Hot cocktails are often left out of the conversation when it comes to celebrated, elegant builds: Too many glasses of saccharine mulled wine and overly spiced cider have left many of us with less-than-stellar taste in our mouths, and likely a hankering for a palate cleanser. But when properly balanced and constructed, warm drinks are endlessly comforting in the colder months, and are easy additions to an at-home bar repertoire. Hot Toddies take mere minutes to make, and a steamy Chaud Vert can function as dessert, too. And as some of our favorite industry pros work to satisfy guests in the colder months, they develop all-new hot offerings in the form of riffs on classics and totally innovative concepts.
For a little warm drink inspiration, we asked bartenders about their favorite hot cocktails. Here’s what they said.
The best hot cocktails, according to bartenders:
- Hot Toddy
- Hot Buttered Rum
- Spiked chai
- Irish Coffee
- Chaud Vert
- Rittenhouse Inn Wassail Punch
- Spiced warm wine and amaretto
- Spanish Coffee
- El Carajillo
- Hot Scotch Tea
“The classics are classics for a reason, and I’m a huge fan of the Toddy. I like to use nice bourbon, local honey syrup, fresh lemon and a cinnamon stick. It’s simple, classic, and feels as healing as chicken soup, but more fun. You can style it up to suit your preferences by using Irish whiskey or adding clove.” —Emi Guimond, beverage director, Public Display of Affection, Brooklyn
“One of my new favorites is a spiked chai latte. Chai has all of those wonderful warming spice tones that lend really well to whiskey. I like to pair it with a Japanese whisky so it’s a little softer and married well with a little oak milk, honey, and crème de cacao.” —Amy Racine, beverage director, John Fraser Restaurants, New York
“There is nothing wrong with the Irish Coffee. Coffee, Irish whiskey, sugar and cream: the original Espresso Martini.” —Alex Pisi, lead bartender, The Wells, Washington D.C.
“The Irish Coffee is the perfect hot cocktail. The cold, whipped cream on top gives it a luxurious, rich mouthfeel. The contrast from the cold cream to the hot coffee is really wonderful, and helps to warm you up straightaway. The flavors in the profile of the coffee match up really well with Bushmills Original: Think mocha, vanilla, dark chocolate, and baking spices. We grate some nutmeg on top to give the drink a warm, spiced aroma.” —Aidan Bowie, beverage director, The Dead Rabbit, New York
“One of my favorite hot drinks is a Wassail. Recipes always vary, but I like mine with Basque cider and Jamaican rum for a little extra intense flavor. I start with two bottles of Basque cider, and half a bottle of dark Jamaican rum. Add brown sugar, clove, allspice, cinnamon, and star anise to taste, and cut one to two oranges into wheels and add to a pot. Heat and stir until the sugar is incorporated. Then just keep on a low heat to serve. Garnish with a little orange half studded with clove. This is such a great drink for cold weather!” —Alex Anderson, bar manager, Takibi, Portland, Ore.
“As much as I love executing a proper Hot Toddy for guests, my favorite hot cocktail in my heart is the Chaud Vert. This classic is popular in the French Alps as an après ski drink, yet is perfect anywhere for winding down a cold day outside.” —Naomi Schimek, bar director, Soulmate, West Hollywood, Calif.
“Rittenhouse Inn Wassail Punch is my go-to hot cider come fall. I love anything cranberry, and here, it pairs perfectly with the fresh apple cider, bourbon, and baking spices. For the bourbon, I generally like to use something high proof to cut through the strong flavor. Nothing beats it on a cool Autumn night.” —James Coleman, beverage manager, Le Cavalier, Wilmington, Del.
“I like spiced warm wine and amaretto. Perfect cup of wine to warm your tummy after a long day in the snow. Best shared snuggled by the fire.” —Michaela Lee, beverage director, Hewing Hotel, Minneapolis
“My all-time favorite hot cocktail is a Hot Toddy. There are several varieties to the traditional recipe, which mainly consist of whiskey, hot water, lemon, and some type of spice or herb. I was first served it by a bartender who took pity on me when I reluctantly tagged along with my college friends to his bar despite fighting a winter cold. It was abrasive yet warming and I have loved it to this day whenever I start to feel a scratchy throat. I’ve served several riffs on this drink, using fresh ginger and star anise, or a fruity white pomegranate tea instead of hot water. Its varieties are endless, and the result is always a calming and cozy warm feeling reminiscent of sitting in front of a fire while winter storms outside.” —Bernadette James, in-house sommelier, The Living Room and Stages at One Washington. Dover, N.H.
“When you’re looking for spectacle in hot cocktails, you can’t beat the Spanish Coffee. It has a caramelized sugar rim from igniting overproof rum and triple sec, with nutmeg grated over to create a sparkler effect. Topped off with coffee liqueur, hot coffee and whipped cream, it’s a winter staple.” —Shawn Miller, beverage director, Forsythia, Philadelphia
“As soon as it starts cooling down in Chicago, I find myself reaching for a Hot Toddy. To spice up the Hot Toddy at Momotaro for fall, I like to add Japanese Brown Rice Green Tea (genmaicha) and split the base with Scotch and Awamori. Awamori is a rice distillate that is native to Okinawa, Japan, and it adds a deep sweet umami flavor to the cocktail. It reads like a Hot Toddy on paper, but on the palate the flavors are much deeper and complex. The roasted qualities from the tea remind you of a nice warm blanket, perfect for easing into a Chicago winter.” —Alex Nichol, Beverage Manager. Momotaro and The Izakaya, Chicago
“My go-to hot cocktail, undoubtedly El Carajillo, comes with a rich history in my home country, Spain. This classic drink has its roots in a time when Cuba was a Spanish province, and Spanish soldiers sought to muster courage before heading into battle. To create El Carajillo, one combines a delightful blend of ingredients, including Brandy de Jerez, Spanish coffee, a hint of cinnamon, and a touch of sugar. The unique twist to this drink is the method of preparation, which involves carefully flaming the mixture, resulting in a warm and invigorating beverage that has stood the test of time as a symbol of Spanish tradition and resilience.” —Miguel Sanchez Borrego, cocktail & couture manager, Waldorf Astoria, Chicago
“My go-to hot cocktail is a Hot Scotch Tea. Essentially, it’s a spicy riff on a Hot Toddy, using tea instead of hot water. I find the addition of the tea gives the drink a more interesting and complex flavor, and depending on your preference, you can mix it up with different teas. My favorites are Earl Grey or English Breakfast.” —Ruairi Gilles, beverage director, Crawford’s Social, Westlake Village, Calif.