The Bar Code: Five Drinks to Warm Up To

As fall settles in and winter looms, it’s time to consider one of the oft-neglected corners of the drink world: the warm cocktail. While they’re pretty much irrelevant in hotter months, there’s something inarguably comforting about wrapping your hands around a nice steaming mug of hot, delicious, and intoxicating liquid when you’ve just come in from the cold.

Generally speaking, hot cocktails lean toward the sweeter side. While I’m not a huge fan of sweetness, some seems right in a warm drink. Maybe it’s because they feel like a treat we reward ourselves with for bearing yet another winter. Whatever the reason, here are five of my favorite steaming glasses of alcoholic goodness.

Chocolate-Covered Cherry I prefer coffee-based hot drinks. This, in particular, is one of my favorites. Though it requires a couple of somewhat obscure ingredients, it’s also amazingly delicious and very simple. Combine one ounce of dark creme de cacao, one ounce of Cherry Heering (a Danish cherry liqueur), and a half-ounce of Kahlúa or some other coffee liqueur. Then top with as much coffee as you like (I generally prefer about eight ounces with this much alcohol), and whipped cream if you’re feeling particularly decadent.

Green Toddy The hot toddy is, of course, one of the best-known hot drinks. It’s also extremely easy to make. A common preparation is just hot water, lemon, and honey, but I like to make mine with jasmine green tea instead. It lends a savory note to an otherwise sweet and boozy affair. Mix two ounces of brandy (you can use whiskey instead, but it tends to clash more with the tea’s flavor), a tablespoon of honey, a half-ounce of lemon juice, and eight ounces of brewed green tea. For a bit more exoticism and to add a complex spiced note, float a star-anise pod in it.

Hot Apple Pie Another favorite. It can be made with a rich non-alcoholic cider, but I like to make it with a drier hard cider, which gives the drink more complexity and better keeps the sweetness in check. Just mix six ounces of hot cider with two ounces of Tuaca (an Italian herbal liqueur), and garnish with whipped cream and some ground cinnamon.

Tom and Jerry If you’re throwing a winter party and want to impress your guests with a fun and yummy winter cocktail, this variation on egg nog is the way to go. These amounts are for one drink; scale up as needed for a larger batch. Separate the white and yolk of one egg. Beat each separately, then fold them together and place them in whatever mug you’ll be using. Gently and slowly stir in a half-ounce of simple syrup, an ounce of dark rum, and an ounce of brandy. Top it with either hot water or hot milk, which should be added slowly as well—you don’t want to cook the egg. I prefer to use milk, which makes a thicker and more luxurious cocktail. Stir the drink as you add the hot liquid, and garnish with grated nutmeg.

Hot Mess I’ll readily admit that this drink is not for everyone. The combination of flavors is a bit unusual, and those who don’t like herbaceous drinks will definitely want to steer clear. However, if you’re looking for more depth and less sweetness in a warm drink, this might be the one for you. It certainly is for me.

In a prewarmed mug or glass (see note below), combine one ounce Fernet Branca, one ounce bourbon, and a half-ounce of Cointreau or Triple Sec. Top with six to eight ounces of hot water. If the Fernet’s intense minty flavor is too much for you, substitute a sweeter and richer amaro like Averna. The drink can also be paired with coffee, though if you do, add a bit of simple syrup; the drink can get really bitter with a darker roast.

So there you go: Drinking in the winter doesn’t have to just be about Irish coffees and hot buttered rum! You can experiment with warm cocktails almost as much as with cold. Let me know what you think of these drinks, or e-mail me your favorite winter drink recipe.

One note: These cocktails will taste best and stay warm better if you preheat the glass or mug. Pouring in a bit of hot water and letting it sit for a minute or so is the best way to do this.

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