For several years in a row I hosted a Creepy Cocktail Party for Halloween. This was a great party to host, since much of it could be made ahead, simplifying the bartending process. The juices and mixers were prepared ahead of time and kept cold in a cauldron full of ice near the bar, with a handful of garnishes in easy reach. I found a short but sweet menu was key to keeping guests from feeling overwhelmed by too many choices, while also making the bartender’s job much easier. The drinks themselves are simple to mix and included something to suit every taste – gin, vodka, scotch, and even absinthe for the daring.
The menu included a morbid-sounding assortment of classic cocktails, accompanied by ghoulish treats like Witch’s Fingers and Cured Epidermis – both much tastier than their names suggest. Rounded out by a selection of mould cheeses and black grapes, the food was a snap.
Here is my favorite selection of vintage cocktails for Halloween. Let me know if you try one at your next party.
Bloody Mary (recipe by Martha Stewart)
The Bloody Mary is an easy choice for a Halloween gathering, with it’s reference to bloodthirsty women in history and folklore. Besides, who could resist a tall glass of deep red… tomato juice?
This recipe has a nice balance of flavors combined with a good kick from the horseradish. I prefer gin over vodka, because it adds an extra layer of complexity to the drink. Bonus: the amounts can be easily multiplied for a party.
2 oz vodka or gin
6oz tomato juice
2 tsp horseradish
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp lemon juice
dash hot sauce, if desired
1-2 dashes of celery bitters, if desired
Stir ingredients together with ice. Strain into a Collins glass filled with ice. Garnish with celery, pickled asparagus, cucumbers, olives, pickled cocktail onions, pickled carrots, or other veggies as desired.
To make a large batch for a party, mix 72 oz tomato juice, 1/2 cup horseradish, 1 oz Worcestershire sauce, 2 oz soy sauce, 1 oz lemon juice, 1/4 oz hot sauce, and 1/4-1/2 oz bitters. Use 6 oz of mix along with 2 oz of alcohol, letting your guests choose gin or vodka at the time you make the drink. Serves 12.
Halloween Garnish: rim the glass with black salt and add a radish and olive eyeball along with the ice cubes.
A variation on the Rusty Nail, this cocktail is sweet and spicy, just perfect for a cool autumn night.
1 1/2 oz scotch
1/2 oz Drambuie
1/2 oz Amaretto
Build on the rocks.
Halloween Garnish: 1-2 whole clove “nails” in the bottom of the glass.
Corpse Reviver #2 (from Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails)
A Corpse Reviver is traditionally a morning after cocktail, but don’t let that stop you from serving it at your Halloween soirée. It was described in the 1920 Savoy Cocktail Book as “to be taken before 11 am, or whenever steam and energy are needed.” However, drink with caution, since “four of these taken in swift succession with unrevive the corpse again.”
There are many corpse reviver recipes out there, but #2 is considered to be the most balanced and tastiest of the bunch. It’s light and fruity from the Cointreau and Lillet, but the gin and absinthe give it aromatic, herbal undertones that are quite intriguing.
1 oz gin
1 oz Cointreau
1 oz Lillet Blanc
1 oz lemon juice
3 drops absinthe
Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.
Halloween Garnish: Add a few pomegranate seed “blood drops” to the glass.
Death in the Afternoon
Don’t let the bubbles and simple recipe fool you, this drink is much more complex than it appears on the surface. It was invented by Ernest Hemingway, and much like man himself, it’s strong and decadent. Make sure your guests are watching as you pour, because as the wine mixes with the absinthe, the drink will magically turn from pale green to a cloudy white.
Note: Absinthe is usually served sweetened so taste, so try and pick a sweet Asti or sparkling wine for this drink. A dry wine will be too jarring, while sweetness of the Asti will enhance the flavor of the absinthe.
1 1/2 oz Absinthe
Asti or other semi-sweet bubbly
Add absinthe to a champagne flute, and top with Asti.
Corpse Reviver, Death in the Afternoon, Obituary… sense a theme? While it won’t actually kill you, the names for drinks containing absinthe tend to be a bit morbid, at best.
This drink is really just a Classic Gin Martini, with a touch of absinthe replacing half the vermouth. Gin and vermouth already have plenty of herbal undertones, so the anise and herbs of the absinthe blend well here, taking the drink to a whole new level. If you can’t find Plymouth gin, select another gin that focuses on citrus and juniper notes, and that is not overly floral.
Note: this drink is best served well-chilled, so use plenty of ice and stock some glasses in the freezer ahead of time.
2 parts Plymouth gin
1/4 part dry vermouth
1/4 part absinthe
Place ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Stir (or shake) and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Halloween Garnish: How about a mini tombstone to top it off?
Satan’s Whiskers, Curly or Straight (from Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails)
This is another variation on the Martini, this time the Perfect Martini. In this case, “perfect” doesn’t have anything to do with taste preferences, but designates a vermouth-based drink in which you use equal parts sweet vermouth and dry vermouth. It can also be used to describe other vermouth-based drinks, like a Perfect Manhattan.
Even if you’re not sure about gin, give this cocktail a try. Multiple layers of orange from the juice, liqueur, and bitters make it fruity but not too sweet, and the gin becomes an accent rather than the focus of the drink. It’s also one of the lowest alcohol drinks on the list, if you have some lightweight drinkers in your group.
1/2 oz gin
1/2 oz dry vermouth
1/2 oz sweet vermouth
1 oz orange juice
2 tsp Cointreau (for curly) or Grand Marnier (for straight)
1/2-1 tsp orange bitters
Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.
Autumn is a time for spiced apples and hot apple cider, and this cocktail is a grown up version of both. The base is the same flavor profile as a B&B, which is half Bénédictine and half brandy, and 100% delicious. The Calvados adds a hint of apple, while the Chartreuse and bitters add more spicy, herbal notes to the mix. You can use either yellow of green Chartreuse, but may want to cut back on the amount slightly if you choose the green, since it has a much stronger flavor profile than the yellow.
Don’t be deceived by the sweetness of this widow’s kiss, or you may be another of her victims. It’s easy to forget that all the ingredients are 80 proof or higher, making this drink much stronger than it tastes.
1 1/2 oz Calvados or apple brandy
3/4 oz Chartreuse, yellow or green
3/4 of Bénédictine
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.
Halloween Garnish: upgrade to a a Filthy Black Cherry.
Looking for even more Halloween Cocktail Recipes? Try these.