When frosty days arrive, count on this comforting crop of warming cocktails to take off the chill from the inside out.
During summer in Columbia, Jake Smith, head mixologist at Motor Supply Company Bistro, already had winter on his mind. “When it gets cold outside, people want hot drinks,” he says. “You can always go with an Irish coffee or basic hot toddy, but it’s fun to get creative and build a new cocktail or give a classic a twist.” This year, Jake is experimenting with flavored honeys, which he says give drinks a richer texture, and trendy ingredients like matcha, a powdered, vibrant green tea known for earthy creaminess.
Though no one really knows who shook up the first cocktail, many give credit to 17th century sailors and traders, who created a tasty drink that came to be called punch. Surprisingly, the beverage is not named for its effect but instead for the Sanskrit word for five, a reference to the number of ingredients — alcohol, a sour (usually some kind of citrus), a sweetener, spices, and water — required to mix up a batch. According to Dr. David Shields, a Carolina distinguished professor at the University of South Carolina and renowned food historian, these early mixologists used what they had on hand.
“The trade system moved spices, rum, sugar, and other products between the Caribbean, Europe, and what would become South Carolina,” he explains. “Though they were making whiskey in Kentucky and Virginia, in South Carolina, it was cheaper to use imported rum.”
Delicious as it was as a summer sipper, punch transitioned easily to the winter warmer category with the addition of tea and some type of brandy. The resulting drink was then heated with a poker pulled from the fire and plunged dramatically into the drink. “It was quite popular,” says David. “Heat volatilizes alcohol, which activates the spirit, both in the alcohol and the human.”
Punch was actually so popular that in 1847, Charles Dickens created his own recipe, which he included in a letter he sent from Paris to his friend Amelia Filloneau, whose brother, Henry Austin, was married to Dickens’ sister, Letitia. “My dear Mrs. F.,” the letter reads, “I send you, on the other side, the tremendous document which will make you for ninety years (I hope) a beautiful Punchmaker in more senses than one.”
While revelers were warming up with hot punch, another hot drink, the toddy, was sipped as a cure-all tonic, able to fight everything from the common cold to lethargy. Some historians believe the name stems from the Hindu word “taddy,” a hot beverage made from fermented palm sap. Others look to Dr. Robert Bentley Todd, a 19th century Irish physician known to prescribe a soul-warming mixture of whiskey, hot water, sugar, and canella, a medicinal spice with an aroma similar to cinnamon. These days, hot toddies run the gamut from the simple classic to delicious riffs that include warming aromatics like ginger and cloves, a variety of spirits, and the addition of tea or fruit.
Though any spirit can be used for a hot drink, many bartenders like to start with bourbon. “The oak gives the bourbon, and the drink, a great backbone,” says Beth Burrows, American whiskey ambassador with Beam/Suntory.
Mike Bohn, bar manager of the Angel’s Envy Distillery Finishing Room Bar in Louisville, Kentucky, goes further. “The flavors imparted from the oak barrels that are used to age bourbon — baking spices, caramel, brown sugar, vanilla — are the same ones associated with the season,” he explains. “Finishing in port or rum casks gives the bourbon and rye an extra layer of flavor that can really bolster a cocktail.”
Best of all, making hot cocktails at home couldn’t be easier. “The awesome thing about hot cocktails is that you can make them without needing a lot of ingredients,” says Jake. “Just be sure to use glassware that’s thick enough to protect your hands from the heat and is tempered so the hot ingredients won’t shatter it. To keep drinks extra-hot, always heat the vessel with hot water before pouring in the drink.”
Motor Supply Company head mixologist Jake Smith says that mixing this cocktail in a French press coffee maker allows you to extract all the flavor from the lemon, apple, and thyme. Honey coats the tongue and adds a rich silkiness sugar just can’t equal; dark, aged rum — he prefers Cruzan — is smooth and mellow, with hints of molasses.
6 thyme sprigs
1 whole lemon, peeled (just the peel, no need for the carcass)
5 Fuji apple slices
1 ounce rich black tea honey (recipe below)
½ ounce apricot brandy
1½ ounces Dewar’s White Label Scotch
1½ ounces Plantation Barbados 5 Year Rum
Place thyme, lemon peel, and apple slices in a French press and set aside. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a mixing pitcher and stir without ice until thoroughly blended. Pour over the aromatics in the French press and fill halfway with boiling water. Steep for at least 3 minutes, then press and pour to serve. Garnish with a lemon/thyme twist.
Rich black tea honey
1 cup orange blossom honey
3 tea bags
½ cup water
Combine all ingredients inside a small saucepan and stir to combine. Once the honey comes to a boil, remove from heat and cover; allow the tea bags to steep until honey cools, then remove.
Come Back, One Year!
Angel’s Envy Bar Manager Mike Bohn based this warming dessert-in-a-glass on the classic Tom and Jerry cocktail, which was supposedly created in the early 19th century by British journalist Pierce Egan. Named for the title characters in Egan’s book, Life in London Or, The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn Esq. and his Elegant Friend Corinthian Tom, the drink was popularized by Jerry Thomas, who is considered the world’s first showman bartender. In this version, blackstrap molasses adds a funky note, and rum-finished rye with a hint of maple stands in for the rum and cognac that spike the original. If you’re not sure when you last dipped into your spice cabinet, consider starting with fresh spices for this drink.
