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The Best Spirits for Spiked Hot Cocoa, According to Bartenders

We can all rejoice in the fact that 2020 is finally over. Some of us probably rejoiced a bit harder than others and may need to take a break from booze for a while. For the rest of us, although one of the most infamous years in history is behind us, we’re still not so sure things are going to instantly become wonderful just because a one replaces a zero.

We’re keeping our liquor cabinets stocked so we can be prepared to take the edge off of whatever this new year can throw at us. With at least three more months of frigid temperatures to look forward to, we’re all looking for a great hot drink that can warm us in more ways than one.

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When seeking comfort, hot cocoa is always a top pick. The rich, sweet flavor can send us all back to fond childhood memories of winter. Plus, with a little dash of some tasty adult spirits, your inner child and jaded adult self can become better acquainted. We polled bartenders from across the country on their favorite spirits to add to hot cocoa and got some interesting suggestions. So, grab a mug, the hot chocolate, and one of these spirits to make a great spiked hot cocoa.

Dewar’s Ilegal Smooth Mezcal Cask Finish Blended Scotch

Looking for a spiked hot chocolate that will put some hair on your chest (not that any of us need more of that)? Just add a liberal pour of Dewar’s Ilegal Smooth. Caitlin O’Rourke, Bar Manager at Moonrise Izakaya in New York, gave us this suggestion. He says, “For a boozy hot chocolate, we’re fans of Dewar’s Ilegal Smooth. It lets the cocoa be the star but leaves you with the smooth, malty warmth you expect from scotch, with a surprising hit of smoky mezcal at the end. It’s a perfect way to warm up on a chilly winter night.”

Antica Black Sambuca

Anitca Black Sambuca added to your hot cocoa will bring a rich flavor to your already sweet treat. This Italian liqueur packs a 76-proof punch and has a deep Calabrian licorice taste.  Shawn Stanton, bartender at The Skip in Detroit, says, “The anise flavor mixes very well with the hot cocoa and tastes like Christmas cookies!” What more reason do you need to give this a try?

Rumple Minze Peppermint Schnapps

There’s a good chance you recognize this stuff from your grandma’s liquor cabinet. The reason is, the sweet-minty elixir is suitable for a nip on its own or can be mixed in unsuspectingly with almost any beverage. Hot cocoa is one particular drink that seems made for Rumple Minze peppermint schnapps. Robyn Barnsdale, bartender at Market North End in Birmingham, Michigan says, “The sweetness of the schnapps and the cocoa meld together and make you feel like you’re drinking a chocolate candy cane.”

Wild Turkey Bourbon

Whether you drink or not, chances are you’ve heard of Wild Turkey Bourbon. But, when you think of the dirty bird, a shot and a beer may come to mind before mixing it with your sweet, chocolaty beverage. However, the spicy, earthy flavor profile of bourbon lends itself to pair nicely with cocoa. Demi Natoli, Bar Manager at the White Limozeen at the Graduate Hotel in Nashville, agrees. “Wild Turkey gives you the kick you’re looking for but also pairs well with not only the cocoa, but also other flavored liqueurs.” She states.

Green Chartreuse

Green Chartreuse

If you’ve spent a lot of time at bars in the past five to 10 years, you’ve probably witnessed the rise in popularity of this brilliantly-colored spirit made from 130 different plants and herbs. The secret recipe has been passed down by Carthusian monks at the Grande Chartreuse monastery since 1737 and packs an impressive 55% ABV to warm you up on a cold winter day. Noah Eikoff, bartender at Iron Horse in Royal Oak, Michigan, strongly recommends this spirit and says it’s way more versatile than people give it credit. “It’s sweet, but also earthy and slightly bitter. Its complexity gives hot chocolate a delicious, unique taste.” Says Eikoff.

