Hot pumpkin toddy. Hot buttered rum. Spiced latte. Mulled wine. Are you feeling toasty already? It's the season for warming up inside with hot drinks, and bars are already offering some fine ones on the menu. But they're just as easy to make at home -- and that way you don't even have to de-ice the car.
"In a colder climate, it's a little more comforting to have something warm in your hand," says Rodel Borromeo, executive chef at Social bar on Tacoma, Wash.'s waterfront, where the drinks menu has just moved on from hot pumpkin toddies to hot buttered rums.
Hot alcoholic drinks go back a long way, of course: Hot toddies crop up in Charles Dickens and Jack London; hot negus (mulled wine) in Jane Austen. The hot toddy, made of sugar, spice, citrus, alcohol and hot water, is a traditional way to cure a cold -- or at least, cheer yourself up while you're suffering. Hot buttered rum, with its mixture of creamed butter and sugar, spices, rum and hot water, is also soothing. And there's something about frothy milk or cream that will warm up anyone.
But drink chefs have ways of spicing up the traditional recipes that will make them burn even brighter. "We add a bit of cayenne to give a bit more warmth to the experience," says Borromeo, of Social's hot buttered rum recipe, where the recipe also calls for a little bit of Bailey's Irish Cream to cream out the drink. Cayenne also spices up hot milk drinks such as cocoa, chai or coffee lattes.
Or you could try a different spice mix. Buck's Fifth Avenue Spices in Olympia, Wash., has a chutney mix of ground cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and black pepper that their drink expert, Brooke Ahnemann, likes to sprinkle on hot cocoa or coffee. Other options include dusting a creamy milk drink with bittersweet chocolate powder.
Not into milk? Try wine. Mulling wine goes back centuries. You can buy mulling wine spices, but putting your own mix together is also easy: The usual ingredients are whole cloves, cinnamon sticks, whole allspice and a bit of orange peel. Wrap in a cheesecloth bag or just float them in the wine and scoop them out when you're done. Boil the wine with sugar to taste.
But how much spice? "Everyone has different tastes," says Ahnemann. "I usually recommend people start with a tablespoon of spice mix per bottle of wine, and add more if they like it." Another way to get extra flavor is add a sweet liqueur such as Triple Sec instead of sugar, Ahnemann suggests.
Need something nonalcoholic? You can mull cider, too. Ahnemann uses the Buck's combination of spices, plus some lemon peel and dried rosebuds for floral fragrance. Or try making hot buttered rum without the rum, adding cream soda instead -- you'll get something rather like Harry Potter's butterbeer, sweet and rich.
Then there's the toddy. The story is that this sweet, lemony alcoholic drink was brought to England by someone in the East India trading company from India, where people still make strong, distilled toddy from palm tree sap. A hot toddy is easy enough to make -- just mix a little sugar or honey, a little spice (cinnamon or cloves), a dash of lemon juice and a shot of whisky or rum to some hot water.
But if you want to make it a little different, try Borromeo's version, which just went off the seasonal menu at Social: roasted pumpkin, mashed into a puree with honey and simple syrup. Being a puree, it'll separate if you leave it sitting, says Borromeo, so just stir if necessary.
Finally, there's the froth. Not all hot drinks need it -- you won't be wanting to froth mulled wine or cider -- but it's useful if you're sprinkling spices or chocolate. The easiest way is adding whipped cream: Marcie Triner-Anderson, head bartender at Varsity Grill in Tacoma, uses this to top off her popular winter special of coffee-chocolate blend spiked with peppermint schnapps and creamed vodka. Or you can whip your own milk or cream with a hand-held electric mixer, an espresso steamer or a whisk. For a party trick, and to cool down a piping hot drink, try what chai sellers in India do -- pour a latte from one cup into another and back again and increasing the distance until you have a froth.
We may have a long, cold winter ahead of us -- but think of it as a deliciously long time to whip up your own menu of hot frothy drinks. You might even cure a cold or two as well.
> HOMEMADE CREAMY HOT CHOCOLATE
2 cups whipping cream
6 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 (12 ounce) package milk or dark chocolate chips
Stir together the whipping cream, milk, vanilla and chocolate chips in a pot. Cover and cook on low for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally, until mixture is hot and chocolate chips are melted. Stir again before serving. Garnish with whipped cream and chocolate shavings or cinnamon, as desired.
Optional: Sprinkle spice mix on top such as cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and black pepper.
> GINGERBREAD LATTE
2 ounces prepared coffee or espresso
2 tablespoons gingerbread-flavored syrup
1/2 cup milk, steamed
1/8 cup frothed milk
1 pinch pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla powder
In a coffee mug, combine espresso coffee with flavored syrup. Pour in steamed milk and frothed milk and sprinkle with pumpkin pie spice and vanilla powder.
> WINTER NIGHTCAP
1 shot coffee liqueur
1 shot Irish cream
1 1/2 shots hazelnut liqueur
4 cups hot coffee
Mix coffee and liqueur in a pot. Serve with cream.
> MULLED WINE/CIDER
Lemon peel (optional)
1 bottle of wine
Sugar or sweet liqueur such as Triple Sec
Create spice mix by combining whole cloves, allspice, cinnamon, orange peel and lemon peel.
Boil 1 bottle of wine with 1 tablespoon of spice mix. Add sugar/sweet liqueur such as Triple Sec to taste. Add more spice mix to taste.
Optional: If mulling nonalcoholic cider, add bourbon to glass, if desired.
Source: Bucks Fifth Avenue spice store, Olympia, Wash.
> MARCIE'S SPECIAL
1/2 ounce Rumple Minze (or other peppermint schnapps)
1/2 ounce Pinnacle whipped vodka
Mix schnapps and vodka with equal parts black coffee and hot chocolate. Add a dollop of whipped cream.
Optional: garnish with chocolate sprinkles.
Source: Varsity Grill, Tacoma, Wash.
> HOT BUTTERED RUM
1/4 pound butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 pound light brown sugar
1 teaspoon each of ground cinnamon and whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon each of ground nutmeg, cayenne, salt
Spiced rum, your choice
Bailey's Irish Cream
Mix all ingredients. Put 1 tablespoon of mix into 4 ounces hot water. Let melt. Add in 2-3 ounces of spiced rum. Add a dash of Baileys Irish Cream, and float a cinnamon stick to garnish.
Source: Social Bar and Grill, Tacoma, Wash.
> HOT PUMPKIN TODDY
Cinnamon stick (optional)
Chili powder (optional)
Puree equal parts of roasted pumpkin, simple syrup and honey. Mix 2 ounces of the pumpkin puree with 4 ounces hot water. Add 1 1/2 shots of whiskey.
Optional: Add cinnamon stick and dash of chili powder.
Note: This will separate after sitting, so it needs stirring.
Source: Social Bar and Grill, Tacoma, Wash.
> HOLIDAY-IN-A-CUP (COLD DRINK)
Rumple Minze or other mint schnapps
Mix equal parts schnapps and Frangelico. Splash with cream. Serve on the rocks.