Light the Fire: Warm Alcoholic Drinks for Winter Sipping

– Written by Jane F. Garvey

Asking for a warm cocktail usually gets odd looks from most bartenders, but Staplehouse’s Ben Richardson jumped right in and took hold of the assignment. I wanted something simple but warming, and double good if it used a Georgia-produced spirit.

Disappearing behind the restaurant’s tiny kitchen area, he emerged with a hot cup of Earl Grey tea. Into that, he stirred a half-ounce of lavender honey, a quarter ounce of lemon juice, and a jigger of Atlanta-based ASW (American Spirit Whiskey) Distillery’s “Crossing,” Quadruple Malt whiskey. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this spirit go to The Giving Kitchen, which Staplehouse supports with all of its proceeds.

“Crossing,” a Quadruple Malt whiskey by American Spirit Whiskey, may be tasted and purchased at the Atlanta-based distillery.

This smooth spirit is exclusive to Staplehouse, although it may also be tasted and purchased at the distillery. It added just the right touch to this off-the-cuff concoction. The coup de grace was a perfect strip of orange zest.

One of my favorite warm cocktails is a warm Bullshot, a request for which will puzzle most skilled bartenders. And typically, if they know the drink, they make with tomato juice, thinking it’s a riff on the Bloody Mary, and serve it on the rocks.

Well, here’s news, all you millennial mixologists: The drink is an old one, going back to the 1950s when it seems to have emerged from Detroit’s Caucus Club, which just this year re-opened under new ownership after a five-year hiatus. Based on beef consommé – Campbell’s beef broth was traditional – it includes a jigger of vodka, the juice of a wedge of lemon, a couple of hits of Tabasco or other hot sauce and a couple hits of Worcestershire. Served on the rocks, it finishes with a few grindings of black pepper.

But I like it warm. Apparently, so did Victor Jules Bergeron, Jr., known to most everyone by his nickname, Trader Vic. I no longer remember how my preference for the warm version evolved, but here’s how I make it: First, heat some beef or veal stock. If not homemade, use a good commercial beef stock, such as Kitchen Basics. Then add a jigger of vodka per cup. The Tabasco and Worcestershire additions sound like a good idea, but I’ve not done that. (Might next time, though.) Then I finish with a slice of cucumber – although you could do a thin slice of lemon – floating on the top.

Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward Distillery is known for its vodka but also makes gin, and attributes to Andrew Baker, formerly with Octane Coffee (Arts Center and Grant Park), this “Pearman’s Toddy.” Simple to make, the drink starts with two ounces of O4D’s gin to which are added a half ounce each of cinnamon simple syrup and lemon juice and seven dashes of Angostura Bitters. Top with hot water, and garnish with a cinnamon stick.

Georgia’s Richland Rum, which has just opened a distillery in Brunswick, makes a hot coffee drink that combines 2 ounces of Richland Single Estate Old Georgia Rum and 4 ounces of dark roasted coffee. It’s enhanced with the sweetness of half an ounce of the distillery’s ‘Almost Rum’ Pure Cane Syrup. Stir together and finish by gently pouring a thin layer of heavy cream over the stirring spoon.

Georgia’s Richland Rum, which has just opened a distillery in Brunswick, adds its rum to espresso coffee to make a hot coffee drink enhanced with the sweetness of the distillery’s single-estate rum and Richland’s “Almost Rum,” a pure cane syrup. Make full-strength dark roast coffee – I like it extra strong – and to four ounces of coffee, add two ounces of rum. Add a half ounce of the syrup, and finish with a thin layer of heavy cream poured over the stirring spoon. This would be especially impressive served in a glass mug as one might do with Irish coffee, a popular hot cocktail combining coffee with Irish whiskey.

Apple brandy, made by both Dawsonville Moonshine Distillery and American Spirit Whiskey, can work well in warm drinks, especially when enhanced by the addition of a selection of warmed aromatic spices. Experiment with coriander, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, fenugreek, broken cinnamon sticks, allspice, star anise broken into pieces, aromatic black peppercorns, such as Tellicherry or Malabar, to see what combination hits your hot button.

My favorite is the coriander, cloves, allspice, Tellicherry pepper, star anise and fenugreek. Warm whatever you choose over low heat in a small saucepan, then add apple cider and half as much apple brandy or more to taste. Warm until the spices infuse the liquid. Add some chopped fresh ginger and let it steep. Strain and serve warm with some orange zest floating on top for a garnish. I love the tingle of the black pepper against the sweet cider and brandy combination.

Finally, tinker with hot chocolate. There are so many ways to make hot chocolate into a warm alcohol-enhanced drink. Using a chocolate liqueur is easy, but I find it fun to try other alcoholic additions. Start with your favorite hot chocolate mix made with whole milk or maybe a mix of whole milk and half-and-half, then add a couple of 70 percent cacao chocolate pieces broken into bits. Don’t let it boil. Add a cup or more of sweet red wine. Once the cocoa mix and chocolate pieces have smoothed out, off the heat add a couple of teaspoons of pure vanilla extract. The final fillip? Hit it with some cayenne or ancho chili powder.

So this winter, fire up your palate with some warm alcoholic beverages as a change of pace and a seasonal renewal. There will be plenty of time spring and summer to enjoy quaffs on the rocks or a cold brew. For now, throw another log on the fire and sip something different.


  • Jane Garvey is a writer and wine instructor living in Atlanta. She holds the Certified Specialist of Wine credential and has written and taught about wine for more than 20 years.

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