Food & Drink

Warm up with the cocktail menu this winter

The Caribbean Holiday, on the Allen Street Grill’s Christmas flavors drink menu, combines small-batch rum, coffee and vanilla.
The Caribbean Holiday, on the Allen Street Grill’s Christmas flavors drink menu, combines small-batch rum, coffee and vanilla. Photo provided

With Christmas and New Year’s Eve past, the chilly winter ahead may be looking a little bleak. Thankfully, the bars around State College have just the solution to keep you festive and in high spirits until spring. With winter cocktail lists boasting some of the best and most creative libations of the season, you’re sure to find an option to strike your fancy.

If a cozy mix of apple brandy, honey, ginger and locally-sourced cider sounds like just what you need, head to Local Whiskey in downtown State College for the popular Apple Toddy, served warm and garnished with an orange peel. One of the venue’s big winter sellers, it competes with the Seasonal Gin and Tonic for menu star of the season.

Local Whiskey, known for its expansive collection of spirits, plans to add even more new whiskeys to its menu this month, knocking the overall total to more than 300. Tim Riefel, general manager since the bar’s opening, stresses that those who may be a little intimated by the bar’s focus shouldn’t be shy. The talented bar staff are more than happy to point out easy introductions to the world of whiskey, or even make up a customized cocktail for non-whiskey drinkers on the spot, using an array of the other liquors and beers on the menu.

Need a little more? The bar is hosting a whiskey tasting dinner in February, featuring a unique and educational experience led by distillery representatives, with more details to come.

Nearby, the Allen Street Grill is giving those still in the holiday spirit the chance to savor their favorite Christmas flavors throughout the month of January. With four newly-created winter concoctions on the cocktail menu, any of the options are a fantastic choice.

The vibrant and subtly sweet Mistletoe Martini is described by bar manager Dan Haskins as a “candy cane in a glass,” and it does not disappoint. For bar-goers wishing they were somewhere a little warmer, the Caribbean Holiday combines small-batch rum, coffee and vanilla for a stronger and more masculine look and taste. Childhood flashbacks with a little vodka mixed in come in the form of the Ho, Ho, Hot Chocolate. The special-order marshmallow vodka used is limited and also available in the Moscow Yule.

Regardless of where you happen to be drinking this month, most bartenders will agree that flavor is key.

“This year we went with a lot of blood orange and hard cider for our fall/winter drink menu,” said Valerie Thurnau, the assistant general manager at Gigi’s Southern Table. “We are also using some really great spice flavors and the smokiness of mezcal to create that layered richness that every one is looking for during the colder months. We try to keep things seasonal using blood orange, pear and pomegranate as our key ingredients with supporting liqueurs flavored with clove and allspice.”

Gigi’s is releasing two Big Spring Spirits cocktails on draft this month, and you’ll still be able to find your fun favorites on the menu. The best picks for festivities and maybe even an Instagram pic or two? According to Thurnau, that would be the After the Hunt cocktail, featuring Champagne, orange liqueur and pomegranate, and the Gator, with gin, blood orange, lime and topped with an IPA.

Lastly, stop by the Nittany Lion Inn if you like your drinks with a touch of history. Sean Caviston, the restaurant operations manager, sommelier and wine director, emphasizes the menu’s play on decades past. Each cocktail on the carefully curated Winter Warmer menu has a story behind it, and Caviston’s can’t-miss is the Espresso Martini. The simple, yet flavorful, drink was created in London in 1983, when one patron asked, in a somewhat more direct manner, for something that would give her both a jolt of energy and a bit of a buzz. Try the Espresso Martini alongside the other warming, wintery drinks available, and then try your hand at making your own at home.

Holly Riddle is a freelance food, travel and lifestyle writer. She can be reached at


1 oz. Kahlua

2 oz. Absolut vodka

1 shot espresso

Dusting of chocolate powder

Combine Kahlua, vodka and espresso in a cocktail shaker with ice; shake vigorously before straining into a martini glass. Add a dusting of chocolate powder on top.