Whether or not you subscribe to the notion of seasonal drinking, it’s hard to deny that a select few cocktails irrevocably belong to winter. In the canon of classics, these hearty, hot drinks—Irish Coffee, Tom & Jerry, Hot Toddy and more—occupy a small niche, but they’re no less prone to the obsessions of perfection-seeking bartenders.
Whether it’s a matter of nailing the temperature, the glassware or the technique, these tried-and-true recipes, drawn from the bartenders who have fixated on them season after season, have what it takes to keep you warm this winter.
This “workshopped” version of The Dead Rabbit’s Irish Coffee varies only slightly from the original version served at the bar, showcasing a light-bodied whiskey and slightly richer sugar syrup than previously used. The glassware is key: Dead Rabbit uses a six-ounce tulip-shaped glass to showcase the drink.
This “incendiary coffee” was first served at New Orleans’ Antoine’s restaurant in the 1880s; it was inspired by pirate Jean Lafitte’s streetside drink-making theatrics, used to distract his audience while his cohorts picked their pockets. A fiery blend of brandy, kirschwasser eau-de-vie, clove-studded orange peel and coffee, Café Brûlot has remained a New Orleans tableside dessert staple and a favorite of Dale DeGroff, who created the drink while head bartender at New York’s Rainbow Room in the 1990s.
“Hot Toddies are those drinks you get when you’re cold or when you have a cold,” says Andrew Volk of Portland Hunt + Alpine Club in Maine. “You want something strong, you want something hot, you want something a little bit spicy.”
His recipe, which he offers in both bourbon- and brandy-based iterations, ticks all the boxes. Though Volk’s approach to the ingredients is fairly straightforward, he also employs a ginger syrup and a signature cardamom-coriander syrup for a spicy kick. Finally, to achieve the desired temperature (“it shouldn’t be tepid”), Volk ensures that everything—not only the water—is hot.
Made from a dozen eggs, more than a pound of sugar, and a blend of cinnamon, allspice and cloves alongside warm whole milk and a full bottle each of Cognac and Jamaican rum, the Tom & Jerry is a famously indulgent affair—one that reads more like a spice cake than a drink. “It’s really not good for you,” says David Wondrich of the excessively rich 19th-century drink. “But it’s just so freaking delicious.” This recipe makes a lot of Tom & Jerries—at least 50, although you might need more milk to get there. Wondrich notes that any leftovers can easily be turned into eggnog by mixing two parts batter with two parts milk and one or two parts booze. Add grated nutmeg, then bottle and refrigerate.
Hot Buttered Rum is the snow pants of winter cocktails, coming out only during the holidays or in the darkest depths of post-solstice purgatory. Key to the drink is the “batter” of compound butter, according to Chris Hannah, co-owner of New Orleans’ Manolito and Jewel of the South. Hannah’s version starts with a ratio of one pound of butter to one pound of brown sugar, with basic baking spices folded in. At his NOLA bar, Jewel of the South, Chris Hannah relies on a number of flavored batters to kick up the bar’s Hot Buttered Rum. This base can be doctored with everything from cocoa to galangal and hibiscus.
“Glueh Kriek is often people’s first encounter with a hot beer, and it offers a really unique, memorable experience for them,” says Kevin Martin, director of brewery operations at Cascade Brewing. The Portland, Oregon, brewery serves its version of the mulled drink “lightly carbonated with a nice meringue-like head, served nice and steamy hot with a fresh orange wedge” and on tap.
To make it at home, avoid hoppier styles of beer and turn to malty red ale, brown ale, porter or sweet stout. “The beauty is that there is no set recipe, so you can get really creative and try lots of different beer and spice combinations,” says Martin.
Italy has its very own punch: ponce alla Livornese. But unlike traditional punch, Livorno Punch swaps the tea element for coffee, specifically espresso, resulting in a bolder formula that feels right at home alongside the canon of modern coffee cocktails, from caffè corretto to Espresso Martinis.
To make the drink—which is typically created with rumme, a spirit that’s difficult to find outside of Italy—Rome-based bartender Manuel Di Cecco suggests turning to a spiced rum. His recipe also incorporates a small measure of sugar and a lemon twist. “What I like most about ponce is that it is a melting pot between a simple coffee and a proper international drink,” says Di Cecco. Plus, he notes, “it reflects the nature of Livorno people—perfect welcoming hosts.”