Warm winter drinks that kick a cool buzz

By Andrew Sheridan

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(Courtesy MCT)

Winter is a pain in the butt. Shoveling walkways in the mornings, waiting in the cold for buses and shuffling on foot from class to class, the bitter New England winter is enough to make you want to hibernate.

But there are upsides. In addition to the seasonal hallmarks of snowfall and the flu, the darkest months bring with them their own set of steaming-hot boozy beverages that warm our insides and breathe life into our nearly frostbitten extremities. Here are a few tasty pick-me-ups that may just help cure the winter blues.

The most commonly known cold-weather drink is Irish coffee, and with its fame comes an amazing variety of recipes. Everything from schnapps to sambuca has been added to the caffeinated concoction in the name of giving it an extra kick, but not all of them are winners. While whiskey is the most famous coffee additive, it isn’t highly recommended. Its strong kick and often potent spice blends can to cut through all but the strongest brews. Cognac is an improvement, as its sweeter flavor mixes better than whiskey’s spice, but when it came down to it our testers overwhelmingly preferred simple Irish cream. This classic Emerald Isle liquor provides both the creaminess and the sweetness that coffee craves, making it a match made in Dublin.

Another popular winter warmer is hot chocolate – a childhood favorite that grows up fast with the proper additions. Chocolate’s versatile flavor makes it great for mixing, and its thickness allows it to pack more punch without tasting too alcoholic. Schnapps seem to be a logical choice, and both the raspberry and peppermint varieties blend well. After some experimentation, however, our testers decided on equal parts brandy and Irish cream as the mix of choice.

Perhaps the simplest to prepare out of all hot drinks, apple cider and spiced rum is a natural pair. While some sort of cider is available at any grocery store, the local stuff is the always best and Amherst’s own Atkins Farm brand is hard to beat. A word of caution on this mix, however, is that it may pair a bit too well. The spicy cider hides the rum’s bite so easily that an unsuspecting consumer could easily drink himself under the table in no time.

If calories are no object, then hot buttered rum may be the drink for you. A combination of melted butter, boiling water, brown sugar, vanilla ice cream and dark rum, this concoction is winter’s boozy answer to the hot fudge sundae. It may take a bit of time to prepare, but the overall impression is a bit like warm vanilla eggnog and fills you up nicely.

Mulled Wine is a solid option for those who dislike hard alcohol but still want to warm their insides. This hot wine mix can be found in one form or another in many different cultures, but the general idea is always the same: fill a pot with red wine, sweeteners and spices, bring to a simmer, and enjoy.

One particularly good variation used merlot, brandy, honey, lemon peels, cinnamon and cloves, with the overall effect being a rich and often sleep-inducing draught. The beautiful thing about mulled wine is that it is prepared in large batches, making it well-suited for parties and gatherings of cold, thirsty people.

The last drink on the list is the Hot Toddie, a classic flu cure and general treatment for the winter chills. Combining boiling water, lemon juice, honey and bourbon, this drink is quite simple and surprisingly potent. It may sound like a recipe for warm lemonade, but a mug of this woodsman-like drink will put hair on your chest. That is not to say that it is not delicious – tasters enjoyed the flavor across the board – but as with most bourbon whiskey drinks it takes a certain type of person to fully appreciate.

So next time you come home from salting your driveway or building a snowman, don’t curse the winter winds and sub-zero temperatures. Instead, put on a pot of water or heat up some coffee, crack open the liquor cabinet, and enjoy the intoxicating warmth of the season’s liquid treasures. Bottom’s up.

Andrew can be reached at [email protected]