This remarkable feast for the eyes is a wintry mashup of a margarita and a pina colada, with a bit of blue curacao for good measure. (Image via The Ginger Fox in Winston-Salem) Snowflakes on the Beach
This remarkable feast for the eyes is a wintry mashup of a margarita and a pina colada, with a bit of blue curacao for good measure. (Image via The Ginger Fox in Winston-Salem)

The best drink makers across the state, from Elizabeth City to Charlotte to Morganton, give their picks for the best cocoa, cocktails and smoothies to sip this holiday season.

Top Shelf Co. owner and mixologist Justin Hazelton opened his cocktail consulting business last year in Charlotte. He helps businesses develop drink menus and create cocktails to fit the vibe of a restaurant or event. In 2021, Hazelton was named the Best of the Best Mixologist by Charlotte Magazine.

Hazelton didn’t have a mentor to teach him how to create drinks. He learned by working at restaurants, attending virtual seminars through the Tales of the Cocktail Foundation and reading “The Ideal Bartender” published in 1917 by Tom Bullock, the first African American to publish a cocktail book. “This career path chose me,” Hazelton says. “I really had a knack and a passion for it. I didn’t really have a person to guide me.”

For Hazelton the drink creation process begins by asking a few questions: What does he want to express? Who does he want to connect with? What ingredients are available? 

He looks for a spirit to complement the seasonal elements in the cocktail. Hazelton follows the rules of texture and flavor, but he isn’t afraid to experiment or make mistakes. “The concept of a mixologist is someone who goes deeper into flavors,” he says.

Like Hazelton, bartenders and mixologists are rolling out the winter drink menus all over North Carolina. Meet up with friends and family to celebrate the season and taste one of these holiday drinks:

Figgin’ Genius, Alley Twenty Six
Durham

The Figgin’ Genius shows off this Durham cocktail bar’s homemade fig syrup. (Photo via Alley Twenty Six)

Bartender and bar manager: Claire Catotti

The Figgin’ Genius highlights Alley Twenty Six’s Fig Cocktail Syrup with Lunazul Reposado Tequila, housemade rosemary syrup, orange and lemon. 320 E. Chapel Hill St., Durham

Brazilian Christmas, Magnolia Room
Morganton

Mixologist and general manager: Taylor Keefe

If you’re familiar with the Caipirinha, you’ll appreciate how Taylor Keefe adds a twist to this classic Brazilian cocktail. Using Cachaça, muddled lime wheels, house made hibiscus syrup and cinnamon simple syrup with a lime twist and a cinnamon stick garnish, she’s created a cocktail with a pop of Christmas cheer. “We have created layers of color using the green tinted bottom and gently adding the bright hibiscus mixture,” Keefe says. 400 N. Green St., Suite A, Morganton

Cacao No Cow, Electric Garden
Elizabeth City

(Image courtesy of Electric Garden in Elizabeth City)

Smoothie Makers: Samuel Bennett and Marsharel Moore

Electric Garden created the Cacao No Cow smoothie for Elizabeth City’s 2nd Annual Hot Cocoa Crawl. It’s a plant-based drink with banana, strawberry, cinnamon, oat milk dark chocolate cacao, vanilla, dates, honey and avocado. More than 30 businesses in Elizabeth City will feature hot cocoa drinks, with and without alcohol, from Nov. 29 through Jan. 15. 608 E. Fearing St., Elizabeth City

Christmas in Cairo, The Cardinal
Boone

Beverage director: Pete Baddour

This sumptuous drink is an ode to the Lebanese heritage of The Cardinal’s beverage director. (Photo courtesy of The Cardinal)

Pete Baddour’s Christmas in Cairo is an ode to his Lebanese heritage. The seasonal drink is made with bourbon, fresh lemon juice, fennel and pomegranate molasses and aquafaba (vegan) or eggwhite. Its finished with a dehydrated lemon and fennel frond garnish. The winter drink list is released on Dec. 20. 1711 NC-105, Boone

The Cinn-gria, DiVine Lounge
Southern Pines

Mixologist: Jordan Ervin

The Cinn-gria, a winter sangria, is made with Merlot, Broadslab Appleshine, citrus juice and cinnamon simple syrup. “The apple and cinnamon notes mixed with the warmth of the Merlot make this sangria taste like Christmas in a glass,” says Shannon Ervin, bar manager at DiVine Lounge. 390 SW Broad St., Southern Pines

Holiday Mule, Supperland
Charlotte

Image via Supperland/Tonidandel-Brown Restaurant Group

Mixologist: Colleen Hughes, named “Cocktail Guru of the Year 2022” by Esquire

With its Holiday Mule, Supperland adds a twist to the OG, Moscow Mule. This version includes vodka, orange liqueur, cranberry, lemon, anise syrup, ginger beer, fresh rosemary, fresh cranberries and a little holiday magic. The Holiday Mule is served on draft at all the Tonidandel-Brown restaurants in Charlotte: Ever Andalo, Growlers Pourhouse, and Haberdish. 1212 The Plaza, Charlotte

Last Light, Leah & Louise
Charlotte

This creamy drink from the decorated Charlotte restaurant Leah & Louise is inspired by the changing of the seasons.

Bar manager: Kayleigh Williams-Brown

Inspired by seasons changing, Last Light is made with Bacoo 8 Year Rum, heavy cream (substitute with coffee creamer or non-dairy milk), whole egg, sugar and fresh grated nutmeg. Camp North End, 301 Camp Road, Charlotte

Mulled Old Fashioned, Weldon Mills Distillery

Weldon

Make this classic cocktail festive. (Image courtesy of Weldon Mills Distillery)

Head mixologists: Kaleigh Davis and Brianna Neville 

Making this classic cocktail even better with Soldiers Cut Bourbon, infused with mulling spices, red wine cardamom simple syrup, aromatic bitters, ginger bitters, orange zest and a rosemary sprig. 200 Rockfish Dr., Weldon

Salted Caramel White Russian, Snap Dragon 

Burnsville

The salted caramel white Russian, a sweet and salty twist on another classic cocktail. (Image via Snap Dragon)

Bartender: Joe Minnich

This sweet and salty drink is made with butterscotch schnapps, vanilla vodka, Kahlua, and cream and served in a salt rimmed glass. 107 Town Square, Burnsville

Snowflakes on the Beach, Ginger Fox
Winston-Salem

Bartender: David Bowen, North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association Mixologist & Distillery of the Year, and Maddie Fox

Snowflakes on the Beach is featured on Ginger Fox’s Nutcracker-themed holiday cocktail menu. “It’s a wintry cocktail mashup of a margarita and a pina colada with blanco tequila, overproof rum, housemade cinnamon coconut cream, pineapple, lime and a dash of blue curacao,” David Bowen says. 400 W. 4th St., Winston Salem