5 Essential High-Proof Cocktails

Cocktail 101

All the basics of the bar.


[Photograph: Jennifer Hess]

Y'know, it's funny. Every spring or summer, pretty much every publication that covers booze in some form, whether print or online, publishes a similar story: low-alcohol cocktails for warm weather. (I'm not complaining; I've done it too.)

But with an autumnal chill settling in, with various cultural and religious holidays approaching, and with the promise of hours locked inside with your family members, I thought maybe you'd want some advice on high-octane cocktails for a change.

Now, be careful. Drinks like these pack a wallop, and I don't want anyone having three of them and then going out to operate a bulldozer, teach a roomful of kindergarteners, remove someone's appendix, or vote in a presidential election (well, maybe the latter).

There are a couple of different ways to make high-alcohol cocktails. The first is easy. Take a regular cocktail and swap in higher-proof spirits.

Higher-Proof Old-Fashioned

Take an old-fashioned glass and fill it with ice; then, splash in some simple syrup, dash in yer bitters, and add a healthy three ounces of whatever nice high-proof bourbon or rye that you can find. Then maybe add a small splash of water. George T. Stagg is a great choice if you can find it. This year's release tops out at 142.8 proof, or 71.4 alcohol by volume. Sip it slowly and savor it, and then go take a very long nap. If Stagg is intimidating or too expensive, or if you simply can't find it, there are several great options in the 100–110-proof range.

Higher-Proof Martini


[Photograph: Jennifer Hess]

Martinis made with high-proof gin kick ass, and not in just the obvious knock-you-under-the-porch way. Several brands now offer high-proof gin; depending on where you live, you may be able to find Plymouth Navy Strength, Martin Miller's Westbourne, Junipero, New York Distilling Company's Perry's Tot, or Royal Dock Gin. Even if you use a healthy amount of vermouth (I like a 4:1 ratio of gin to vermouth), you still get get a boozy cocktail with a rich flavor.

Built to Be Boozy

Of course, simply using boozy spirits in existing cocktails is only one way to make a robust drink. You can also look for cocktail recipes that are built to be boozy. These are usually drinks that are built entirely around spirits (that is, they have no non-alcohol components such as juices or syrups), or they're built mostly around spirits, with little in the way of N/A mixers.



[Photograph: Jennifer Hess]

You build this one right, and ain't nothing in it but 100-proofers and up. Start with rye; I like Rittenhouse 100 in this. Add some applejack, preferably Laird's Bonded, also 100 proof. Finish with 110-proof green Chartreuse. Stir and strain and stand back.

Get the Recipe »

Negroni / Boulevardier / Etc.


[Photograph: Jennifer Hess]

Another family of drinks that's all booze. The Negroni, of course, is gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari. The Boulevardier is similar, with bourbon (or rye), vermouth, and Campari.

Another variant is the Kingston Negroni, from Death & Co. in NYC. The Kingston Negroni is even boozier than the original. It calls for Smith and Cross Jamaica Rum, a rich Navy-strength rum bottled at 57% alcohol by volume. This gets mixed with Campari and Carpano Antica sweet vermouth.

Last Word


[Photograph: star5112 on Flickr]

Another drink that capitalizes on richly herbaceous (and boozy) Chartreuse. This one blends gin (a high-proofer here will work nicely, but it's not necessary), lime juice, green Chartreuse, and maraschino liqueur.

Get the Recipe »

Of course, for high-proof drinking, a slug of whiskey, neat or on the rocks, always works. But this is a cocktail column.

How about you? What high-proof drinks do you reach for when the weather turns cold?

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