When the temps dip and the winter chill sets in, there’s nothing quite like a cozy cup of something warm and boozy to enliven an evening. Hot cocktails have been around since the Romans famously heated communal bowls of red wine with sugar, citrus, and various spices.
Bartenders have spent plenty of time experimenting with the tastiest and easiest ways to spike up a hot chocolate, coffee, cider, or even hot water. If you’re looking for ways to enjoy your own toasty mug of joy but don’t want the fuss of too many steps or ingredients, we’ve gathered some hot tips and tricks (and recipes) from over a dozen bar pros from around the world.
Here are some of the experts' favorite simple hot cocktail combinations.
“[The] most underrated [hot cocktail] is definitely an Amaro Caldo,” says one Houston-based bartender, who recommends trying this traditional Italian hot digestivo with 2 ounces of “almost any amaro” and 3 1/2 ounces of hot water. “Add a little sugar if it’s too bitter for you,” he says. “Give it a lemon or orange twist if you’re fancy.”
“Since it’s not often very cold in Houston, it struck me as a good idea for on-the-fly hot drinks when requested because we had a pretty large amaro selection, and it didn’t require any extra prep work. Due to its simplicity and bartenders’ obsession with amaro over the years, I'm always surprised I haven’t seen it on more menus.”
“My jam is a traditional recipe from Bolivia—just a simple, delicious, hot Bolivian toddy,” says the beverage director of a Bolivian cocktail bar in the Washington, D.C. area. “We call it ‘te con te’ (tea with tea).”
For a single serving, add 1 1/2 ounces of brandy and 1/4 ounce brown sugar syrup with 3 1/2 ounces of dark, spiced tea, then garnish the drink with a lime wedge.
Another Hot Toddy variation comes from a San Francisco bartender.
“I make a fall/winter cocktail at my bar every year called the Dorian Grey,” he says. “This is a great cocktail for those chilly fall and winter evenings. It’s somehow soft and boozy at the same time, and the Earl Grey syrup complements any cognac. We usually put this on our menu right before Halloween and call it ‘The Cocktail of Dorian Grey,’ but we keep it around until spring under the name, ‘The Dorian.’”
In a brandy snifter, add 1 1/2 ounces of cognac, 1 ounce Earl Grey syrup, and 2 ounces hot water, then garnish with a cinnamon stick and star anise.
To batch the Earl Grey syrup, McCarthy brings 3 cups of water with 10 tea bags of Earl Grey tea and 4 cups sugar to a boil for 2 minutes, removes from heat, and covers. He lets it cool to room temperature before refrigerating.
Boozy Hot Chocolate
A bartender and events director in Ann Arbor, Michigan, makes a caraway-rich aquavit and hot chocolate combo that reminds him of his childhood. “I grew up in Japan where marshmallows aren’t super common, so my mom would have us dunk rye bread in our hot chocolate instead,” he says.
His Hot Choco-vit combines 1 1/4 ounces of aquavit, 1/2 ounce sweet vermouth, 1/2 ounce sweet amaro, and 3 ounces quality hot chocolate. He tops the drink with lightly shaken cream. “You can infuse the cream with caraway if you want to get fancy” he shares.
The creative director at a hotel in New Orleans, has her own take on a boozy hot chocolate. “Herbal liqueur and hot chocolate have long been an après-ski favorite in the French Alps,” she says. Alpine liqueur packs a lovely, herbal punch. She says that the drink is even better with a splash of bourbon or orange liqueur added.
In a heat-proof mug, adds 1 ounce of herbal liqueur, 3/4 ounce bourbon, and 1/2 ounce orange liqueur to hot chocolate. “Now you are ready to sip by the fire,” she says.
Spiked Apple Cider
A bartender in Paso Robles, California, loves a mulled cider. “The great thing is the versatility,” she says. “You can keep it simmering on the stove or hot plate, put it in an air pot for travel, [and] add whatever spirit fits your vibe: whiskey, rum, brandy, mezcal, or you can keep it zero-proof. It’s a great option for a mixed group of drinkers and non-drinkers as the base is alcohol-free.”
“For a quick version, heat unfiltered cider with clove, cinnamon sticks, star anise, and orange slices. Garnish with rosemary or cinnamon stick for a festive look.”
A bartender in Bluffton, South Carolina, has a new hot cider cocktail on the menu that takes inspiration from the other side of the world.
“Our restaurant is West African and Caribbean-inspired, and each season our cocktails represent a playlist of African songs. “This cocktail is named after Fela Kuti’s song Mr. Follow Follow, [which] stirred up heated relations and further deteriorated a confrontational relationship with the Nigerian army.” The cocktail is “boozy and spice-forward, representing [the] strong themes of Fela Kuti’s music, and the aftermath of his war with words,” she says.
The cocktail starts with 4 ounces of warm, fresh pressed cider, then adds 2 ounces of bonded 100 proof bourbon, 3/4 ounce allspice dram, 1/2 ounce lemon juice, and a thick wedge of lemon.
“Our restaurant is for spice lovers, so you can easily cut back on the allspice dram [depending on] your preference,” she says.
One U.S. distiller recommends pairing cinnamon vodka with apple cider for what they call Cinful Cider.
This is very easy to batch, and it’s a hit. It’s 2 parts your favorite apple cider to 1 part cinnamon vodka or whiskey. Serve hot or cold. Garnish with a cinnamon stick or sprig of smoked rosemary.”
Buzzed Up Coffee Drinks
Caffè Corretto (‘corrected coffee’) is not so much a cocktail as [it is] a way to enjoy your after-dinner coffee with a little kick,” says one bartender in Washington, D.C.
“The classic Italian preparation would be a shot of espresso with a small amount of grappa, sambuca, or brandy added,” he says. “I like to enjoy mine in a slightly more American way: with drip coffee and some amaro and cognac.
He calls this American version a “Caffè Scorretto” (incorrect coffee).
In a glass with 4 ounces of hot coffee, add 3/4 ounce of amaro, 3/4 ounce of cognac, a barspoon of simple syrup, and a splash of milk.
“This recipe is super flexible,” he shares. “Substitute your favorite amaro or another aged spirit, and enjoy.”
Jussi Leveelahti, bar manager and head server at Salutorget in Helsinki, Finland, offers up a coffee cocktail that “tastes like candy.”
“The name and the flavor profile of the drink is based on classical Finnish candy, Hopeatoffee,” says Leveelahti. “It tastes like salted licorice and toffee.”
Leveelahti’s Hopeatoffee Coffee consists of 1 part coffee liqueur, 1 part sambuca, a generous pinch of salt, and 5 parts hot coffee, with lightly whipped cream on top.