A nightcap is meant to melt away the stresses of the day before entering slumber. Warm and comforting, experts say these after-dinner drinks are now hotter than ever.
“What defined a nightcap evolved over the 19th and 20th centuries, from champagne and coffee cocktails to stingers and frapped liqueurs,” explains Dale DeGroff, President of The Museum of the American Cocktail who recently judged a nightcap cocktail competition in New York City using Santa Teresa Rum.
Degroff says the nightcap is currently inspiring bartenders to get creative with drinks using heated spiced spirits, such as rum, which was once just reserved for summery refreshers.
“Nightcaps are trending in our industry as a result of a new movement fueled by quality spirits and craft bartending,” adds American Cut's mixologist Nick Nistico, the competition's winner who created "The Night Nurse" for the festivities. “Stirred and delicious, they are a perfect complement to the frigid winter months.”
Like the antique hat it was named after, the nightcap was created to keep patrons warm before bedtime. And unlike the standard cocktail, this drink, often prepared with amber-hued brandy, bourbon, or whisky, is meant to be sipped slowly to enjoy its heated elements, as if one were relaxing in front of a fireplace. It’s no wonder more bartenders are now experimenting with nightcaps to keep guests toasty and satisfied during those frosty nights to come.
“This is not the time for refreshing cocktails made with vodka and gin,” says New York City-based chef Sarah Ashley. “I like serving darker liquors like bourbon or even a smoky mezcal. You want a drink that’s mostly liquor, made for sipping. Something that warms you up is important.”
“In the fall and winter we tend to enjoy spirits that have some age on them,” says San Francisco-based mixologist Jacques Bezuidenhout, brand ambassador for Partida Tequila. “The nuances and flavors in those barrels that age tequilas, cognacs, and scotches line up with seasonal flavors, like cinnamon, vanilla, cloves, and dark chocolate.”
If the thought of venturing out into the cold for a nightcap is too adventurous on those frosty nights, you can easily make one at home. Experts say it’s crucial to invest in a high-quality dark spirit made for sipping alone. This will ensure a luxurious drinking experience, not a morning regret. If you don't know which one will best suit your personal taste, experts say a well-versed bartender will be able to provide some recommendations on a slow day at your favorite spot.
Also, don't forget to keep it simple.
“Don’t use any artificial juices or cheap mixers,” warns Bezuidenhout. “Do use great glassware. Enjoy alone or with great company.”
But can that one nightcap really make you sleep better? Studies indicate that drinking right before bed can actually disrupt sleep patterns. To avoid waking up tired and drained, doctors suggest sticking to one drink and finishing it least three hours before bedtime. Also, drink one glass of water for every glass of alcohol to prevent dehydration.
When mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim, who enjoys ending his night with a spiced apple toddy prepared with 10 Cane Rum and infused with “familiar, comforting ingredients” like cider, honey, and cinnamon, was asked for any additional guidelines on the nightcap, he had a few more tips to add.
“A nightcap is about having a delicious, soothing drink to sip at the end of a long day,” he says. “Your last drink should be set apart, so pick something special. Sip, savor, and enjoy. You deserve it.”