8 Hanukkah Cocktails to Celebrate the Festival of Lights

Greg Horton, ReserveBar Spirits Contributor


Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, is an 8-day celebration of the rededication of the temple in the second century B.C. with a focus on giving, gratitude and food. The word “hanukkah” or “chanukah” means dedication, so it’s often referred to as the Feast of Dedication. Unlike Passover, with its focus on wine, Hanukkah doesn’t have cocktails associated with the celebration. However, the emphasis on festive foods creates an excellent opportunity to pair traditional favorites with both classic and modern cocktails. We have one for every day of Hanukkah paired with a festival dish.

Applejack Sour Cocktail


Perhaps the most famous of the traditional dishes, these potato pancakes are fried in oil, as most Hanukkah foods are because the “miracle of Hanukkah” involved oil. The basic recipe is just russet potato pancakes with salt and pepper to taste, but families often serve them with applesauce or sour cream. With or without applesauce, an Applejack Sour is an excellent accompaniment to the salty, starchy pancakes. The maple syrup in the sour adds lovely symmetry to both sweet and savory latkes.

Combine all ingredients in a shaker tin with ice. Shake well and pour over ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with nutmeg or dehydrated cinnamon apple slice.

Manhattan cocktail for Hanukkah


Jewish families have their own recipes for beef brisket, so there are a multitude of possibilities from simple salt and pepper seasoning to dry rub to more exotic combinations. Whatever the approach, bourbon and beef are meant to be together, which means a classic Manhattan will be the ideal pairing. A little sweetness from the bourbon and vermouth contrasts nicely with the savory, spicy brisket.

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir until the components are blended well. Serve up in a Nick and Nora or Coupe, and garnish with an Amarena cherry.

A Marini for Matzo Ball Soup


Matzo ball soup is a staple at many Jewish celebrations, not just Hanukkah. As such, recipes can change seasonally, but most use a chicken broth or stock. The matzo balls are soup dumplings made with the traditional unleavened bread, called matzo or matzah. Alone, they are light and simple, so the addition of stock or broth is important. Since chicken is the common choice, herbs are usually sage, herbs de Provence, or another staple. It’s the perfect combination to pair with a Vesper. The complexity of the Lillet and the bite of lemon peel should draw out the herbal tones of the broth without overwhelming the dumplings.

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir until well blended. Serve up in a martini glass and garnish with lemon peel.

Sazerac cocktail for Regelach pairing


Rugelach pastries are typically served as a Hanukkah dessert, but the filling can include raisins, fruit compotes, chocolate, and walnuts. Pairing cocktails with a dessert dish is challenging enough without all those layers of flavor in the pastry, so the cocktail needs to be assertive without being dominating. Sounds like a perfect instance for a Sazerac.

Rinse a chilled rocks glass with absinthe and set aside. Combine remaining ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir until well chilled. Serve neat in the rinsed rocks glass and garnish with a lemon peel.

Dark and Stormy pairing for Kugel


Might as well call it what it is: Jewish comfort food. The noodle dish can range from barely savory to very sweet. Mostly it’s at least a little sweet. Egg noodles are the preferred base, and sour cream, eggs, and cottage cheese are common ingredients. The addition of raisins, sugar, and cinnamon makes it a mashup of dessert, main, and side, so pairing is tricky. Treating the kugel like a custard helps — all the ingredients are there — and the raisins seem to demand a dark rum. Hence, the Dark and Stormy is an excellent choice. Ginger and lime help cut through the fat and dark undertones to complement the crispy, almost burnt noodles on the edge.

Combine all ingredients in a Collins glass with ice, stir with a bar spoon, and garnish with a lime wedge.

Berry Vodka cocktail pairing with Knish


The potato and cheese-filled pastries are treated like appetizers during the festival, but they’re heavy, and more so with the inclusion of sour cream, which means one will do before a meal. It also means that the cocktail needs to be light and bright to complement the starchy, fatty goodness. A berry vodka smash should do very nicely with this one since the abundance of berry and citrus will add more interesting notes to an otherwise heavy-toned dish.

  • 2 oz. Absolut Vodka
  • 3-4 Berries
  • 1 tsp. of Fruit Jam (preferably same as the berries)
  • ½ oz. Fresh Lemon Juice
  • ½ oz. Simple Syrup

Muddle berries in a rocks glass or stemless red wine glass (make sure it’s sturdy) and set aside. Combine the remaining ingredients in a shaker tin with ice and shake until well chilled. Strain over ice and muddled fruit. Garnish with a fresh sprig of rosemary.

 Reposado Old Fashioned pairing with Gelt


The chocolate version of gelt coins came from the Jewish custom of giving children coins for Hanukkah, the idea being that children would then give the money for charitable causes. Over time, the chocolate coins emerged as an echo of the tradition, as commodities do. Because it’s a pretty straightforward flavor profile, we get a chance to slip in a good tequila in the form of a Reposado Old Fashioned. Using Mexican chocolate or another savory bitter will complement the simple chocolate in the gelt as well as bring out the chocolate undertones in the tequila.

Combine ingredients with ice in a mixing glass and stir until well chilled. Strain over a large cube in a rocks glass and garnish with expressed orange peel.

Irish Coffee pairing with Sufganiyot


We saved the hardest to last. How do you pair a cocktail with a jelly-filled donut? Why would you? In the case of Hanukkah, these treats are the ones that both children and adults look forward to the most, so the pairing needs to complement the jelly, not compete with it. A simple Irish coffee is perfect here because delicious coffee with a donut is a classic for very good reasons.

Simply add the whisky to your cup of coffee, and top with fresh whipped cream.

As there are no specific cocktail traditions surrounding Hanukkah, cocktail fans should feel free to explore other pairings ideas. Maybe you want a contrast instead of a complement, or perhaps you want sweet with salty or sweet with sweet. You can find pleasantly surprising variations by swapping out base spirits, even if it’s just a bourbon for a different whiskey.

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