The Old-School Dinner Party Tradition That Deserves a Comeback

Whether you're dining out or hosting a dinner party at home, a nightcap is a fun, sophisticated way to wind down the evening. We've rounded up a few classic after-dinner drinks to serve at your next bash.

At the end of an evening filled with laughter and fantastic food, nothing beats pouring one more drink before calling it a night. A nightcap is the last act of a meal, traditionally used to help you digest and relax before heading off to the Land of Nod—not unlike a grown-up version of a warm glass of milk before bed.

Nightcaps can be a glass of dessert wine, a dram of spirits or a cocktail. They can be served warm, like a Hot Toddy, or over ice. If you’re entertaining, a nightcap makes for a lovely way to tie up the evening on a cheery note.

In need of a little inspiration? These are our favorite after-dinner cocktails to enjoy as a nightcap.

How to Make a Sazerac

Fans of more savory drinks will appreciate a beautifully mixed Sazerac. Born in New Orleans, it’s a tempting marriage of rye whiskey with an undercurrent of absinthe, tied together with bitters. The Sazerac is ideal for fans of complex cocktails.

Ingredients

  • Splash of absinthe
  • 1 sugar cube
  • 2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 2 oz. rye

Instructions

Coat a lowball glass with the splash of absinthe, then discard. Pop the sugar cube into a mixing glass, hit it with both bitters, and then muddle. Add the rye, fill the mixing glass with ice and give the mix a good stir. Strain into the absinthe-seasoned glass, garnish with a lemon peel, and enjoy.

How to Make a Brandy Alexander

Decadent and creamy, the Brandy Alexander is an utter delight if you’re in the mood for a sweet nightcap. This liquid dessert is a variation of the Alexander, a gin-based cousin which has largely fallen out of favor. If you’re partial to chocolate, this cocktail is for you.

Ingredients

  • 1 oz. brandy
  • 1 oz. creme de cacao
  • 1 oz. cream

Instructions

Pour all the ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake well, then strain into a chilled martini glass. Treat yourself right and garnish with a dash of freshly grated nutmeg.

How to Make a French Connection

This brilliantly simple cocktail calls for a mere two ingredients: cognac and amaretto. If you’re a fan of amaretto drinks, you should check out the Godfather (scotch and amaretto) and the Godmother (vodka and amaretto), as well.

Ingredients

  • 1½ oz. cognac
  • 1½ oz. amaretto

Instructions

Fill a lowball glass with ice. Pour the cognac and amaretto into the glass and stir gently. Yes, it’s that simple.

How to Make a Hot Toddy

As stellar as an after-dinner drink as it is to help soothe a sore throat, the Hot Toddy is an ideal nightcap come the winter months. You can use any spirit from bourbon or scotch to rye or even rum as a base. Be sure to add a few warming spices to take it to the next level for a real cozy treat.

Ingredients

  • 1½ oz. whiskey or other liquor of your choice
  • 2 oz. lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp. honey
  • Boiling water

Instructions

Pour the whiskey, lemon juice and honey into a mug. Fill the mug with boiling water and stir well. Garnish with a cinnamon stick and a clove-studded orange slice to make it a little more festive.

Other Nightcap Ideas

There are many other classic nightcaps like the White Russian or Espresso Martini to mix up post-dinner. You could also add a shot of Frangelico, whiskey or rum to your favorite hot chocolate recipe to make a tasty tipple to warm you on those icy winter evenings.

Remember, the key to a nightcap is that it’s nothing more than a final drink at the end of the evening. Whatever you choose, it will be a pleasant way to say goodnight before parting ways.

If you’re looking to sharpen your bartender skills, master these surprisingly good mixed drinks.

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Camille Berry
Part of the third generation in a family of restaurateurs, Camille was born with a passion for cooking and food. She embarked on a career in hospitality where she excelled as a sommelier and wine director. This hospitality experience has given her a wealth of first-hand knowledge about how to pair all manner of drinks with food—plus some serious kitchen skills. These days, she's hung up her wine key in favor of a pen and covers all aspects of food and drink.