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Go beyond the classic hot toddy with these warm winter cocktails

By Stephanie Burt
(Originally published in Oxford Magazine)

Since the season is short, it’s natural to stick to what we know: the classic hot toddy of bourbon with honey and lemon. It’s a classic for a reason, and a delicious way to celebrate good friends and good times (and for some, even to combat a cold). But there is a world beyond the beloved brown liquor when it comes to toasty beverages.

I love hot chocolate, but in general I’m not a sweet beverages kind of gal. However, this is sweet with a kick. Ancho Reyes is an Ancho chile liqueur, and so a serious pop of pepper is balanced by the chocolate and coffee notes, inspired by Mexican mole. For this mug, I don’t stray too fancy and use a good quality packaged hot cocoa mix, but of course, if you’d rather make cocoa from scratch, go for it. For my taste, Ghirardelli does the trick, especially as the oversized marshmallow melts into a creamy, frothy topping.

Mexican Hot Mocha

1 packet Ghirardelli hot chocolate cocoa mix
4 ounces hot water
1 ounce Ancho Reyes
1 ounce espresso vodka
Large marshmallow and cinnamon stick for garnish

1. Empty hot chocolate packet into a mug and add water, stirring continuously until all is dissolved (it will be a little thick).
2. Add liquors and stir to incorporate.
3. Garnish with large marshmallow and cinnamon stick. Use the stick as a swizzle stick or a makeshift straw and enjoy.

I predict an imminent apple brandy revival. During the country’s early years, apple brandy was one of the most common beverages served, since most families made their own. Then it receded into obscurity, one of those dusty bottles on the back shelf of the bar. Recently, it’s started popping up on cocktail menus, and bartenders are looking for quality brandies they can use in inventive ways, driving the market by expanding apple brandy brands on the shelf. The key to this cocktail is that quality — look for something a little pricer, and you will be rewarded since a lot of the lesser bottles are filled with syrups and flavorings. The depth of a good apple brandy mixed with this tea, which is widely available and includes ginger, turmeric, and galangal, is a symbolic sip of the season’s best flavors, warm and fruity and bright.

Ginger-Apple Tea

Pukka Three Ginger Tea
2 ounces apple brandy
4 dashes Angostura Bitters
Spiked orange wedge for garnish

1. Make tea.
2. Pour brandy and bitters into the bottom of a warm mug, then add tea and stir.
3. Serve with an orange wedge spiked with cloves for garnish.

Years ago, there was a deli in Black Mountain, N.C. called Pepper’s. It served solid deli fare, but the real draw was the celebration of Dr. Pepper, from memorabilia on the wall to a menu of Dr. Pepper drinks, including a Hot Dr. Pepper, which of course, I had to try. Although Pepper’s is now closed, this toddy pays homage to the little quirky place, while at the same time being a riff on rum and Coca-Cola. Do not forgo the floating lemon wheel in this one — it’s essential to bringing these simple ingredients together.

Hot Dr. Pepper

6 ounces Dr. Pepper soda, warmed
2 ounces Appleton rum
Lemon wheel

1. Warm Dr. Pepper on stove until hot but not boiling.
2. Pour rum into bottom of mug, then top with soda.
3. Garnish with a floating lemon wheel.


Stephanie Burt is the host of The Southern Fork podcast and a writer about all things food and beverage for a variety of publications, including Gravy, The Post and Courier, and Extra Crispy. She resides in Charleston, S.C. but her work takes her on travels throughout the country, and she’s always ready to eat when she gets there.

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