Cold days, hot libations

Gretchen McKay
Pittsburgh Post Gazette
Anna Atanassova pours the mix into coupe glass. XXXXRock City Eatery beverage director Anna Atanassova, 23, of Detroit, makes a Oaxacan Milkshake, which is a warm mescal and coconut milk cocktail at the restaurant, Saturday afternoon, January 14, 2017. The ingredients are coconut milk, lemon grass, cinnamon, cardamom, Thai chili flakes, Lime Juice, raw ginger syrup and mescal. (Todd McInturf, The Detroit News)2017.

Nothing may be more pleasurable at day’s end than a well-crafted cocktail. The clink of ice on glass, the magical mix of sweet, sour and alcoholic — it’s a great way to unwind.

But who says a great drink has to be cold?

This time of year, when Jack Frost nips at more than just your toes, warm cocktails just might be the thing to heat you back up from the inside.

But don’t just take this mulled cider lover’s word for it; take it from the professionals.

Petro Drakopoulos has been the chef and owner of the gastropub Republica in Berkley along with his family since 2013. His Hot Budda Toddy brings together the heat and sweet in a rich bourbon drink.

“We love to mix food and savory spicy flavors into drinks, the hot toddy is classic winter cocktail that we spiced up with pepper and apple butter, for texture. Using a great bourbon goes a long way with this simple drink,” Drakopoulos said.

He said he’s been working with a lot of Spanish/Mexican flavors for an upcoming restaurant Broujo Tacos and Tapas, scheduled to open this summer in downtown Detroit. Bartender and Republica’s “El Capitán of the cocktail” Jesicka Childers created a very adult hot chocolate replete with local Two James vodka, Guernsey milk as well as bitters, salt and lime.

Other areas of the midwest, not surprisingly, are getting in on warm drinks this time of year.

“When you come in from the cold chill you get here in Pittsburgh, there’s nothing better than a hot toddy, Irish coffee or mulled wine,” says bartender Sean Enright of Pittsburgh’s Tiki Lounge and the after-hours Carrick Literary and Social Association.

Warm mugs of boozy coffee or citrus-spiced wine are not just the stuff of a ski vacation. They can be had during staycations, too. You don’t have to be a mixologist to create a winning winter cocktail or haul out any special equipment. In fact, some of the best winter sippers can be done in three steps: pour, stir, enjoy.

While warm-weather cocktails are often thirst quenchers (a good margarita goes down way too fast and easy), winter cocktails are meant to be lingered over, savored. Enright likes to warm the body and soul during cold snaps with concoctions that feature richer, darker spirits — think whiskey, rum, brandy and cognac — and the dessert-style spices — cinnamon, cloves, allspice and ginger.

“They go hand in hand with the other things you’re eating,” he says.

One of his favorite winter cocktail is Irish coffee — spiked with Jameson’s. He’s also a huge fan of the hot toddy, a simple drink of a brown liquor such as brandy, whiskey or rum mixed with honey, lemon juice and boiling water, and, when the mood strikes, also a tea bag. (See, we told you this wasn’t brain surgery.)

“It couldn’t be easier, and you can mix it however you want,” he says.

At Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Champion, Pennsylvania, bartenders use another seasonal drink — a mug of hot apple cider — as a base for the signature Moonshine Cider. A shot of caramel moonshine from Tall Pines Distillery in nearby Salisbury, Somerset County, gives the hot cocktail its adult kick.

Former Pittsburgher-turned-New York cookbook author and “Today” show contributor Casey Barber suggests cocoa spiked with bourbon and hazelnut-flavored liqueur if you want something hot, sweet and chocolatey.

“I love hot chocolate so much that I can down a whole mug in four big glugs, so I need something that makes me drink it more slowly and enjoy it,” she says. Enter bourbon, “which makes everything better, and turns it into more of a sipping drink.” The marshmallow on top is completely optional, but definitely makes it more of a luxury.

For larger gatherings, where making many individual drinks could be a drag, nothing beats a large pot of red wine mulled with a few ounces of cognac, slices of citrus, cinnamon sticks and dash of peppercorn. It’s easy, relatively inexpensive and ladles up a dose of antioxidants.

While you want a winter cocktail to warm you up on the inside, you don’t want the drink’s heat to beat you over the head or burn your lips. So think “really, really warm” instead of “scalding hot.” Enright, whose book “Pittsburgh Drinks: A History of Cocktails, Nightlife & Bartending Tradition,” with co-author Cody McDevitt, arriving on store shelves in March, also suggests reaching for the good stuff when making individual cocktails.

“The cheaper the alcohol, the less impressive it will be,” he says.

Detroit News staff writer Melody Baetens contributed.

The Michigan-Mexican Hot Mule is available at Republica in Berkley.

Michigan-Mexican Hot Mule

From Republica, Berkley

6 ounces Ibarra Hot Chocolate brewed with Guernsey milk

2 ounces Two James Vodka

Dash or two Xocolatl Mole bitters

Dash of salt and lime

Garnish with marshmallows

Warm the chocolate drink. In a mug, combine the vodka, bitters, and the dashes of salt and lime. Add the hot chocolate and stir. Add marshmallows. Serves 1.

