Some like it hot: Warm cocktails for winter


Even the simplest of hot cocktails can bring a welcome seasonal feel and extra sales opportunities to your list. And if you can set fire to them, well, so much the better, says Alice Lascelles

The super-chilled, sub-zero, ice-cold cocktail is actually a relatively newfangled notion. Up until the 1840s, when ice first started to become available in the form of giant, expensive blocks imported from North America, drinks were much more likely to be on the warm side. Hot Wassails, Toddies, Possets, Punches and Blazers were not just a simple solution to sterilising suspect ingredients – they also offered a cheap and far more enjoyable alternative to central heating.

While bars today don’t suffer quite as many chilly draughts and infectious diseases as they used to (at least one hopes not), quite a few have lately been discovering the joys of this neglected category as part of their classic cocktail repertoire. Big on seasonal appeal (and smell), often tarted up with fire and theatre, and highly adaptable for different times of day, hot drinks, it seems, are back in business.

Step forward Tim Oakley, who has several hot drinks on his winter lists at Broome & Delancey in Battersea and The Establishment in Parsons Green this winter. While he’s created half a dozen more recherché twists on classic recipes, mainly inspired by Convivial Dickens: The Drinks of Dickens and His Times by Edward Hewett and William F Axton (see box), he admits it’s the classic mulled wine that always gets the festival ball rolling.

‘We deliberately serve our mulled wine from a bowl at the end of the bar so that customers smell it,’ he says, ‘and once they do, they often end up ordering it. It gets people into the Christmas spirit and cheers people up.

‘Hot drinks are also a good thing to offer if you’re the kind of bar and restaurant, like we are, that’s open throughout the day,’ he adds. ‘People come in from shopping maybe mid-afternoon or early evening and want something to warm them up. We also do a lunch package which includes a glass of mulled wine, and for our corporate events we’ll often offer a glass of mulled wine on arrival, which is nice as it’s something a bit different.’ Also on the list will be spiced rum, the port-and-spice based Bishop and a rich egg nog, perfected with the help of his chef.

But customers still need a bit of prompting to get them started on hot drinks, says Alex Thorp, bar manager of Fifteen in Hoxton. ‘This year I’m going to try and have our mulled cider (see recipe) positioned by the door so that it creates a nice atmosphere and aroma from the moment they arrive – once you do that everyone wants one.’

Tales of the toddy

Another hot drink that’s big on the comfort factor is the Hot Toddy, and few are as passionate about the subject as cocktail wizard and drinks historian Dave Wondrich, ‘mainly because I live in an impossibly draughty, 150-year-old wooden row house in a city where the thermometer regularly gets down -15°C,’ he admits. In his excellent, recently published tribute to Jerry Thomas, Imbibe!, he charts the evolution of the Toddy from its early days when it was made with just about any spirit going, to the late 1870s when cultural trends and possibly the brandy-decimating phylloxera outbreak resulted in it specializing as a scotch whisky drink.

For the best Toddy, says Wondrich, stick to pot still spirits as ‘The heavier body they possess gives the drink a silky texture that is hard to resist.’ Best of all, he says, are peaty single malts, especially at cask strength. In the shoot for this feature, Toby Blazquez Garcia of Pinchito Tapas also made a great Toddy using cachaça and agave syrup (pictured below).

For the sweetening agent, Wondrich advises using Demerara or raw sugar rather than honey, which tends to clash with the malt, as does nutmeg. And if you add lemon peel, then you’ve actually made what was known in the 1850s as a ‘Whisky Skin’, apparently.

Jerry Thomas was perhaps best-known (apocryphally or not) for inventing mixology’s most show-stopping drink, the Blue Blazer. Featuring flaming spirit tossed back and forth between two mugs, this drink mesmerised audiences in those gas-lit times, as Thomas eloquently describes: ‘A beholder gazing for the first time upon an experienced artist, compounding this beverage, would naturally come to the conclusion that it was nectar for Pluto rather than Bacchus,’ (quoted in Imbibe!).

And it still continues to mesmerise people today – so much so that Pintxo People in Brighton and sister branch Pinchito Tapas in London uses it as a trademark party piece. ‘Customers love the blazer because they are getting more than just a drink, they get to feel the centre of attention – and the theatrics is the best weapon to get people into cocktails!’ says Garcia, who has got the drink down to a fine, and slightly safer, art (see box).

‘If someone orders it, I will go and make it at their table, tell them the story, and they are captivated by the flavour, the smell, the whole thing. If I make it one for one person, I usually end up making another for someone else!’ he says.

The fact that many hot cocktails feature coffee and tea is also a sales opportunity. At Artesian they have created a special hot cocktails selection which sits just above the coffee and tea menu on their drinks list. Four out of six of these are nothing more complicated than a twist on an Irish Coffee, and yet the trade up they offer is a leap from £5.50 for a normal coffee to £10.50 for something stronger. And it works, according to bar manager Alex Kratena, who says these are particularly popular in winter after lunch and dinner.

Jonah Roberman, a roving bar consultant for the likes of L’Atelier de Jöel Robuchon and Mahiki, also suggests lengthening hot cocktails with herbal tea, for cocktails that sound almost healthy. ‘Drinks like Hot Buttered Rum are excellent but can be little too alcoholic for some customers,’ he says. ‘So for female customers I might suggest something like my version of a favourite family recipe using brandy, lemon juice, honey and camomile tea. Or my favourite, The Moroccan, which mixes an infusion of ginseng, fresh mint, star anise and rose petals blended with spirit – at the moment I am enjoying it with the orange liqueur Patron Citronge.’

