22 Hot Cocktail Recipes for Cold Winter Nights
It’s still practically shorts weather in California, where I live, but the folks at Serious Eats World Headquarters in New York assure me that it is, in fact, winter. Back when I lived in places that actually got cold, winter meant hot drinks—hot cocoa and mulled cider when I was a kid, hot cider and hot cocoa with booze when I got older.
But there’s more to the world of hot drinks than pouring a shot into whatever’s in your mug. If you put some thought into them, hot drinks can have all the class and sophistication of chilled cocktails. To show you what I mean, we’ve rounded up 22 of our favorite hot toddies, spiked ciders, cocoas, coffees, and other hot cocktails to keep you toasty all season long.
Next time you’re craving a hot toddy, think beyond a simple mixture of whiskey or brandy with hot water. Here we change it up, using caramelly, herbal Averna and adding a sweet-spicy syrup made with brown sugar, cinnamon, and black pepper. Getting rid of the hard liquor keeps the alcohol content down, so you can keep refilling your mug throughout the evening.
We make this bright, herbal toddy with citrusy New Amsterdam Gin instead of the brown liquor more commonly found in the drink, and replace the water with mint tea for extra flavor. A sweet-tart cranberry syrup gives this cocktail a festive ruby-red color that’s made for the holidays.
Even more of a departure from the traditional hot toddy, this smoky, Mexican-inspired drink combines mezcal, Green Chartreuse, Angostura and mole bitters, stick cinnamon, and sprigs of fresh mint. A splash of ginger beer complements the spicy notes in the drink and adds a pleasant fizz.
This drink may be more mulled wine than hot toddy, but it’s a crowd-pleasing option no matter what you call it. To make it, we combine Riesling, brandy, and honey, then steep bay leaves and toasted cardamom pods in the mixture before straining and serving. It’s a soothing, herbal mix that’ll warm you all the way through.
Anyone can pour a shot of bourbon into their hot cider—for something more interesting, try infusing the liquor with sweet, toasty caramel popcorn first. Once you’ve made the infused bourbon (which takes just a few minutes on the stove), all you need is the cider and a little pat of butter to float on top of each drink.
Not sold on popcorn-infused bourbon? This darker, moodier butter-topped cider is spiked with dark rum instead, for a hot buttered rum–like feel, and it gets its sweetness from pure maple syrup rather than caramel. To contrast the rich, deep flavors of the drink, serve it in glasses rimmed with an eye-opening combination of lemon juice and Maldon salt.
We don’t infuse the whiskey with anything fancy for this spiked cider, but we do give it an unexpected twist (or three) by stirring in sweet-and-spicy ginger liqueur, pouring it over rich Luxardo cherries, and finishing with freshly cracked black pepper, which reinforces the subtle burn of the ginger.
If plain old cider just isn’t apple enough for you, you’ll fall in love with this aptly named fruity concoction. We triple down on the apple here by adding Granny Smiths and Applejack brandy, and mix in clementine orange and dried cranberries for even more fruity flavor. To balance the drink, we turn to a slew of spices: cinnamon, cloves, allspice, coriander, and black peppercorns.
Boozy Hot Chocolate
The best boozy hot chocolate starts with the best hot chocolate, so ditch the store-bought mixes and make it from scratch, using unsweetened cocoa powder, semisweet chocolate chips, and sugar. Once you’ve taken care of the basics, you can doctor the drink up as you’d like—here, we mix in a shot of amaro and top with homemade Angostura whipped cream. Try subbing fernet for amaro if you want a minty kick.
I rarely say no to a cup of cocoa spiked with Baileys, but you can make a much tastier drink by separating the liqueur into its component flavors—Amaretto, espresso powder, vanilla extract, and Irish whiskey—and adding each to your cocoa individually. Not only are the ingredients going to be better-quality that way, you can also adjust the ratios exactly to your liking.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the concept of spiking Guinness with Jameson and Baileys, so why not use all three to make a seriously boozy hot chocolate? The Baileys and whiskey can be added straight to the cocoa, but in order for the flavor of the beer to come through, you’ll need to reduce it into a concentrated syrup on the stovetop first.
