Nothing relaxes us faster on warm evenings than a cool, refreshing adult beverage. Come the depths of winter, however, the tables turn in favor of hot, spirited drinks designed to warm both body and soul and maybe even “cure” the common cold.
Anyone who has added a dollop of distilled spirits to a steaming mug has mastered the basics of cold weather cocktail preparation. But there is more to the process for those who want to brew up a truly special drink. The list below can serve as a primer for turning those mugs into little masterpieces of flavor and nuance.
For fans of our favorite breakfast beverage, there’s nothing like Irish Coffee to finish a delicious meal. Combine 1½ oz. of Irish whiskey with 2½ oz. of black coffee, add a teaspoon of brown sugar, then top with about an ounce of whipped cream and you have a taste of Auld Sod in your steaming cup.
That’s the basic recipe for just about all coffee drinks. Replace the Irish whiskey with 1 oz. each of cognac and amaretto, then top the whipped cream with shaved almonds, and you have French Connection Coffee. Replace the cognac and amaretto with hazelnut liqueur and peppermint schnapps and drop the almonds, and you have a Mad Monk. There are more complex variations, but you get the idea.
Like chocolate for cocktails
The approach is similar for hot chocolate-based cocktails, with different variations under the same whipped-cream cap. The nuances found in high quality chocolate help foster more creativity and often lead lovers of Adult Hot Chocolate, as the category is sometimes called, in a sweeter direction.
The basic alcoholic ingredient is peppermint schnapps, which adds more sweetness to the drink. Add 2 oz. of schnapps to hot chocolate and dust the whipped cream cap with chocolate sprinkles and you have what is variously known as Cocoanapps or a Peppermint Kiss. Dial the schnapps back to 1½ oz., add 1½ oz. of coffee liqueur and top the whipped cream with a Hershey’s Kiss and you have a Chocolate Kiss.
One of the more interesting variations, Oaxaca Chakas, calls for the spicier powdered chocolate from Mexico’s Oaxaca region and 2 oz. of aged, top-shelf tequila. Blend the chocolate and tequila with ¾ oz. of agave nectar, 1 oz. heavy whipping cream and 2 oz. milk. Top with the traditional whipped cream cap and enjoy.
Cider house rules
Hot toddies, which have long been considered an effective folk remedy for colds and flu, involve mixing multiple ingredients, including whiskey, water and honey, and then heating them. One can debate the medicinal properties, but it’s clear the drink provides its suffering imbibers with at least a little relief.
Some of the more interesting toddies can be made with apple cider, which imparts more character to the libation. The basic Hot Apple Toddy requires 2 oz. of whiskey or apple brandy, a teaspoon of sugar, and then garnishes of a lemon wedge, cinnamon stick and 2 to 3 whole cloves. To make the drink edgier, combine 1½ parts bourbon with 1½ parts cinnamon schnapps, ½ oz. fresh-squeezed lemon juice, a teaspoon of agave nectar and a fresh green apple slice and/or cinnamon stick garnish for a Hot Cinn Apple Toddy.
For something a little different, you might try single servings of Navan Punch, which is as complex in flavors as it is simple to make. Combine ½ oz. of vanilla liqueur with 1 oz. light spiced rum and 1 oz. apple juice. Add ¼ oz. lemon juice, a teaspoon of freshly squeezed ginger juice, ¼ oz. of maple syrup, 2 dashes of Angostura Bitters, and then garnish with pomegranate seeds and grated nutmeg for an exotic treat.
Fit to a tea
Hot tea cocktails can add a new dimension to your cold-weather libations. One of the simplest and best is a Chai Swizzle. To 3 oz. of freshly brewed chai tea add 2 oz. of Irish cream liqueur, 2 teaspoons of raw brown sugar, then stir and garnish with a cinnamon stick.
Tea also offers its own variation on the Hot Toddy – one that seems particularly medicinal. After coating the bottom of an Irish coffee glass with a tablespoon of honey, add 1 oz. of brandy, whiskey or rum, and the juice of ¼ lemon. Brew the tea separately, then pour the steaming tea into the cup and stir.
If that doesn’t “cure” what ails you, then you're not really sick.