2 ounces Tom & Jerry batter (recipe below)
1½ ounces Angel’s Envy Rum Barrel Finished Rye
Heavy cream, whipped softly and just barely sweetened
Place batter and rye in a mug, fill with hot water, and top with whipped cream.
Tom & Jerry Batter
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
2 cups vanilla ice cream
1 cup butter
½ cup blackstrap molasses
1 cup brown sugar
Melt butter over medium heat; add spices and sugar, then remove from heat and stir in the molasses and, finally, the ice cream, until the mixture is smooth and incorporated. Store leftover batter in the freezer, but bring to room temperature before serving.
Hot off the Press
Caledonia Spirits’ Beverage Director Sam Nelis created this rich, mellow hot cider using the company’s Tom Cat Gin, which gets its tawny hue from time spent in new oak barrels. Amaro lends a warm spiciness to the drink; avoid Fernet Branca, which is too mentholated and will overpower the other flavors.
1 ounce Tom Cat Gin
1 ounce CioCiaro, Montenegro, or Nardini Amaro
6 ounces apple cider
1 ounce orange juice
½ ounce honey syrup (recipe below)
Measure gin and Amaro into a warmed cup. Heat cider, orange juice, and syrup together until steaming and add to the cup. Top with grated nutmeg.
½ cup local honey
¼ cup water
Stir honey and water together in a small saucepan and heat until honey dissolves.
Classic Hot Toddy
This 1943 recipe from Four Roses Bourbon features the company’s versatile original bourbon, which has flavors of apple and pear. Jake Smith suggests playing around with different bourbons and aromatics to find the flavor that best suits your taste. “A higher ABV (alcohol by volume) bourbon like Knob Creek will bring more heat to the finished drink; Elijah Craig, which is smokier, brings more spice.” If you prefer vodka in your toddy, Jake suggests adding a bit of brandy, which will pump up the body and flavor.
1½ ounces Four Roses Bourbon
1 cube sugar
1 piece of lemon peel, bitter pith removed
1 thin slice lemon, studded with four whole cloves
Place sugar cube in a warmed mug, top with a bit of hot water, and stir until dissolved. Add lemon peel and bruise slightly, top with bourbon, then fill glass with hot water. Float lemon slice on top.
Updated Hot Toddy
1½ ounces Knob Creek Bourbon
¾ ounce Cruzan Black Strap Rum
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
4½ ounces ginger tea (use a tea bag of herbal ginger tea or ginger black tea)
2 teaspoons honey
Pour Knob Creek into heatproof glass. Stir in honey, then add Black Strap Rum and lime juice. Stir. Top with ginger tea. Give it one last stir to combine everything together. Garnish with lime wheel and candied ginger.
Various versions of Irish coffee abound; the original comes from Joe Sheridan, a bartender at the Foynes Airport in Limerick, who created the drink in 1943 to warm passengers. Among other ingredients, it called for “Irish Whiskey, smooth as a maiden’s kiss, and coffee, black as Cromwell’s heart, to take the chill from their hands.”
Strong, hot coffee
Barely whipped cream
Preheat a clear, stemmed glass with hot water, then add a teaspoon of brown sugar and a “good measure” of whiskey. Fill with coffee; float about an inch of cream over the top. Do not stir.
Mead, or honey wine, was one of the first alcoholic beverages ever created; residue dated circa 7000–6600 BCE was recovered from early pottery discovered in Jiahu, China, by a team from the University of Pennsylvania. It must have been good: Chaucer mentions mead in The Canterbury Tales; it also makes an appearance in Beowulf and Kanu y med, or Song of Mead, a work by the ancient Welsh poet Taliesin. No need to make your own, though; bottled versions are readily available.
2 cardamom pods
½ teaspoon whole allspice
1 cinnamon stick
½ teaspoon cloves
1 whole nutmeg, smashed with a hammer
Half of a thumb-sized knob of fresh ginger
1 slice orange rind
1 slice lemon rind
1 bottle Chaucer’s Mead
Lightly crush cardamom and allspice; place in the center of a square of cheesecloth along with the rest of the ingredients (except the mead) and tie to create a pouch. Pour the mead into a saucepan or crockpot, drop in the spice bag, and heat thoroughly. Do not allow to boil.
Blackberry Spice Mulled Cider with Rum
Sweet summer berries and aromatic herbs give this mulled cider a warm glow; South Carolinian Sallie Dent Porth uses fresh fruits and herbs in all her Sallie’s Greatest products.
½ gallon apple cider
1 cup Sallie’s Greatest Blackberry Spice + Sage Simple Syrup
1 cup dark rum
3 cinnamon sticks
12 whole cloves
Combine cider, cinnamon, and cloves in a saucepan; when hot, stir in the rum and simple syrup. Heat to steaming; do not boil.