Keep the long johns, space heaters and any other way to stay warm in the winter.
For our money, a finely made cocktail is the most effective — or at least the most fun way to thaw our minds and bodies. Whether it is a steaming hot cider, a smoke-filled bourbon mixture or a hot buttered rye concoction, we've compiled eight outside-of-the-box cocktails that will hit the spot in ways nothing else will.
Smokey & The Bandit, Twisted Pizza Kitchen & Pub
8712 Loch Raven Blvd., Towson; twistedpizzakitchen.com. $8-$15.
A Days Inn might not be the most obvious location to find an eye-catching winter cocktail, but the craft-centric Twisted Pizza Kitchen & Pub — the hotel's connected restaurant and bar — aims to change that.
The Smokey & the Bandit, one of Twisted's most popular drinks, according to director of operations Scott Hetrick, is also its signature cocktail. Patrons begin by choosing a type of whiskey for the base. For the cocktail, Twisted offers 22 brands of bourbon, eights brands of rye and seven miscellaneous brands that include Crown Royal and Jameson. For the novice, Hetrick recommends Kentucky's Buffalo Trace bourbon because of its notes of sweet flavors, like vanilla and toffee.
Maple syrup and Angostura bitters are added to the bourbon, but it's the smoking process that attracts attention. After a quick stir of ingredients, Hetrick places a strainer on the rocks glass and tops it with a small handful of mesquite woods chips. He takes a culinary blowtorch to the wood, which builds smoke within the drink. A pint glass is placed atop the cocktail to create an even thicker cloud, which often piques the curiosity of nearby patrons.
"It's one of those things where people will look at it and go, 'Oh my god, what is that? I need to try that,'" Hetrick said. "We eat and drink with our eyes first."
With the smoky flavor penetrating the liquid, Hetrick stirs the ingredients in a glass filled with ice to incorporate a bit of water. For a garnish, Hetrick takes the torch to an orange peel to caramelize the citrus oils. The finished drink is poured over a single large ice cube in a rocks glass, and the finished product is an addictively sippable cocktail that quickly warms your insides.
Smokey & The Bandit's popularity has customers realizing a Towson bar, even one in a Days Inn, can deliver the type of cocktail experience they expect in the city, Hetrick said.
"I've had a lot of people come in here and say, 'To find something like this, we have to drive down to Fells Point or downtown,'" he said. "So it's nice to have something in the Towson area."
How to make the Smokey & The Bandit
2 oz. whiskey of choice
1/4 oz. maple syrup
5 dashes of Angostura bitters
After pouring whiskey into a rocks glass, add maple syrup and bitters. With a strainer and wood chips on top of the glass, put the culinary torch to the chips to build smoke. After 20-30 seconds, place a pint glass on top to create a thick chamber of smoke. Pour liquid into an ice-filled glass and stir. Pour over a single large ice cube in a rocks glass. Finish with a slightly torched orange peel for garnish.
A Break in the Weather, Ware House 518
518 N. Charles St., Mount Vernon, warehouse518.com. $11.
It's time to stop being intimidated by Scotch, the imported, malted-barley-based whisky, says Ware House 518 owner Ezra Tilaye.
While the sweetness of bourbon has made American whiskey a go-to base for winter drinks, the Mount Vernon bar chose Dewar's White Label, an approachable Scotch, for its cocktail called A Break in the Weather.
Scotch was chosen because it "really taps into the winter feel and warmth," Tilaye said. The warming effect gets an added dimension thanks to the inclusion of cayenne syrup, which reads more jarring than it tastes. The cayenne actually announces its surprisingly subtle arrival at the very end of the sip. It does not burn the tongue, but gently scratches at the back of the throat.
An orange-spice brown sugar syrup provides a fruity element that balances the spice from the cayenne, while the Scotch's bite and smokiness complete the well-rounded drink. A garnish of a single bay leaf adds a woodsy aromatic note.
As a list of ingredients, A Break in the Weather reads like an intriguing but potentially off-putting combination. Yet one sip should convince patrons the marriage works, which is how Tilaye prefers the Ware House 518 cocktail experience to go.
The best cocktails "don't sound good on paper because it's something of a unique flavor combination," he said.
The hope is A Break in the Weather changes some customers' perception of Scotch. It's not a spirit just for stone-faced TV alpha males.
"Everyone thinks it's such an exclusive thing," said floor manager Thomas Wheeler. "People are surprised when they find out they can actually drink Scotch."
How to make A Break in the Weather
2 oz. Dewar's White Label Scotch
1 oz. orange-spice brown sugar syrup
1/2 oz. cayenne syrup
4 dashes of Peychaud's Bitters
To create orange-spice brown sugar syrup, use a ratio of two cups of brown sugar for every one cup of water. Bring the sugar water to a boil and add two whole orange rinds and two cinnamon sticks. Let cool. Remove rinds and cinnamon sticks. To create cayenne syrup, use a ratio of two cups of white sugar for every one cup of water. Bring water to a boil and add a tablespoon of cayenne. Mix until clear.
