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Keep warm with winter cocktails

Now that the weather has turned colder, it’s time to put away the citrusy cocktails, sparkling drinks, light beers and ales and those white wines and icy beverages of summer. And yes, that means saying goodbye to margaritas and mojitos. But that doesn’t mean you’ve got to give up all liquid refreshment and spirits. It’s just time to change the flavor palette a little and maybe try some warm drinks.

Whether you’re skiing at the lodge, camping on a mountain, celebrating the holidays with friends or just curling up with a good book on a blustery night, a warming cocktail is sure to put a rosy glow on your chilly countenance.

And now there’s a guide to help lead you through the winter darkness. In her new book, “Winter Cocktails: Mulled Ciders, Hot toddies, Punches, Pitchers and Cocktail Party Snacks” (Quirk Books), professional food stylist Maria del Mar Sacasa offers more than 50 recipes for cold-weather cocktails and mixed beverages. It’s the perfect drink compendium for novice bartenders, as well as veteran cocktail slingers (whom we’ll be hearing from shortly).

And it isn’t all about the eggnog, either. In fact, most of the hot drinks included involve mulled cider, tea, coffee and hot chocolate. And that’s great news for my wife and me, whose winter go-to drinks are coffee and especially, hot chocolate—and not just because hot chocolate has recently been linked with improved cognitive functioning, as well as cardiovascular well-being. No, it’s because hot chocolate is just awesome!

A little history here before the Europeans borrowed their know-how, the Mayans were making chocolate hot beverages thousands of years ago.

My own ancient history: As a kid I was a big fan of Nestle’s Quik, either hot or cold. A couple of chocolaty spoonfuls in a glass of milk, and yumm-o! As I got older I relied on Swiss Miss Hot Cocoa Mix for my chocolate fix. On our very first date, my wife and I went to Starbucks and each got a cup of hot chocolate, and now that we’re married, we’ve built on that tradition. Except sometimes we’ll enjoy a late-night cup of coffee together. In any case, we often spike our hot beverage with Bailey’s Irish Cream, which makes for a smoother drink and often, a better night’s sleep.

We tried out the Irish coffee recipe in “Winter Cocktails,” along with three hot-chocolate-based recipes that use a trio of liqueurs—Chambord, kirschwasser and amaretto—to make Classic Hot Chocolate, Cherry–Vanilla Hot Chocolate and Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate, respectively. I won’t sugarcoat it, the recipes all require a bit of work—unless you choose to skip the from-scratch whipped cream in the Irish coffee, which otherwise was a (summer) breeze to make. But the payoff was well worth it. The liquors all blended seamlessly, kicking the chocolate, vanilla and coffee flavors up several notches.

The warming trend in cocktails isn’t lost on the bartenders of downtown Fredericksburg. Katie Burns, who formerly tended bar at Commercial Tap House in Richmond, said Irish coffee is the big winter drink at her present employer, The Blarney Stone. She pours a shot of Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey, coffee and heavy cream in a traditional Irish coffee glass. “I’m a huge fan,” she said, though she prefers just Jameson Irish Whiskey and coffee. Other popular drinks, she said, are White Russians and hot toddies, especially during flu season.

Tommy Barham, a bartender for more than eight years at both area locations of Hard Times Café, said he notices more demand in cold weather for mint, spiced liqueurs and licorice flavors. Whisky, hot toddies and apple cider drinks like Fire Cider, which features Fireball Cinnamon Whisky and hard apple cider, also are popular.

J. Brian’s Tap Room proprietor Jack Hyland said his establishment serves mostly beer, with the darker flavors predominating in winter. Though Guiness Irish stout remains the overwhelming choice of his patrons, he said porters and black lagers, and seasonal beers with pumpkin or nutmeg and cinnamon notes also are big sellers.

Wade Truong, executive chef at kybecca and once a popular mixologist at Bistro Bethem, noted that the plummeting mercury traditionally marks the transition from citrus-based liquors to red wines, jammy wines and more liquor-based, heartier, spice-infused drinks, like mulled cider with Calvados brandy and spiced rum. Hot chocolate or cocoa also is versatile as a base for cocktails: Just add raspberry, hazelnut, Grand Marnier or other dense liqueurs, with steamed milk or whipped cream, he said, and you’ve got yourself a “warm, boozy milkshake.”

Kurt Rabin:



Makes 4 servings

1 cup heavy cream, chilled

¼ cup confectioner’s sugar

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

6 ounces Irish whiskey

4 cups freshly brewed, strong black coffee

Granulated cane sugar, to taste


1. Using an electric mixer, beat cream, confectioner’s sugar and vanilla on medium speed in a large chilled bowl until soft peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes, or beat by hand with a large wire whisk.

2. Pour 1½ ounces whiskey into each of 4 warmed cups. Add 1 cup coffee and sugar to taste and stir. Top with a dollop of whipped cream. Serve immediately.

Recipe adapted from: “Winter Cocktails,” by Maria del Mar Sacasa (Quirk, 2013).



Makes 4 servings

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ cup natural cocoa powder

3 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar

4 cups whole milk

6 ounces finely chopped bittersweet chocolate or bittersweet chocolate chips

Pinch salt

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

6 ounces Chambord

Marshmallows or whipped cream for serving


1. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and brown sugar and whisk until a paste forms.

2. Slowly add milk, whisking constantly. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat and then reduce heat to medium-low. Stir in chocolate and salt and cook, stirring, until chocolate is completely melted. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.

3. Serve in warm mugs and spike with 1½ ounces Chambord per serving. Top with marshmallows or whipped cream

Recipe adapted from: “Winter Cocktails,” by Maria del Mar Sacasa (Quirk, 2013).


Makes 4 servings


1. To make this variation of Classic Hot Chocolate (see previous recipe), replace the brown sugar with ¼ cup granulated sugar into which the seeds of 1 vanilla bean pod have been rubbed.

2. Substitute 4 ounces high-quality white chocolate for 4 ounces of the bittersweet chocolate. Instead of Chamboard, spike with 1½ ounces kirwschwasser or other cherry liqueur per serving.

Recipe adapted from: “Winter Cocktails,” by Maria del Mar Sacasa (Quirk, 2013).