happy in the winter. The outdoor area features a heated canopy, and if last year’s deal of $2 Hot Toddies with star anise served all winter are a repeat this year, we’ll be there more often than not.
Spiked Cider at Troost
1011 Manhattan Avenue, Greenpoint
This coffee shop and bar offers intricate cheese and meat plates, beer and wine (plus a delicious mulled variation with brandy and clove-studded orange), and an picturesque outdoor terrace for warm days. But when the temperatures plummet, grab a candle-lit table and order the spiked cider, which comes infused with cinnamon and a hearty glug of whiskey or rum. We recommend the former.
Kentucky Nightcap at Fort Defiance
365 Van Brunt Street, Red Hook
There’s a section of the cocktail menu dedicated for what seems like a lot of occasions at Fort Defiance. Take for instance the “after dinner” section heavily peppered with digestifs and coffee-infused bourbon, or even the section name itself, “Some of our Dinner Cocktails,” suggesting that the bar has the cure for whatever ails you and it extends far beyond the constraints of a menu. Aside from a textbook Irish Coffee, made by adding two shots of Irish whiskey to the very best coffee you can get your hands on, The Kentucky Nightcap, with Four Roses bourbon, vanilla, and steamed milk, is the epitome of comfort any time of day, like a grown-up latte that subs the espresso bite for whiskey.
Though you probably won’t find us waiting in line for a pumpkin spice latte, we get excited when seasonally-inclined cocktail dens update their menus (which, right now, means a lot of apple drinks). Here are some new ones that we particularly like.
Washington County at Moonlight Mile
200 Franklin Street, Greenpoint
Greenpoint-based whiskey enthusiasts rejoiced when Garry Embry opened Moonlight Mile earlier this year, which offers over 175 American whiskeys as well as a respectable list of craft beer, on a convenient stretch of India Street. The Washington County cocktail, featuring cinnamon-infused Old Forester, Apple Cider and Blackstrap Bitters, is a spicy sipper of a drink that’s reminiscent of apple picking and holiday baking.
The Fly By Night at The Shanty
79 Richardson Street, Williamsburg
Doubling as a distillery and a bar, The Shanty is known most for its house (and pink) gin, but the entire cocktail menu is strong. The Fly By Night is on the just-launched fall menu is a precise example, with Rye, Botran Rum, Velvet Falernum, Cynar, and Burlesque Bitters, is served over ice, with lemon and orange twists. In this case, rye and rum go well together, as Botram rum is aged in whiskey barrels. Almondy Falernum and bitter Cynar balance each other out, and the heat and floral character of Burlesque Bitters punctuates the drink.
The Fogerty at Hotel Delmano
82 Berry Street, Williamsburg
The warm, transportive atmosphere at Hotel Delmano seems tailor-made for lingering over cocktails when cold weather strikes (and you could linger for a while, as the drinks list is long). The Fogerty is a bourbon cocktail that just hit the menu, with a smoky Islay scotch float, sage, angostura bitters and a flamed lemon twist.
The Old King at Five Leaves
18 Bedford Avenue, Greenpoint
The crowds love to line up at Five Leaves for brunch, but less known is that it’s a lovely place to sit with a cocktail and some oysters or a cheese plate. We prefer it then. Vincent Favella, the brand-new beverage manager who has spent time at The Modern, is infusing the drinks menu with his style and the season this week; one of the new options is The Old King, with Rye, Apple Brandy, Antica Formula and Angostura Bitters, garnished with an apple slice. We’ll be back to see what else he comes up with.
The Apple Turnover at The Clover Club
210 Smith Street, Carroll Gardens
Every fall, the O.G. Smith Street cocktail den, The Clover Club, puts The Apple Turnover back on the menu. Single Malt Speyburn 10 year, Apfel Korn (apple scnhapps), Calvados, lemon, and cinnamon and ginger syrup create a drink that has edge from the smoky scotch but homey sweetness from baking spices and apple liqueur. It’s a crowd favorite.
The Orchard Punch at Thistle Hill Tavern
441 7th Avenue, Park Slope
Thistle Hill Tavern looks like it’s been in the neighborhood forever (in a good way) and its long, dark bar is among our favorite places to sit with a burger and a strong cocktail, whether by day or on a cold night. Though the restaurant is known for classics, The Orchard Punch, which just hit the menu, is a smart seasonal offering. It features Rittenhouse Rye, unfiltered apple cider, spiced cranberry-apple syrup (toasted black pepper, cinnamon, star anise, cardamom pods, lemon and orange peel that’s deglazed with rye, clear apple juice, and fresh cranberries), and lemon juice. Shaken and served over ice in a rocks glass garnished with apple slices, it doesn’t get more sweater weather-appropriate than that.