Combine the Scotch, syrups and bitters in a glass. Stir or shake for a minute and pour in a coupe glass. Add a bay leaf on top for garnish.
Bata Momo, Azumi
725 Aliceanna St., Harbor East, azumirestaurant.com. $20.
Bata Momo means "buttered pear" in Japanese, and darn if that isn't just what this elegant cocktail tastes like, at least at first. But there's more going with the Bata Momo, which was created especially for our winter warmers round-up by Azumi bartender Adam Light. (The Bata Momo isn't on the regular cocktail menu, but the bar staff will prepare it on request.)
The secret ingredient is shochu, a clear and high-proof Japanese spirit less well known in the west than saki. Shochu can be distilled from ingredients such as buckwheat, barley and rice, but Shiranami shochu is made from sweet potatoes, which you would really have to know to be able to detect its flavors.
So far, so good. But it's the details that make the Bata Momo an over-the-top experience that feels right at home at Azumi, the new Japanese restaurant in Harbor East. The foam, made separately, is a frothy blend of cinnamon, orange shrub spirit and whole milk. The garnish, a tour de force, incorporates a twist cut from the full diameter of a whole lemon, and lime and orange skins cut into the shape of a leaf and flower, respectively.
How to make a Bata Momo
1 1/2 oz. Satsuma Shiranami shochu
1 oz. Clement "Creole Shrubb" liqueur d'orange
4 oz. Fuji apple juice
2 oz. pear nectar
1/4 teaspoon butter
1/2 oz. cinnamon simple syrup
2 oz. whole milk
Blend the apple juice, pear nectar and butter and heat on a stove until it simmers. Place the shochu and warm juices in an 8-ounce riesling glass. Blend the orange shrub, cinnamon simple syrup and milk and steam with a steam wand to create a foam. Spoon the foam on top of the cocktail, filling the glass to the top. Using a microplane, shave a cinnamon stick on top of the foam.
Hot Spiced Rum Cider, Lobo
1900 Aliceanna St., Fells Point, lobofellspoint.com. $8.
When the bitter wind blows new faces into Lobo in Fells Point, employees do not hesitate to offer the bar's favorite remedy, Hot Spiced Rum Cider.
Calling it Lobo's winter "go-to" cocktail, co-owner Jamie Hubbard said he frequently recommends it to clearly cold customers.
"People settle down, have a couple sips and get warmed up," Hubbard said.
Rum and hot apple cider are a timeless combination, but it's the care Lobo takes in making its rum cider that sets it apart from less thoughtful bars. The house-made cider takes two days to make, according to bar manager Pamela Hadel. She uses a mixture of gala and Fuji apples because they're not too sweet, and "have that good, natural apple flavor."
After cutting the apples, she adds the fruit, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and coriander to the pot of water. All of the ingredients cook down for a couple of hours to insure the apples are infused with all of the flavors. The mixture sits overnight before serving.
Lobo also makes the baked apple bitters by soaking the peels for two weeks in grain alcohol and putting in a couple shots of Booker's bourbon for a "little extra oomph of alcohol." The bitters add an extra level of depth to the cider, which Hadel said heightens the sense of winter in the cocktail.
The time and care taken with Lobo's rum cider directly translates to the finished product. The cider is flavorful because of the marriage between the fruit and spices, while the smart usage of Sailor Jerry's packs a punch. The soothing, easy-to-enjoy hot drink should make these winter months just a little bit easier to manage.
How to make Lobo's Hot Spiced Rum Cider
1 1/2 oz. Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum
4 oz. homemade apple cider
5 dashes of homemade baked apple bitters
Hadel recommends using 12 apples to eight quarts of water. Add brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and coriander to the pot. Cook for two hours, let mixture sit overnight and then strain.
Heat the apple cider to the temperature of your choice. Combine with rum and apple bitters. Pour into a rocks glass with a spiced rim (a combination of sugar, nutmeg and cinnamon).
Ginger Toddy, Maggie's Farm
4341 Harford Road, Beverly Hills, maggiesfarmmd.com. $7.
Owner and general manager Matthew Weaver said Maggie's Farm's Ginger Toddy is his take on an Irish cold remedy that he picked up years ago when he worked in an Irish bar. The Irish bartender he learned it from always garnished his own version with his signature clove-studded lemon, and Weaver has incorporated that flourish in his bracing and effervescent cocktail.
Toddies, traditionally a mixture of liquor with hot water, spices, sugar and honey, have always been endowed with medicinal qualities, and the Ginger Toddy adds the stomach-settling qualities of ginger, which makes it a perfect after-dinner drink.
A toddy can be too sweet or even syrupy, but Weaver uses a homemade ginger syrup in place of the traditional sugar or honey.
How to make a Ginger Toddy
2 oz. whiskey
1 oz. ginger syrup
1 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 eyedropper cinnamon and clove tincture
Hot water to fill glass
Heat glass. Add all ingredients, water last, garnish with a clove-studded lemon wheel.
Bloody Baltimore, XS
1307 N. Charles St., Mount Vernon, xsbaltimore.com. $9.
If hangovers have degrees of awfulness, then the winter hangover is king. The next morning's lingering headache matched with freezing temperatures, ice or snow is enough to make a person consider hibernation until baseball season.