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Dixie Southern Mint Vodka

When thinking of hot chocolate the two things furthest from your mind are probably the South and NASCAR. Yet, when you spike your hot cocoa with Dixie mint-flavored vodka, you’re using the official Vodka of NASCAR right out of South Carolina. NASCAR aside, Dixie mint-flavored vodka is a perfect pairing with your hot chocolate. The mint flavor fuses nicely with the cocoa, not adding any additional sweetness like other liqueurs or schnapps can. Not only is it tasty but it’s also sustainable, thanks to Dixie’s work to preserve honeybees. Tyler Rothenberg, Beverage Director of Handcraft Kitchen & Cocktails, says, “Dixie Southern Mint Vodka simply makes your hot cocoa that much better. It’s great for a chilly winter night, and an added perk is you can know you’re supporting an eco-conscious brand.”

Becherovka

Once known as Karlsbader Becherbitter, this herbal spirit is made by the Jan Becher company in the Czech Republic. This two-century-old liquor is referred to by some as the original Fireball because of the cinnamon, ginger, and menthol flavors that stand out in this complex brew of over 20 ingredients.  CJ Catalano, beverage director at the elite Fairmont Century Plaza hotel in Los Angeles, recommends a dash of Becherovka in your hot cocoa to tantalize your tastebuds. ” It’s an herbal potable bitter, often drunk as a digestive aid, although it truly shines as an addition to your hot chocolate. It has the familiar winter warning notes of ginger and cinnamon, although its full recipe remains a secret. This option is less floral than other alpine options but is far more mature than sneaking a dose of peppermint schnapps into your cocoa.” Says Catalano.

PB&W Peanut Butter-Flavored Whiskey

PB&W Peanut Butter Flavored Whiskey

It’s tough to argue against the peanut-butter-and-chocolate flavor combination: This blend is fully ingrained in American culinary culture for a good reason. Owner & bar manager George Reilly of The Twisted Tail in Philadelphia likes to pay homage to this dynamic dessert duo by adding PB&W Peanut Butter Whiskey to his hot cocoa: “If you want something adventurous but packed with fun, PB&W is made for the occasion! It is a peanut butter whiskey; how can you go wrong? Not only will you pump up the potency of your hot chocolate, but, um … peanut butter! Say no more!”

Don Julio 1942 Añejo Tequila

Don Julio 1942 Anejo

“For an overcast or chilly afternoon in the winter months next to the Pacific Ocean in Malibu, I prefer to mix hot chocolate with tequila,” says bar director Josh Curtis of Carbon Beach Club Restaurant in Malibu, CA.  “I especially enjoy a bottle that has a rustic aroma of butterscotch and dried grass like Don Julio 1942 añejo tequila. When you infuse this tequila with toasted pumpkin seeds, there is a nuttiness that pairs nicely with the cinnamon and white pepper tasting notes of this aged agave spirit. Tequila and hot chocolate are natural flavor-profile friends from the beginning, so the churro-flavored finish this tequila imparts performs a delightful dance with the hot cocoa.”

Amarula

Amarula

Hot cocoa includes a creamy texture, so it stands to reason that a cream liqueur would make a satisfying spirits partner for this winter wonder. Los Angeles bartender, TV host, and Neft Vodka brand ambassador Luke Barr offers up a unique choice for his favorite cream liqueur for hot chocolate: Amarula. “I was first introduced to cream liqueurs by my mother. She loves a good, creamy, and velvety cocktail like a White Russian or an Irish coffee. Pretty much anything creamy and sweet. When she decided to go on an African safari in 2009, I couldn’t resist the urge to join her. Once in Africa, we were quickly introduced to Amarula, a cream liqueur made from the marula fruit. My mother and I were fast fans of this spirit, as it blended like a coffee creamer but could also be sipped on over ice like Baileys. We spent every night by a fire with new friends drinking creamy and sweet concoctions all made with this almost-nutty fruit liqueur, [and] our favorite was one made with hot chocolate, whipped cream, and dried orange,” Barr says of this South African specialty.

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