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A bartenders's guide to hot cocktails for winter

Hot cocktails for cold weather

When the weather starts to chill out for the year, many of us retreat indoors to stay warm and cozy, but what if you want to get a little tipsy while keeping the temperature up? Although high-proof spirits are known for their apparent body-warming capabilities, with some choice ingredients and a stove, you can make hot cocktails that will warm the body as well as the soul.

What you need to make hot cocktails

When it comes to hot cocktails, not all spirits are suited for the heat. Generally speaking, clear liquor doesn’t stand up to the other ingredients in most hot cocktails. Darker spirits, on the other hand, enhance the warm drink experience with their richer flavors.

Best alcohol to use for hot drinks

  • Whiskey (bourbon and rye): Most American whiskey can be split into these two categories based on the ingredients in their “mash bill,” the combination of grains that are used in the fermentation process. Rye whiskey, which must include at least 51 percent of the grain in its mash bill, is a bit more peppery and has a notably spicy finish. On the other hand, bourbon is sweeter and smoother while retaining much of the wood flavor from the barrel-aging process.
  • Rum: Although clear rum is a great spirit for daiquiris, gold, dark and spiced rum are the best choice for making sweeter warm cocktails. Gold rum is sweet and rich from barrel aging, just like bourbon, and has an amber color. Black or dark rum is similarly aged in barrels, only much longer than gold rums. It’s also usually made with caramelized sugar or molasses, adding to the dark and rich flavor. Spiced rum is also aged, but with the addition of spices like allspice, cloves, cardamom, star anise, cinnamon and nutmeg, giving it a fruity and piquant flavor.
  • Brandy: Made from distilled wine, brandy is a fruity and sweet spirit that is popular in Europe, especially in wine-producing regions. Cognac and Armagnac are the two most popular varieties of the spirit, each named for their region in France. Some are even aged in barrels or casks for a richer, woodsy and smoky flavor.
  • Whisky (Scotch): This malt or grain-based spirit originated in Scotland, the birthplace of whisky. It is known for its signature smokiness, derived from drying barley over roasting peat. Not all Scotch whiskeys are smoked, but to be considered true Scotch, it must be aged for at least three years in an oak barrel.
  • Red wine: This is the central ingredient in a classic warm winter drink, spiced mulled wine. The best reds for any hot drink are Merlot, Zinfandel and Garnacha, all of which possess dark, fruity and full-bodied flavor. 
  • Cordials: Several hot cocktails are enhanced with the addition of different flavored cordials, which are all low in proof (alcohol content). These include coffee liqueur, Irish cream, RumChata and creme de menthe.

Other ingredients and tools for making hot cocktails

Some other ingredients you will need, depending on the recipe, include a variety of whole spices (allspice, cloves, cardamom, star anise and cinnamon), lemons for juicing, other fruit such as apples, oranges or cherries, plus extras like honey and coffee. For equipment, you’ll need a stainless-steel saucepan, a hand-juicer for citrus, a muddler, an electric kettle and some Irish coffee mugs. Don’t forget a jigger or mini measuring cup for properly pouring your liquor!

Hot cocktail recipes for winter

  • Hot toddy: This drink is great during cold seasons, but it’s also popular as a remedy for a sore throat or cold. Pour 1.5 ounces of bourbon or rye whiskey into a warm mug, followed by 1 ounce of fresh lemon juice and 1 ounce of honey. Pour a little hot water and stir the ingredients until fully incorporated, then fill to just below the rim with more hot water. Garnish with a lemon wedge. Replace the American whiskey with Scotch for a smoky variation.
  • Mulled wine: Combine your assortment of spices with 2 ounces of brown sugar in a bowl and muddle until the ingredients are fully mixed. Add this to a saucepan with one bottle (750ml) of sweet red wine, 3 ounces of brandy, 3 slices each of apple and orange (with rind) and heat to boiling before reducing to a simmer, stirring as it heats. Heat the concoction on low heat for 30 minutes with the lid on. Strain out the solids, ladle into warm mugs and garnish with an orange slice
  • Kentucky Coffee: This American take on its Irish cousin calls for Buffalo Trace Bourbon Cream and a Kentucky bourbon — preferably, a sweet one like Maker’s Mark. Simply combine 1 ounce of bourbon and 1 ounce of cream liqueur in a preheated mug, fill with fresh, hot coffee, leaving enough room for a whipped cream topper. 
  • Spiked apple cider: In a similar process as the mulled wine, heat 1 gallon of fresh unfiltered apple cider in a saucepan with the same muddled spices and brown sugar, one sliced apple and half of an orange (sliced with rind). After heating on low for 30 minutes, strain the solids. Pour 1.5 ounces of spiced rum into a preheated mug, fill with mulled cider and garnish with a cinnamon stick.

What you need to buy for making hot cocktails

Bodum Melior Electric Gooseneck Kettle

With this electric kettle, not only will you have a necessary tool for making hot cocktails, you have all your hot water needs for brewing pour-over coffee or loose leaf tea. You can also preheat your drinking mugs by pouring hot water and warming them before making your cocktail.  

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Zulay Metal Manual Citrus Press

A hand-press juicer comes in handy when making hot and chilled cocktails. It’s easy to use and requires minimal cleanup. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Duxtop 1800W Portable Induction Cooktop

This isn’t a necessity, but an induction burner is the best appliance for making mulled wines, glogg and hot cider. You can more accurately heat your mixture with digital temperature settings and hold your drink at a proper serving temp. It’s also more energy-efficient than gas or electric stoves.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

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Matt Fleming writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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