The cocktails we crave in winter are different from those we tend to order in the warmer months. Gone are the gin-and-elderflower-liqueur mixes, the spritzes, and definitely the frozen margaritas. Our palates are looking for something with more grit, like a bourbon-and-malbec-based concoction. But it can be tough to find a winter drink that’s not overly sweet — think a basic boozy apple cider — or one that brings more to the table flavor-wise than a hot toddy. That’s why we scouted out the most complex cocktails with wintry ingredients in NoVA. These drinks are sure to give you plenty to think about as you sip — and they’ll evoke that quiet, cozy winter feeling, too.
This moody, subterranean Rosslyn cocktail bar is ideal for after-work drinks or a late-night date. While you’ll be very happy sipping a Sazerac or maple old-fashioned here, this winter, the Girls Just Wanna Have Pho is the star of the show. The broth-colored cocktail translates the flavors of pho — a Vietnamese soup dish with plenty of smokiness and depth, generally with star anise, cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom — into a sip-from-a-coupe format. Made with pho-spice-infused Belle Isle 100 Proof, aquavit, charred scallion, jalapeño, and cilantro, as well as fresh lemon and lime, it is every bit as spicy and smooth as the soup. You’ll be glad you challenged yourself to something different. 1201 Wilson Blvd., Arlington
If you’re looking for a hint of java in your drink but the espresso martini is old news, Vermilion’s appropriately titled for Valentine’s Day First Came Love will do the trick. (Although they offer a cold-brew martini, too.) With toasted pecan-infused bourbon, Cap Corse Rouge, Maryland walnut vermouth, and coffee bitters, it is a brilliantly well-balanced choice: It feels wintry and festive with just a hint of sweet spice, but it’s not at all overpowering. Sit along one of the picture windows facing King Street at this storied restaurant, which recently reopened after a pandemic hiatus, and take a moment to savor the flavors and the view. 1120 King St., Alexandria
MacMillan Whisky Room
This lively Mosaic District restaurant is offering a few winter-themed drinks: the Baked Apple is MurLarkey Cinnamon Whiskey, apple brandy, and egg white; the Cavalier is apple cider with cinnamon whiskey and honey-ginger syrup; and the Almond Joy to the World is rye whiskey, orgeat almond syrup, and walnut chocolate bitters. The Baked Apple was our favorite — not too sweet and pleasantly spiced, plus a pretty presentation to boot. Duck in for a welcome respite from the cold. 2920 District Ave., Ste. 155, Fairfax
The Study at Morrison House
The cocktails at this tucked-away boutique hotel bar have literary names. The Beautiful Little Fool comes from The Great Gatsby, when Daisy reacts at having a girl baby: “I hope she’ll be a fool — that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.” You, on the other hand, will not be a fool if you try this drink, made with rye bourbon and malbec with just a hint of triple sec, simple syrup, and lemon juice coming through. The bartender told us it was the most popular on the menu, and for good reason — the malbec creates just the right cherry-and-cocoa undertones to warm up your palate. The darkness is then balanced by the staple sweet ingredients, but not so much that the whole picture loses its gravitas. 116 S. Alfred St., Alexandria
This story originally ran in our February issue. For more stories like this, subscribe to Northern Virginia Magazine.