Before such a drastic measure, we recommend trying XS' Bloody Baltimore. The Mount Vernon staple offers a range of bloody marys, but the Bloody Baltimore is the spiciest. Naturally, it's also the quickest way to thaw your brain from the pounding punishment.
The cocktail stands out, assistant manager Toni Calandrelle said, because of the house-made bloody mary mix. Over the years, XS has tweaked its recipe — including the addition of pureed olives — to create a thick and hearty base that works particularly well in the winter, Calandrelle said.
Bloody marys should have a "nice portion of salt and spice," she said. The Bloody Baltimore achieves this by utilizing Old Bay, black pepper, Tabasco and wasabi.
"Since we're an Asian fusion restaurant, we wanted to have a way to add horseradish taste without adding horseradish," she said to explain the inclusion of wasabi.
Like the best bloody marys, the Bloody Baltimore warms a patron up by combining heartiness and spice. Plus, the truth, passed down for generations, remains: After a long night of drinking, sometimes an alcoholic beverage is the only way to quell the demons between the ears.
How to Make the Bloody Baltimore Mix
(yields approximately 20 drinks, can be stored in a refrigerator for four days)
2 tablespoons of wasabi
2 teaspoons of Old Bay
2 teaspoons of black pepper
6 hard dashes of Tabasco sauce
12 queen stuffed green olives
4 oz. olive juice
15 oz. V8 vegetable juice
Combine ingredients in a blender until olives are no longer solid, and chill.
How to Make the Bloody Baltimore
2 1/2 oz. of Ketel One vodka
1 1/2 oz. of Bloody Baltimore mix
2 large lime wedges, squeezed
3 1/2 oz. of V8
Combine ingredients over a generous amount of ice. Shake and serve in a pint glass with an Old Bay rim. Garnish with lime and cocktail olives.
Gran Cappuccino, Liquid Lib's
9515 Deereco Road, Timonium, liquidlibs.com. $10.
We like the idea of spirited hot coffee drinks, but we don't always like the reality of them. If prepared badly, the drink cools down too quickly. So while whipped cream can make for a pretty garnish, we think there are better ways of mellowing out coffee-based cocktails.
We love sipping the hot coffee cocktail at Liquid Lib's, the snazzy wine bar adjacent to Liberatore's restaurant, which stays piping hot to the very last drop. Owner John Liberatore and general manager Nick Angelini collaborated on the Gran Cappuccino, originally at the request of a customer who wanted a coffee drink without too much sugar.
The secret, Angelini said, is the Patron XO Cafe coffee, a blend of tequila and coffee liqueur, which helps to keep the drink smooth and strong. The richness comes from chocolate chips, which are added just before the steaming hot espresso is poured on. We also love that the Gran Cappuccino is served in a traditional ceramic coffee cup and not an Irish coffee glass.
How to make the Gran Cappuccino
1 oz. Grand Marnier
1 oz. Patron XO Cafe coffee liqueur
3/4 oz Courvoisier VS cognac
Milk for frothing
Chocolate chips for blending and chocolate bar for garnish
Pour all liquors into a coffee cup and add 4-5 small chocolate chips. Add two nice shots of espresso coffee and top with frothed milk. Garnish with shaved chocolate.
Hot Buttered Rye, Le Garage
911 W. 36th St., Hampden, legaragebaltimore.com. $10.
We couldn't have dreamt up a warm winter drink better than the hot buttered rye, a superb cocktail from Le Garage head bartender Patrick Gartner. Gartner said he was inspired to put a hot buttered rum variation on his winter cocktail list by a recipe he spotted in Tristan Stephenson's book "The Curious Bartender." Replacing the rum with rye, one of his favorite spirits, was an easy call, Gartner said.
For lovers of rye, it's the perfect adaptation of the traditional hot buttered rum, which can give drinkers an unwelcome sugary jolt. The big challenge for Gartner was what to do with the butter.
"The hardest part about working with butter is consistency and making sure the fat doesn't separate," Gartner explained in an email. "We experimented with a French press screen to emulsify the drink, but that cooled it down too much. We also tried a traditional brown sugar and bitters compound butter, but that separated too quickly. What we are currently doing is cooking brown sugar, clove, and salted butter down into a rough caramel."
All of that intense effort is worth it. The Hot Buttered Rye has everything we want it a warm winter drink — aroma, comfort and fortifying warmth.
And Gartner passed along this tip. He advises drinking hot drinks through a straw rather than sipping because it reduces the amount of alcohol vapors some people find unpleasant.
How to make the Hot Buttered Rye
2 oz. Rittenhouse rye
1 cinnamon stick
4 dashes Angostura bitters
Infused compound butter
Temper a cocktail glass with hot water. Use a melon baller to add a small ball of compound butter. Fill glass halfway with hot water, constantly stirring until butter is dissolved. Add rye, cinnamon and bitters and then hot water to fill. Stir ten times to blend ingredients evenly. Grate nutmeg on top and serve with two cocktail straws.