The heat is on…

And for smokers spending their second winter shivering on outside terraces, the hot drink may be as much a necessity as a pleasure, says Giuseppe Ruo, bar manager at the Library bar at the Lanesborough. ‘We have a cigar bar outside, so from mid-October to the end of February it is not really very hot!’ he remarks drily. ‘That’s when we sell a lot of hot drinks. As well as my own Italian version of mulled wine, a vin brulet using grappa and Italian red wine, I have created the Night Cap (see box), a warm digestif using armagnac. Prices start at £16 and go up to £400 for one using a 1904 Armagnac Montal – we’ve sold a few of those too!’


In the 18th century, a popular drink in roadside inns was a warm flip-style mix of ale, spirit and spice, fortified with eggs or cream. Heated up with a hot iron from the fire known as a ‘loggerhead’, it seems likely that this concoction is behind the expression ‘to be at loggerheads’, as one too many mugs of punch led to some rather boisterous behaviour…

Cheaper than central heating
With gas prices how they are, the state pension barely covering my bingo habit and no furniture left to burn, the only way I can keep warm is with some lovely hot cocktails made by those nice barmen. They might look funny with all those earrings and I don’t think they’ve seen a comb in weeks – not a side-parting among ’em. But the drinks are very nice, and they’re cheaper than electric slippers…


Coffee Calater Blazer

By Toby Blazquez Garcia

‘This is based on a traditional drink from Ibiza, where I come from.’

  • 60ml Spanish brandy (Soberano 5/8yr)
  • Handful of fresh coffee beans
  • 2” cinnamon stick
  • Pinch of caster sugar (sugar syrup better)*
  • 2 or 3 50p-sized pieces of lemon zest
  • * If you don’t have sugar syrup, try to dissolve the sugar in the brandy by stirring


  • 2 brandy balloons – the standard 450ml ones work the best
  • Wide-mouthed tumbler
  • Boiling water
  • Lighter


1. Add enough coffee beans to the brandy to cover the whole surface but leaving gaps for the alcohol to evaporate.

2. Fill the tumbler nearly to the top with boiling water. Then take the balloon containing the brandy and coffee and rest it on its side, on top of the tumbler, so that its belly is making contact with the boiling water, thus heating the glass and contents.

3. Twist the brandy balloon by its
stem (in a winding motion) until all sides of the balloon have been thoroughly warmed.

4. Ignite the brandy by flaming the lemon zest over the mouth of the balloon. Then throw the zest into the glass, followed by the cinnamon and other lemon zests.

5. All the while, keep ‘winding’ the stem of the resting glass continuously, to stop the glass from cracking.

6. Wind for at least 45 more seconds.

7. Transfer the mix to a warm, empty balloon. It can be done with the liquid still on fire but is advisable to stop the fire by covering it (not with your hand, of course!) first.

8. To drink, it is better to lean back to avoid the hot fumes singeing your nose!

Spiced Cider

By Alex Thorp

‘We love New Forest Cider because it’s proper rough cider, like scrumpy, and it’s aged in whisky barrels, which gives it a nice smokiness.’

  • 7.5 litres of New Forest Cider (
  • 850ml of apple juice
  • Around 350ml calvados
  • Spice bag

To make the spice bag place a mix of star anise, cloves, cinnamon, allspice berries, orange zest in a jay cloth – all our chefs use jay cloths instead of muslin – and tie with cooking twine.

The Night Cap

By Giuseppe Ruo

  • 50ml armagnac
  • 20ml Chambord
  • 20ml sugar syrup
  • 3 raspberries
  • 3 blackberries
  • 2 lemon twists
  • 2 orange twists

Glass: Large balloon

Method: Stir the armagnac, Chambord and sugar syrup, warming them up all together. Add the berries and squeeze gently without breaking them, then the lemon and orange twist and leave to rest for two minutes before serving.

Cardinal 75

By Tim Oakley

‘The Cardinal is a variation on the traditional Bishop using a champagne or Rhine wine instead of port, hence the Riesling in my drink.  The “75” comes from the classic French 75 recipe of gin, lemon juice and champagne.’

  • 750ml German Riesling
  • 150ml London Dry gin
  • 2 lemon rinds
  • 12 juniper berries
  • Touch of coriander
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • 50ml elderflower liqueur
  • 100ml gomme

Method: Gently heat all for 5-10 minutes. Serves 6.

Dog’s Nose

By Jonah Roberman

  • 355ml Guinness (room temperature)
  • 2tsp brown sugar
  • 60ml gin
  • Freshly grated nutmeg, for garnish

Method: Pour the Guinness into a large sturdy glass and heat it on high in a microwave for about one minute. Add the brown sugar and gin and stir lightly. Garnish with nutmeg.

Many thanks to Toby and Pinchito Tapas for hosting the shoot.

Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – November / December 2008

About Author

Since its launch in March 2007, Imbibe magazine has established itself as the UK’s leading publication for on-trade drinks professionals. Imbibe’s editorial coverage takes in all the main drinks categories, from wine to water, spirits to soft drinks.

Leave A Reply