Hot Budda Toddy

“Using a great bourbon goes a long way with this simple drink,” said Petro Drakopoulos, of Republica in Berkley.

6 ounces hot water

2 ounces Traverse City Whiskey Co. Bourbon

1 ounce house-made apple butter (you can use store-bought apple butter if making at home)

Whipped cream

Dash of cayenne pepper

In a glass, mix the bourbon, apple butter and cayenne pepper. Add the hot water and top with whipped cream. Makes 1 serving.

Rock City Eatery beverage director Anna Atanassova, 23, of Detroit, poses with a warm mescal and coconut milk cocktail at the restaurant.

Smoking Room

From Anna Atanassova, Rock City Eatery, Detroit

2 ounces coconut milk

1 1/2 ounces mezcal

Juice of 1/2 lime

3/4 ounce ginger syrup

Pinch each of lemongrass, cinnamon and cardamom

1 Thai chili

Reduce the coconut coconut milk on medium heat, slowly stirring in the lemongrass, cinnamon, cardamom, and a Thai chili. Set aside once simmering and cover. In a glass over ice combine the mezcal, lime juice and ginger syrup. Mix and strain into a coup glass and top with the coconut milk reduction. Garnish with a pinch of chili powder.

The Hot Metal Toddy blends rum, brandy, hot water and honey syrup.

Hot Metal Toddy

1 1/2 ounces spiced rum

1/4 ounce apricot brandy

1/4 ounce allspice honey syrup

Hot water

Lemon zest for garnish

Into a footed mug, pour rum, brandy and allspice honey syrup. Top off with hot water, and garnish with a lemon zest. Makes 1 cocktail.

Spiced Hazelnut Bourbon Hot Chocolate includes Frangelico.

Spiced Hazelnut Bourbon Hot


This grown-up hot chocolate from “Pierogi Love” author Casey Barber is spiked with hazelnut liqueur and bourbon.

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, plus additional for garnish if desired

1 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

4 cups (1 quart) whole or reduced-fat milk

3 tablespoons bourbon

1/4 cup hazelnut liqueur, such as Frangelico

Whipped cream and marshmallows (optional)

Whisk sugar, cocoa powder, allspice, cinnamon, ginger and cloves together in a small saucepan set over medium heat.

Pour in 1/4 cup milk and whisk until a paste forms, then slowly whisk in the remaining milk. As soon as the milk comes to a simmer, remove from the heat and whisk in the bourbon and hazelnut liqueur.

Pour the hot chocolate into 4 12- to 16-ounce mugs. Top with whipped cream or marshmallows and sprinkle with cocoa powder, if desired. Drink immediately. Makes 4 large or 8 small servings.

The O’Halloran’s Blarney Buster is garnished with creme de menthe.

O’Halloran’s Blarney Buster

This cocktail was the first-place winner of the Jameson Irish Cocktail Contest held in Monroeville, Pennsylvnia, in March 1983.

1 1/2 ounces Jameson Irish Whiskey

1/2 ounce Bailey’s Irish Cream

1/2 ounce Kahlua

1/2 ounce Grand Marnier

Hot coffee

Whipped cream and creme de menthe, for garnish

Preheat the mug by pouring scalding hot water into it to prep it, then pour it out. Build the drink by pouring the whiskey, Irish cream, Kahlua and Grand Marnier directly into the pre-warmed mug. Give a quick stir to integrate flavors and add black coffee to fill. Top with whipped cream and color with a little bit of green crème de menthe. Makes 1.

Spotted Pig Mulled Wine is a classic including cinnamon and allspice.

The Spotted Pig’s Mulled Wine

This classic mulled wine from New York’s Spotted Pig is a spicy, citrusy way to warm up your loved ones. Avoid boiling the mixture — not only will it burn off the alcohol, but also can alter the flavor.

4 bottles of red wine

1 orange, sliced into wheels

1/2 lemon, sliced into wheels

4 cinnamon sticks

4 bay leaves

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped out

1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

3/4 teaspoon whole allspice berries

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 cups superfine sugar

3 ounces cognac

Combine wine, orange and lemon wheels, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, vanilla bean pod and seeds, peppercorns, allspice, red pepper flakes and sugar in a large pot. Bring to a simmer, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and add cognac. Ladle into warmed punch cups. Garnish with orange wheels. Serves 12 to 14.

Seven Springs Moonshine Cider

This spicy cocktail is a signature apres-ski drink at Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Pennsylvania.

Cinnamon sugar (1/2 cup sugar mixed with 2 teaspoons cinnamon)

1 ounce moonshine

Hot apple cider

Cinnamon stick, for garnish

Rim a glass mug with cinnamon sugar. Add 1 ounce moonshine. Fill mug with hot apple cider, then stir ingredients with a cinnamon stick. Serve immediately. Makes 1 drink.