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Cinnamon Cocktails

Cinnamon is the seasonal star of the spice cabinet, so ubiquitous this time of year that a single whiff can strike a cord of cross-cultural nostalgia. A staple in cooking around the world, cinnamon is equally at home in drinks, and bartenders are increasingly getting to know the spice’s subtle power as a cocktail ingredient. It can impart an earthy warmth—balancing out savory cocktail elements, adding an aromatic touch to hot drinks and unifying flavors in cold ones. “Cinnamon to me is the brother or sister of ginger,” says Michael Arlesic, bartender at Sable Kitchen & Bar in Chicago. “It can be super savory and seasonal, or you can make it light and refreshing.”

Cinnamon easily and efficiently infuses into spirits; many bartenders opt for lightly aged rums or unaged brandies as a base, their soft, vanilla or fruit qualities complementary to the spice’s familiar flavor. Others use cinnamon in bitters, syrups and tinctures, like in the Overlook Hotel cocktail at Rob Roy in Seattle, in which a cinnamon tincture adds depth to a mixture of applejack, lemon, cherries and sugar.

At Sunshine Co. in Brooklyn, N.Y., bartender James Prendergast spikes the bar’s seasonal Hot Orchard Toddy with cinnamon syrup as a nod to childhood memories of mulled cider—though this version has the grown-up flavors of apple brandy, walnut and allspice liqueurs.

Meanwhile, at Barmini in Washington, D.C., Juan Coronado uses cinnamon syrup with aged tequila and smoky mezcal to mimic the flavors of his favorite Mexican holiday treat—sweet tamales—in a Margarita riff named the Cucuruccucu, after the coo a dove makes. “[Syrup is] a great way to get cinnamon into a cocktail,” Coronado says. “You can control the flavor easily, and you can always add more water if it becomes too spicy.”

Back at Sable, Arlesic summons cinnamon’s wintery nostalgia in the Fools in Paradise, made with cinnamon-infused pear brandy. When combined with the softness of wheated bourbon, lemon juice and celery bitters, the drink resembles a poached-pear dessert he once served at Christmas dinner. “It’s a crowd-pleaser,” Arlesic says of the drink. “A reminder of grandma’s apple pie, or the holidays with family.”

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