By David Hammond
When the weather gets cold, some like their cocktails hot.
However, when we asked Scott Koehl, bar manager of Ada Street, whether he sells as many warm drinks as cool drinks, even when temps are around zero, he was emphatic: “Not even close. There are people who will never order hot drinks.”
We are some of those people.
Still, we’ve been served cocktails steaming with heat, and we must admit, they up the coziness quotient on a cold day. As ‘tis the season, we asked some of Chicago’s beverage professionals how they go about making hot cocktails.
Easy on the Booze
Though alcohol itself tends to have a warming effect, more is not necessarily a good thing (you heard that right) even on a cold day. Counsels Priscilla Young, beverage director at Travelle Kitchen + Bar, “Hot drinks don’t need too much booze.”
Managing partner and beverage director Robert “Robby” Haynes of Analogue concurs, saying “When working with hot drinks, the first thing you have to take into consideration is the proof of the base spirits. I prefer using lower proof base spirits; they tend to drink a lot easier.”
Cocktails are “hot,” and that’s one reason the late Charlie Trotter avoided serving them, and when you add actual heat, more booze can become just too much of a good thing.
Use More Sweetness and Acidity
Heat changes the cocktail equation. Warm cocktails frequently contain sugar and citrus, and Nate Cayer of I|O Godfrey cautions “You have to be careful with sweetness and acid because both of those flavor profiles change dramatically when hot or cold.”
What that means is that for a hot cocktail, you may actually need more sugar and citrus.
At LondonHouse Chicago, executive chef and beverage manager Riley Huddleston believes that with “hot cocktails, you need to make sure you add more depth than you might think you need. So if you’re making a hot buttered rum, add more spice and sugar, until it’s almost too overpowering by itself.”
“You must remember,” Huddleston further advises, “that you taste the most flavors closer to the temperature of the body.”
What that usually means is that you want to get the water maybe a little hotter than you think.
At Henry’s, manager Drew Hamm cautions, “The cocktail won’t be what you want if you just use hot water from the sink. If you don’t have a hot water machine—and at home, most don’t—boil some water on the stove to use in your drink.”
“The most important step in building any hot drink,” says Haynes, “is priming the glass and ingredients. You want to make sure glass and ingredients are well above room temperature. I recommend pouring hot water into whatever glassware you’re going to be using. Next, pour hot water into a separate, smaller cup about half-way up. Measure syrups, liqueurs, juices, alcohol etc. and combine in that smaller cup. Then nestle the smaller cup into the glassware and wait a few minutes to bring the temperature up. Toss the water and pour the now-heated ingredients from the smaller cup into the glassware and top with your hot ingredient (coffee, tea, hot water, cider).”
Pairing is Possible
“Hot cocktails aren’t often paired with food,” says Hamm, “but there is no difference between pairing a hot drink and a cold drink. The slight addition of honey to our Wisconsin Toddy, which is based on the Wisconsin-style Old Fashioned, would pair well with any sort of dessert that contains honey. A personal favorite dessert of mine is cheese (hooray, Wisconsin!), and if you drizzle some honey on blue cheese you’ve got yourself quite the combo.”
“Beef Tartare,” says Huddleston, “is fun with a hot Scotch cocktail.”
Use Tea…or Old Wine
Teas are sometimes an ingredient in hot cocktails, and according to Koehl, it’s important to “keep it simple and use a lightly brewed tea that you like instead of hot water. You’ll save money on expensive liquor and still be able to achieve the depth and spice you’re looking for.”
On the topic of saving money, Young says, “Don’t use expensive liquors. When making hot drinks, feel free to look around your kitchen for products, like last night’s half empty wine bottle.”
Priscilla Young’s Monk’s Glug
One ounce Courvoisier VS
One-half ounce Benedictine
One-half ounce raspberry syrup
One-quarter ounce lime cordial
Eight ounces red wine (Mourchon)
Ten corns of allspice, two pinches of ginger powder
Combine all the ingredients, then warm up on the stove, and the drink is ready to serve!
Drew Hamm’s Wisconsin Toddy
One-and-a-half ounce Korbel brandy
One-half ounce Cherry Heering
One-half ounce orange curacao
One-half ounce honey syrup
Two dashes Angostura bitters
Serve in a toddy glass garnished with a lemon eighth.
Dining and Drinking Editor for Newcity, David also writes a weekly food column for Wednesday Journal in Oak Park and is a frequent contributor of food/drink and travel pieces to the Chicago Tribune, Plate Magazine and other publications. David has also contributed chapters to several books, including Street Food Around the World, Street Food, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org