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The 5 Best Nightcap Cocktails To End the Day Right

Two glasses of Hot Toddy with cinnamon sticks on a piece of cloth. A quality nightcap can be the perfect preface to a good night’s sleep. No, we’re not talking about the hilarious garment people used to throw on with their pajamas just before bed. We’re referring to a fine mixed drink served up just before you say farewell to the day.

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What’s a Nightcap?

A cup of Hot Toddy with cinnamon sticks on saucer beside walnuts on a wooden table. Simply put, a nightcap is a drink one has just before bedtime. The drink itself is meant to promote sleep and, arguably, some do this better than others. Most cite the Hot Toddy as the original nightcap drink but there are actually quite a few that function in a similar fashion. These are not the tequila shots and coffee cocktails that start the party. Instead, these drinks inspire deep exhales and playlists built around ambient music. And for the record, they don’t have to be boozy. If you’re off the sauce, try things like warm milk, non-caffeinated tea, warm cider with baking spices, or hot chocolate. If you’re looking for something quick and easy, try a spoonful of wild honey.

Do They Work?

A glass of Brandy Alexander with a cup of cocktail behind it on a table. There’s a science to at least some of it. Obviously, alcohol makes a person sleep. Other ingredients, like milk, contain calcium and tryptophan, both known to promote sleep. What tends to work best is the simple comforting aspect of many of these drinks. Those served warm are easier to snuggle into and beg for added coziness by way of blankets, robes, and dimmed lights. Those made with amaro may promote digestion, which makes settling into bed much easier. An overly full stomach can be a recipe for tossing and turning well into the wee hours. Some prefer the antioxidants that naturally occur in things like wine and wine-based spirits, like Cognac. A sip of Hennessy or Cabernet Franc pre-bed can certainly take the edge off and may actually do good things for your blood pressure. Better still, you can warm a red wine up via mulled wine, incorporating all of those cozy ingredients like orange peel, cinnamon, and clove. Here are five of the best recipes to try as you explore the sleep-inducing world of the nightcap.

Hot Toddy

Two glasses of Hot Toddy with cinnamon sticks on a wooden table. There are a lot of great Hot Toddy recipes out there and while we encourage you to mess around with other ingredients like tea and fruit liqueurs, it’s tough to outdo this gem. Ingredients:

  • 2 oz bourbon (we suggest Templeton rye)
  • 4 oz hot water
  • 1 oz lemon juice
  • .5 oz honey syrup*
  • .5 oz orange juice
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 orange slice
  • 1 whole clove

Method:

  1. Pour hot water into a glass to temper it. This ensures that the glass doesn’t cool your drink (it’s a hot toddy, not a lukewarm toddy).
  2. Next, squeeze the lemon and orange juice using your method of choice, cut off an orange slice, and slip pieces of clove into the orange.
  3. Pour out the hot water you used for tempering the glass, then add bourbon.
  4. Splash in your lemon juice, orange juice, and honey simple syrup. Next, add your cinnamon stick and be-cloved orange slice.
  5. Pour in about 4 oz of hot water and stir.

*Honey Syrup: Heat equal parts honey and water until the honey dissolves.

Brandy Alexander

A glass of Brandy Alexander with nutmeg on a table. This classic cocktail blends so many sleep-inducing ingredients, from Cognac to heavy cream and nutmeg. You’re free to try warming it up too if that’s your thing. You can play with the Cognac selection, too, although we like what Death & Co. has done with the drink here. Ingredients:

  • 1.5 oz Pierre Ferrand Ambre Cognac
  • 1 oz Giffard White Creme de Cacao
  • 1 oz heavy cream
  • nutmeg for garnish

Method:

  1. Shake all ingredients with ice.
  2. Double strain into a chilled coupe.
  3. Garnish with a few grates of nutmeg.

Scotch & Soda

Two refreshing glasses of Scotch and Soda. They don’t come much easier than this. Here, you get the stomach-settling effect of club soda with the warmth and pleasant drowsiness of Scotch. Ingredients:

  • 2 oz Scotch whiskey
  • 4 oz club soda
  • lemon twist for garnish

Method:

  1. Fill a glass with ice and pour Scotch over it.
  2. Add the club soda slowly but don’t bother stirring.
  3. Garnish with some citrus, like a twist of lemon.

Walnut and Maple Old Fashioned

A glass of Walnut and Maple Old Fashioned beside walnuts.
Photo Credit: Vinepair

Not only is this drink from Natalie Migliarini supremely autumnal, but it’s also incredibly soothing. If you don’t like maple syrup, simply don’t add any, as the walnut bitters are capable enough on their own of really complementing the whiskey. Ingredients:

  • 2 oz bourbon
  • .25 oz of pure maple syrup
  • 3 dashes of walnut bitters
  • 1 cup of ice
  • cracked walnut for garnish

Method:

  1. Add all ingredients into mixing glass.
  2. Stir to chill and combine ingredients.
  3. Strain into serving glass over fresh ice and garnish with cracked walnut.

Reverse Manhattan

A close-up of Steve the Bartender's hand holding a glass of Reverse Manhattan.
Photo Credit: Steve the Bartender/YouTube

This evening delight switches things up by calling for twice as much vermouth as rye. The result is a simple but satisfying drink that nudges you towards the cool side of your favorite pillow. Ingredients:

  • 2 oz sweet vermouth
  • 1 oz rye whiskey
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • lemon twist or cherry for garnish

Method:

  1. Stir all ingredients in mixing glass with ice.
  2. Strain into a chilled glass and garnish.

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