Many classic cocktail recipes call for ingredients to be shaken or stirred with ice, and served in a pre-chilled glass. But when temperatures drop, kettles, saucepans, and mugs overtake the cocktail shaker, ice tray, and coupe glass as the most important tools in a home bartender’s arsenal. These tools will help you make hot cocktails.
While a simple dram of whisk(e)y will put fire in the belly, nothing compares to a drink that provides physical warmth and a gentle alcoholic buzz. Thankfully, there are several traditional recipes to choose from, some of which are even believed to help fight pesky winter colds. Others use up leftover ingredients cluttering your pantry.
To help survive the cold winter months, here are six of the best hot cocktails to make at home.
Likely the only classic cocktail whose origin story traces back to the tarmac of an international airport, the Irish Coffee is believed to have been invented in 1943 by an employee at Ireland’s Foynes Airport.
The story goes that Joe Sheridan, head chef at the airport’s restaurant and coffee shop, served steaming mugs of Irish whiskey mixed with coffee to the departing passengers of a New York-bound flight that had to make an unscheduled stop because of bad weather. When one of the passengers asked him if it was Brazilian coffee in the mug, Sheridan replied, “No, that’s Irish coffee.”
The recipe has seen numerous upgrades in intervening years, with the best examples sweetened by Demerara simple syrup and served with a luxurious cream float. Rich, full-bodied, and with just the right amount of booze, this cocktail is an ideal afternoon pick-me-up during holiday season, and serves a perfect dessert alternative following a hearty meal.
Though prescribing alcohol for medicinal purposes has fallen by the wayside since the introduction of modern medicine, when it comes to fighting off those wearying winter colds, nothing beats a Hot Toddy.
The beauty of this hot cocktail is compounded by both its simplicity and versatility. Traditional recipes call for boiling water, whiskey, honey, and lemon juice. But introduce a tea bag into the equation and you add an extra layer of complexity, and a range of extra flavors to play with. Don’t like whiskey? Rum, cognac, and fruit brandies work seamlessly in its place.
Traditionally served cold, the Penicillin is a Scotch-based cocktail that’s flavored with ginger, lemon, and honey, and served with a smoky, peated single malt float. During the cold winter months, the drink can also be served warm in a riff on the Hot Toddy, with ginger adding a gentle bite and further helping clear blocked sinuses.
By heating all the ingredients with a few splashes of water, the hot preparation of the Penicillin ensures that all the honey dissolves — which is not guaranteed when shaking over ice — and extracts more flavor from the freshly sliced ginger. The optional step of adding a peated single malt float, which might not be to everyone’s taste, brings further nuance and a seemingly endless smoky finish.
Get VinePair’s Penicillin recipe here.
Tom and Jerry
Another hot variation on a cocktail that’s classically served cold, the Tom and Jerry is a descendant of eggnog developed sometime in the early 19th century. The drink sees warm milk and extra booze (brandy, rum, or bourbon — your call) added to a traditional eggnog base. (Homemade ‘nog is preferred, though store-bought, to quote Ina Garten, is also fine.)
When combining the ingredients, the drink should be stirred constantly to avoid curdling and to develop a rich, velvety foam. Finish with a grating of fresh nutmeg (there’s no substitute here) and you’ll never want another cold ‘nog in your life.
Get VinePair’s Tom and Jerry recipe here.
Hot Buttered Rum
Long before bulletproof coffee splashed onto the scene, butter was consumed in liquid form mixed with rum, hot water, sugar, and spices — better known as Hot Buttered Rum. In its most basic, traditional form, the recipe mixes a knob of butter with rum, hot water, and sugar. But modern interpretations add further steps and extra ingredients to the drink’s preparation.
Many bartenders suggest whipping the sugar, butter, and spices (cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg) into a smooth batter, then stirring in the hot water and rum until combined. Others add ice cream to the batter, dialing up the sweetness and providing a richer, creamier consistency. As you might imagine, unlike bulletproof coffee, this particular cocktail is not attributed to helping weight loss.
Get VinePair’s Hot Buttered Rum recipe here.
Ideal for wine lovers, this drink warms with both its temperature and ingredients, combining heated red wine with citrus fruits, sugar, and spices such as cinnamon, cloves, and star anise. Its heady aromas are synonymous with colder months, while the ease of its preparation makes mulled wine the perfect punch for winter parties.
Much like the Hot Toddy, mulled wine is a versatile concoction, offering a home for half-empty open bottles of wine and leftover baking spices bought for seasonal desserts like baked pies and poached fruits.
Get VinePair’s roundup of the best mulled wine recipes here.