Reinvigorating Winter Warmers

Hot CocktailMost beverage professionals who keep their eyes open for the new and successful have heard about the rousing welcome the Dead Rabbit has received in the craft cocktail world. Barely through its first year, the lower Manhattan bar has won numerous awards, and garnered loads of attention, especially for its voluminous menu of drinks from long ago, punches and convivial atmosphere.

Little noticed but about to become a highpoint in their service are their hot beverages. Co-owner Sean Muldoon is rightly proud and pleased with his team’s Irish Coffee – he recently told me that in his opinion the drink had become mistreated by publicans in most places and that he wanted to make sure that the ones served at the Rabbit were world-class and unforgettable.

He is also doing something savvy but often overlooked even by the most celebrated bars: in order to make sure customers were well warned that Irish Coffee season was coming up, he had staff suggest and even sample small versions.

It’s akin to the bars welcome cocktail program, but Muldoon and co. have put significant effort into including drink recipes that can be served hot or cold, as well as a few select winter warmers meant specifically for those of us who like to end a couple of hours in a bar with something bracing and reinvigorating.

Hot drinks may be the last under-appreciated category of drinks, waiting to be rescued by bartenders who are interested in the entire range of beverage possibilities. Muldoon’s approach includes warm punches and nogs – dairy-based drinks like the Porterberry, made with Scotch whisky, rum, herbal liqueur, porter, lemon juice, ginger syrup and butter. He also offers a category called Bishops, wine or beer-based concoctions; that are heated, spiced, spiked and seasoned. His first New York winter confirmed his belief that when well-constructed, these drinks will win fans.

Muldoon and co-owner/head bartender Jack McGarry even crafted a recipe of warm beer, whisky, apple purée, sugar, nutmeg and ginger for the drink called the Twelfth Night, based on a 17th century poem of the same name.

Of course, it’s not necessary for every operation to be this fancy, but just as fresh lemonade has become the basis for a variety of alcohol-free and spiked drinks at casual dining restaurants throughout the country, hot teas, coffees and cocoas offer every operator the chance to build a niche winter beverage program without much fuss. As long as the coffees and creams and such are kept at high quality and staff gives them the attention they deserve, this can reinvigorate a winter drink program so that those long nights seem just a little sprightlier.

While most bars are just putting in to place or thinking about their fall menus, it’s also time to think about how to make the full transition to those darker, richer, more robust flavors of winter. To do so properly, think “hot.” 

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