As the temperature drops outside, fruity refreshers are swapped for slow sippers. Bartenders play around with dark citrus-driven cocktails and concoctions that are rich in flavour and heavy on complexity. Temperature also plays a key role here, with hot toddies, mulled wine and liquor-spiked lattes appearing as the drinking public embraces the cool season.

Sydney bar Apollonia has taken a classic yet contemporary approach with the current menu, which revolves around warming spices and barrel-aged spirits. Beverage Director Jason Williams talks to Hospitality about working with dark spirits, spices and everything nice.

When asked to define a winter cocktail, Jason Williams says it should generate a sense of warmth. “I don’t necessarily mean the temperature, but the flavours and sensations that psychologically make people feel more comfortable and fuzzier on the inside,” he says.

Cool-season drinks tend to be sweet and rich, evoking dessert-like characteristics. “Baking spices or stewed fruit, chocolate, vanilla and caramel are perfect for winter-style cocktails,” says Williams. “Cinnamon is probably the most common. If you drink a cocktail and the first thing you smell is nutmeg or cinnamon, it indicates it is going to be a warming cocktail.”

Certain spirits and liqueurs can also enhance and complement these flavours. Williams tips dark barrel-aged spirits as his go-to. “Anything aged in a wooden barrel for a long period of time is perfect for winter cocktails because you’re going to have an inherent sweetness from the spirit,” he says. “Particularly when it comes to American whiskies or rums because they’re made from a big sugar base. The volatile spirit interacts with the wood over a number of years and takes on its characteristics.”

Any dark spirit can also fit the bill, with common examples seen in quintessential winter cocktails. “Winter cocktails are traditionally dark spirit-forward Old Fashioneds, Manhattans and even simple two-ingredient cocktails such as a Whisky Mac, a Godfather or a Rusty Nail, which all have a dark spirit with a liqueur,” says Williams. “Other famous cocktails are literally hot drinks such as a Hot Toddy, hot buttered rum or Blue Blazer; they’re all quite spirit-forward cocktails and really pack a punch when heated up.”

Apollonia’s cocktail menu is geared towards classic Italian-style drinks that have been tailored to reflect the season. An example is the chinotto Manhattan which has a peppery foundation and uses a house chinotto-flavoured sweet vermouth. “We do a little twist on it with American rye whiskey as the base and then we use native Australian dry pepperberry,” says Williams.

The chinotto is reduced with vermouth before being combined with a juniper-based amaro from Never Never. “You’ve got lots of spice, dark citrus and aged spirits blended together in a spirit-forward cocktail,” says Williams. “We also add a few dashes of a homemade tincture.”

Another riff is the Old World Ways, which is a recent addition to the menu. The drink also uses American whiskey as its foundation. “It’s basically a macadamia chocolate and orange Old Fashioned,” says Williams. “We use Brookie’s Mac, which is a macadamia liqueur from Byron Bay, and some Australian orange liqueur from South Australia.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum is an amaro highball that proves a good winter cocktail doesn’t have to be high in alcohol content. “Amaros have perfect winter flavours,” says Williams. “They’re quite sweet, herbal and honeyed, so we lengthen that with fresh citrus, a little bit of strawberry and some eucalyptus to brighten it up. It’s still quite dark, herbal and moreish which is what you might expect from winter flavours, but it’s in a tall low-alcohol cocktail.”

Presentation is integral to building any cocktail, no matter the season, and choosing the right glassware is part of the process. “Glassware is important for winter cocktails because it also can add some comfort,” says Williams. “If you have a nice whisky on a big block of ice or an Old Fashioned, it will come in a double Old-Fashioned glass and have a pretty heavy base or a cut pattern. It’s quite thick and sturdy and indicative of what you’re drinking. You know it’s going to have a warming effect on the body and the mind.”

Whether it’s a classic cocktail or bespoke creation, the cool season is the perfect time for bartenders to experiment with heavier spirits and rich flavour profiles. A winter drink can be anything from a whisky-centric sipper to a drink that highlights citrus season with a cinnamon hit.