"Toddies for the Table" cocktail is made in a vacuum syphon at Minnow restaurant. (Algerina Perna/Baltimore Sun video)
Blankets, fuzzy socks, fireplaces, those weird hand-warming packets -- they all get the job done in the winter, but on the fun scale, they’re non-starters.
In search of some temperature-rising excitement, we turn to clever bartenders of Baltimore for the unique warmth that works from the inside out. Booze does the trick.
This season, bars have added unique twists to the ever-popular hot toddy, while reimagining classics like hot chocolate and eggnog, and creating something new from scratch. The bartenders encourage patrons to come taste them in-house, and then try their hand at re-creating them at home. Either way, you’ll feel the heat.
“People are confused. They’re like, ‘Oh, it’s a science experiment,’ ” said co-owner Jake Lefenfeld.
That’s because Minnow uses special equipment, a vacuum infuser, to add herbal and citrus flavors to its hot toddies (a single order serves four). The infuser is normally used for brewing coffee or turning vodka into gin, but Minnow uses it to add complexity to a standard toddy recipe. As the toddy warms up from the device’s butane heat source, the equipment’s chamber infuses flavors from the tea, rosemary and other ingredients into the cocktail in a five-minute process.
Like a meal at Charleston or a stay at the Four Seasons, the Elk Room feels tailored to the deepest-pocketed Harbor East crowd, or those looking to truly indulge with booze. So sure, it’s worth it — as long as your bank account says so.
$14; 924 N. Charles St., Mount Vernon; 443-447-7878; theelephantbaltimore.com
Presentation matters to Mallory Staley, co-owner of the Elephant. She knew she wanted to include her eggnog on the menu (a “dairy forward” recipe sans eggs), but didn’t want to just pour it into a mug.
So Staley found a new way to use the plastic eggs her young daughter plays with: She forms hollow, white chocolate eggs she fills with Bulleit Rye whiskey. A customer receives a coupe glass with just the egg inside, and then pours the eggnog on top of it.
“It melts into it, and then [the flavors] all come together,” Staley said.
1 cup granulated sugar
3 cups heavy whipping cream
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup vanilla extract
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
1/3 cup white chocolate chips
1 oz. Bulleit Rye whiskey (or whiskey of choice)
Makes 4-6 servings. In a pot on medium heat, add granulated sugar. Without stirring, let the sugar melt and turn golden brown. (You will need to turn your exhaust fan on.) Pour in heavy cream. Bring the caramelized sugar and heavy cream back to a boil. Add milk, vanilla and spices. Bring back to a boil. Remove from heat.
Place white chocolate and whiskey in a cup. Pour the hot liquid over chocolate and whiskey, and enjoy.
Last week, the Elk Room -- the Harbor East speakeasy next to Tagliata -- hosted Winterpalooza, a four-day, charitable celebration of the ’80s, from its retro-and-neon ski lodge theme to the soundtrack. Bar manager Shaun Stewart knew he wanted a hot cocktail on the menu, too.
“Eggnog could have worked for the season, but who doesn’t love hot cocoa?” said Stewart, who liked the recipe enough to add the cocktail to the bar’s regular menu.
At the Elk Room, the aim is to always elevate the cocktails with a craft touch, and this cocoa is no exception. Whiskey or vodka are the more common spirit choices for spiked hot chocolate, Stewart said, but he believes the soft touch of the tequila best complements the chocolate and Lustau Amontillado, a dry sherry.
The Harbor East bar is known for using fun equipment behind the bar. For the hot cocoa, Stewart keeps the drink at 150 degrees by storing it in a water bath, while using an immersion circulator to keep the temperature consistent. It’s an example of the Elk Room’s thoughtfulness, though Stewart is quick to point out that while the toys are conversation-starters, the finished product is all that matters.
“We’re just trying to make an insanely approachable hot chocolate,” Stewart said.
