By Gretchen McKay


Raise your spirits this winter with toasty cocktails

Categories : Food

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 and be merry, especially during the holiday season.

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 a professional.

“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 extraordinaire Sean Enright of the South Side’s Tiki Lounge and the after-hours Carrick Literary and Social Association in Carrick.

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. Mr. 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, 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.” Mr. 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.

Gretchen McKay:, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay.

O’Halloran’s Blarney Buster

PG tested

This cocktail was the first-place winner of the Jameson Irish Cocktail Contest held in Monroeville in March 1983, the whiskey maker’s first event in the Pittsburgh market. It’s a boozier version of the warm drink made famous in the winter of 1943 by Limerick chef Joe Sheridan.

Preheat the mug by pouring scalding hot water into it to prep it, then pour it out.

1½ 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

“Build” the drink by pouring the whiskey, Irish cream, Kahlua and Grand Marnier directly into the pre-warmed mug. Give a quick a 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.

— “Pittsburgh Drinks: A History of Cocktails, Nightlife & Bartending Tradition” by Cody McDevitt and Sean Enright (The History Press; March 20, 2017: $21.99)

The Spotted Pig’s Mulled Wine

PG tested

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.

— “Cocktails for the Holidays: Festive Drinks to Celebrate the Season” by editors of Imbibe Magazine (Chronicle, September 2014)

Seven Springs Moonshine Cider

PG tested

This spicy cocktail is a signature apres-ski drink at Seven Springs Mountain Resort. It features Tall Pines Distillery Caramel Moonshine from Tall Pines Distillery in Salisbury, Somerset County. 

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.

— Seven Springs

Hot Metal Toddy

PG tested

Warm and toasty, a hot toddy requires just a handful of ingredients: a base liquor, honey, lemon, and tea or boiling water. Revel + Roost’s version features rum and brandy sweetened with allspice honey syrup.  

1½ ounces spiced rum

1/4 ounce apricot brandy

1/4 ounce allspice honey syrup (recipe follows)

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.

— Revel + Roost, Downtown

Allspice Honey Syrup

1 cup water

1 cup honey

1 ounce fresh allspice berries, ground

Combine honey and water in a small saucepan over medium heat and stir until sugar dissolves. Add allspice and let simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let steep for another 10 minutes. Strain through a double layer of cheesecloth into a clean glass jar. Cover and keep refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.

Spiced Hazelnut Bourbon Hot Chocolate

PG tested

This grown-up hot chocolate from “Pierogi Love” author and former Pittsburgher Casey Barber is spiked with hazelnut liqueur and bourbon. Perfect for warming up after sledding, skating or shoveling the sidewalk.

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.

— Casey Barber, Good.Food.Stories