Hot cocktails for the cold season

By Emily Brightman


There are few things that warm the blood on a bitter winter night quite like a stiff drink. While old Hollywood would have us believe that a double-shot of whiskey is the best remedy for frozen bones, there is a healthy handful of alternative alcoholic concoctions to help thaw your gullet. From the classic spiked hot chocolate to the fabled boilermaker, mixed drink aficionados know that when the temperature outside drops, the need for a little liquid warmth becomes imperative to winter survival. If you’re bored with resorting to the same old cranberry juice and vodka trick on a chilly evening, get your blood flowing with one (or more) of these delightful drinks.

Hot toddy

If you’ve never heard of a hot toddy before, ask your grandparents. This ubiquitous winter drink has roots in Ireland and Scotland, and was traditionally used as a bedtime relaxant in cold weather, as well as a temporary cure for seasonal colds and the flu. While toddy recipes vary from culture to culture, the classic mixture involves whiskey, brandy or rum blended with honey and a strong cup of tea. I personally use Tazo Black Tea and Jameson to mix mine, but any other brands of tea and whiskey should suit the recipe just fine. For a little added kick, try adding a dash of lemon juice or a cinnamon stick to amplify the flavor of the tea. This drink is best served steaming hot and ideally accompanied by a comfortable seat from which one can watch the winter weather rage outside.

Spiked hot chocolate

Hot chocolate, the beloved winter beverage, is always improved by the addition of alcohol. Peppermint Schnapps is the standard booze companion to a cup of Swiss Miss, but a shot of Baileys or Kahlua can also work wonders for hot cocoa. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, mixing in some tequila, chili powder and cinnamon makes for a delightful Mexican-inspired hot chocolate worthy of Montezuma himself. If all else fails, you can never go wrong with a shot of Jack Daniels in your hot chocolate for that added zing. Mini marshmallows are not a necessary addition, but depending on how much booze you spike your cocoa with, they might just become more amusing.

Hot buttered rum

While it sounds a bit like a suggestive food euphemism, hot buttered rum is a classic cold-weather cocktail. Traditional preparation of this drink involves combining hot water, rum, brown sugar and a small amount of melted butter, but apple cider can substitute water for a more intensely flavored beverage. Any kind of rum will do for this drink, but I’ve found that the standard Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum is an excellent complement to the sweetness of the butter and sugar. If darker rums are more your style, Old Monk and Kraken Black Rum are excellent substitutes.


As I am a fan of whiskey, and also a marginally fanatic beer geek, this combo is naturally my favorite. A boilermaker, otherwise known as a “beer cocktail,” is ludicrously simple: A glass of beer and a shot of whiskey, and that’s the whole shebang. This arrangement isn’t necessarily restricted to the winter months, but I find myself craving whiskey more during this time of the year anyway, so combined with my love of beer, the formula is appropriate. Since winter is the season of dark beers, I typically resort to a hearty stout such as the Founder’s Breakfast Stout or Left Hand Milk Stout, and a shot of Jim Beam. Of course, if you are more sophisticated in your bourbon selection than I am, any brand of the stuff will suffice. As far as the beer, I tend to stick to craftier brews, but any beer will certainly get the job done. If you aren’t a fan of stouts and porters for your beer, I recommend a nice Sierra Nevada or even a Newcastle to accompany that shot of whiskey. Whatever liberties you take in your combining of beverages, you’re sure to feel the warm sinking into your belly right after that whiskey hits your system. Just be careful not to overdo it on the hard liquor, because some folks are a little more sensitive to the combination than others.

Irish coffee

If you are a fan of coffee and/or Irish whiskey, this is the cocktail for you. Arguably one of the oldest mixed drinks in the book, this drink is literally nothing more than a mixture of hot coffee and Irish whiskey. Disregarding the somewhat racist implications of its name, the combination of coffee and whiskey is an age-old tradition that extends far beyond its Irish roots. While whiskeys such as Jameson and Glenlivet are typically the standard, any old whiskey will do the job right. I’ve found that Seagram’s 7 mixed with a strong cup of black coffee makes for a delightfully buzz-worthy beverage, but an added shot of Jack or Jim could achieve the same goal with equal success. Regardless of your feelings toward coffee, the mingling of its bitterness with that of whiskey makes for a drink that is simultaneously stimulating and relaxing. Just don’t resort to this mix on a school morning, because getting buzzed before your morning class is a debatably alcoholic undertaking.

You can never go wrong with a stiff shot of bourbon to warm your bones in the winter, but there are a variety of cocktail options available to keep your blood pumping in the bitterness of the season. Your daily routines of hot chocolate and coffee consumption can easily be amplified with the addition of booze for a more enjoyable drinking experience, which can ease the sometimes difficult adjustment into winter weather conditions. Armed with these recipes and the hope that spring will eventually make its anticipated appearance, you’re ready to confront the cold winter nights that still lay ahead. Just remember: when it comes to cocktails, a little whiskey goes a long way.

Emily A. Brightman can be reached at [email protected]