Forget commercial butterscotch sauce—it’s easy to make your own with nothing more than sugar and heavy cream. (Despite the name, butterscotch isn’t actually made with Scotch whisky, but we add a shot anyway, since we like the notes of smoke and vanilla it provides.) We use the butterscotch syrup two ways—most of it is mixed in with the hot chocolate, and the last bit is drizzled on top as a tantalizing garnish.
The peak of the all-bacon-all-the-time craze may be behind us, but the combination of bacon and chocolate is tasty enough to be more than a fad. To give this hazelnut hot chocolate as much smoky bacon flavor as possible, we emulsify rendered fat right into the drink before adding Frangelico, bourbon, whipped cream, chopped toasted hazelnuts—and the essential fried-bacon-strip garnish.
Not all boozy hot chocolate recipes have to be quite so involved—this one just requires spiking the cocoa with tequila, a surprisingly appropriate partner for chocolate, and peppermint schnapps. Garnish each mug with mint leaves to complement the schnapps and give the cocoa a fresh, herbal aroma.
You could use tequila in this hot chocolate, too, but if you have mezcal on hand, we encourage you to try it instead—its smokiness works wonderfully with the dried ancho chili and cinnamon that give the cocoa its kick. If you don’t have mezcal, try substituting dark rum, which will give the drink some extra richness.
As good as a classic Irish coffee may be, there’s more to spiked coffee than that. This version takes its inspiration from the flavors of Nutella (hence the name, a play on gianduia), replacing the usual whiskey with hazelnut-infused Frangelico and topping the drink off with chocolate whipped cream. We also add a tablespoon of simple syrup to each mug to take a little of the edge off the coffee.
In our opinion, the sugarcane sweetness and slight kick of spiced rum make it an even better partner than whiskey for coffee, so we put it to work in this Irish-coffee variation, topped with butterscotch whipped cream and a dusting of nutmeg. Malted milk powder and brown sugar in the whipped cream help simulate the slow-cooked flavor of traditional butterscotch.
Fair warning: This recipe isn’t going to appeal to everyone, but it will speak to fans of the minty and bitter flavors of Fernet Branca. We start with coffee (already pretty bitter), then pour in the fernet and top the drink off with tangy lemon whipped cream. It’s certainly a more assertive combination than our other Irish-coffee recipes, but give it a chance and you might be surprised by how much you like it.
If you find Fernet Branca a little too intense, this bittersweet spiked coffee might be just the thing for you. This hot cocktail gets just enough bite from caramelly Amaro Averna and herbal, citrusy Gran Classico, while bourbon gives it a boozier kick and crème de cacao lends it rich sweetness. Look for a good-quality brand of crème de cacao, such as Tempus Fugit.
This recipe also strives for a more balanced, bittersweet flavor, spiking the coffee with spicy rye whiskey, Luxardo Amaro Abano, and Angostura bitters. All those bitter flavors get nicely mellowed out with the addition of apple brandy, Demerara sugar, and a topping of whipped cream; stir a bit of the cream straight into the drink to soften it up even further.
Other Hot Cocktails
A classic chilled Ward 8 is made with rye, lemon and orange juice, and grenadine. Those fruit juices don’t work so well in a drink that has to be diluted with hot water, so to make this version, we replace them with a more intensely flavored oleosaccharum and a couple of ounces of orange curaçao. The grenadine is swapped out for pomegranate juice to give the drink a brighter flavor. This recipe makes a big batch—enough for eight cocktails—so it’s ideal for filling up a Thermos on a day of sledding, ice skating, or other winter fun.
Clarified-milk punches haven’t been in the spotlight for a couple hundred years, but that just means this cocktail is super retro and therefore cool, right? Besides the clarified milk, we make this version with a lemon oleosaccharum, lemon juice, simple syrup, cognac, and rum, for a drink that’s both rich and citrusy.
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