1.5 oz Espolòn Blanco Tequila
1/2 oz Lustau “Los Arcos” Amontillado dry sherry
3 oz. cocoa mix made with Demerara sugar syrup
Meringue (can be store bought, or substituted with marshmallows)
For Demerara sugar syrup: Combine 2 cups Demerara sugar and 1 cup water in a thick-bottom pot. Heat over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Let syrup cool, then bottle and refrigerate for up to three weeks.
For cocoa mix: Whisk together 2 tablespoons cocoa powder and 2 tablespoons of water in a mixing bowl. Add 1 cup of whole milk and 1/4 cup Demerara sugar syrup and stir to combine. Bottle the mixture and keep warm (The Elk Room uses a hot water bath set to 150 degrees). Shake the bottle to reintegrate mixture before serving.
Prepare a tempered glass mug by filling with hot water. Once warm, discard the water and build the drink in the glass. Fill the remainder of the glass with meringue or marshmallows and toast the top with a blow torch. Grate nutmeg over drink then serve.
Embers Only, Rye Street Tavern
$11; 13 Rye St., Port Covington; 443-662-8000; ryestreettavern.com
Recently, Rye Street Tavern head bartender Dan Lease was hit with some inspiration.
“I was looking over the fireplace, and the fire was starting to die down,” Lease said.
Embers Only combines some of his favorite flavors in a warm mug: chocolate, mezcal, orange and rye whiskey. Whiskey adds spice, mezcal incorporates smokiness, chocolate brings the spirits’ flavors together and the orange brightens everything at the end, Lease said.
“You get notes from each that you wouldn’t get when you’re drinking them by themselves,” he said.
While Lease encourages customers to come enjoy it by the tavern’s fireplace, he said the drink is easy to re-create at home.
“There’s no super in-depth techniques,” he said. “It’s just pour these things together, and enjoy.”
1 oz Sagamore Rye whiskey
1/2 oz Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao
1/2 oz Del Maguey Vida mezcal
1/4 oz New Deal Coffee Liqueur
1/4 oz brown sugar simple syrup
3 dashes of Bitter Truth chocolate bitters
Star anise pod for garnish
To make the brown sugar simple syrup, use equal parts by volume light brown sugar and boiling water. Stir until no granules are left and then allow it to come to room temperature before using. For cocktail: Warm a coffee mug with almost boiling water. Remove water from mug, leaving it warm and build cocktail in mug. Add 5 oz. of almost boiling water. Twist an orange peel over the top and enjoy. You may choose to add the peel and/or an anise pod to change the drink slightly upon preference.
$12; 2. N Charles St., downtown; 443-692-6172; bandorestaurant.com
When it came time to create a new hot cocktail for B&O American Brasserie, Brendan Dorr began feeling nostalgic for his hometown in Frederick County. Above all else, he wanted “something comforting.”
Named after Frostown Road, a street in Middletown, where Dorr grew up, the Frostown Toddy adds flavorful nuances to a standard hot toddy (typically made with a spirit, hot water, spices and honey) by using two different brandys, an aromatic brown sugar syrup and Becherovka, an herbal liqueur from the Czech Republic that Dorr particularly enjoys.
“It has some nice cinnamon notes to it, so I really wanted to draw off that to complement the brandy,” Dorr said.
The toughest ingredient to find will likely be the Laird’s Old Apple Brandy, Dorr said. It can be substituted at home with Laird’s more popular product, Apple Jack, or Calvados, a French apple brandy. The seamless swap of ingredients speaks to a toddy’s versatility, he said.
“Toddies are really easy to play off of,” Dorr said.
1 oz. Clear Creek Brandy
.75 oz. Laird’s Old Apple Brandy
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To make the chamomile brown sugar syrup: Combine 1 cup light brown sugar and 1 cup water in a sauce pot. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Add chamomile tea, remove from heat and allow to steep until liquid has cooled to room temperature. Strain out chamomile, store in a covered container and refrigerate until ready for use. Then build all ingredients in a toddy glass. Garnish with a cinnamon stick.