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End the day right with the 6 best nightcap cocktails

Try one of these delicious nightcaps to close out your day

Two cups of hot toddies with cinnamon sticks on a piece of cloth.
mizina / Adobe Stock

A nightcap is not just a funny hat that people used to wear long ago to bed. It’s a kind of cocktail, too, one that warms the soul and can send you right off to slumber town. Here, we break down the end-of-day drink and offer some quality recipes to boot.

These recipes involve all your favorite spirits, from rye whiskey and cognac to bourbon. You can make them individually or as big-batch cocktails to keep your evenings cozy all week long. So, before you slip into your favorite pajamas, visit the home bar and whip one of these great nightcap cocktails up.

Side view of cup of hot toddy with cinnamon on saucer and nuts walnuts on wooden background
Unique_Track / Shutterstock

What’s a nightcap?

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 quite a few that function similarly. 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.

A glass of Brandy Alexander with a cup of cocktail behind it on a table.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Do they work?

There’s a science to at least some of it. 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 naturally occurring antioxidants in things like wine and wine-based spirits, like cognac. A sip of Hennessy or cabernet franc pre-bed can take the edge off and may do good things for your blood pressure. Better still, you can warm up a red wine via a mulled wine, incorporating all those cozy ingredients like orange peel, cinnamon, and clove. Here are some of the best recipes to try as you explore the sleep-inducing world of the nightcap.

Two glasses of hot toddies with cinnamon sticks on a wooden table.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Hot toddy

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 ounces bourbon (we suggest Templeton rye)
  • 4 ounces hot water
  • 1 ounce lemon juice
  • 1/2 ounce honey syrup*
  • 1/2 ounce 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 cloved orange slice.
  5. Pour in about 4 ounces of hot water and stir.

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

A glass of Brandy Alexander with nutmeg on a table.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Brandy Alexander

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. But we don’t find that to be all that necessary. You can play with the Cognac selection, too, although we really like what Death & Co. has done with the drink here.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 ounces Pierre Ferrand Ambre Cognac
  • 1 ounce Giffard White Creme de Cacao
  • 1 ounce 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.
Two refreshing glasses of Scotch and Soda.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

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. It’s a classic cocktail recipe for a good reason, it’s simply timeless. You can use any Scotch that suits your fancy, and you probably don’t need to use a single malt here since you’ll be mixing. If you’re looking for a Scotch suggestion, try one off our list of some of the best Scotches out there.

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces Scotch whiskey
  • 4 ounces 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.
A glass of walnut and maple old fashioned beside walnuts.
Vinepair

Walnut and maple old fashioned

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 ounces bourbon
  • 1/4 ounce of pure maple syrup
  • 3 dashes of walnut bitters
  • 1 cup of ice
  • Cracked walnut for garnish

Method

  1. Add all ingredients into a mixing glass.
  2. Stir to chill and combine ingredients.
  3. Strain into serving glass over fresh ice and garnish with cracked walnut.
A close-up of Steve the Bartender's hand holding a glass of Reverse Manhattan.
Steve the Bartender / YouTube

Reverse Manhattan

This evening delight switches things up by calling for twice as much vermouth as rye, a reverse from the classic Manhattan recipe (hence the name Reverse Manhattan). The result is a simple but satisfying drink that is perfect for that time of night when you are looking for a drink that nudges you toward the cool side of your favorite pillow.

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces sweet vermouth
  • 1 ounce rye whiskey
  • 2 dashes of Angostura bitters
  • Lemon twist or cherry for garnish

Method

  1. Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice.
  2. Strain into a chilled glass and garnish with the lemon twist or cherry.
New York Sour
Image used with permission by copyright holder

New York Sour

It may be strange to name a nightcap cocktail after the city that never sleeps, but trust us, the New York Sour is the perfect drink for when the evening is coming to a close and you’re thinking about heading off to Dreamland. This drink is essentially a whiskey sour, but with some sleep-promoting red wine floated on top.

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces rye whiskey or bourbon
  • 1 ounce lemon juice (freshly squeezed is preferred)
  • 3/4 ounce simple syrup
  • 1 egg white (optional)
  • 1/2 ounce red wine

Method

  1. Add the whiskey, lemon juice, simple syrup, and egg white (if using) into a shaker with ice.
  2. Shake until it’s well chilled.
  3. Strain the mixture into a rocks glass filled with ice.
  4. Using a bar spoon, slowly pour the red wine into the glass so the wine floats on top of the drink.

Editors' Recommendations

Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
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