Baby, it's cold outside.
Ah, but wrap your hands around a mug of something warm, and the chill just melts away.
Whether you're cuddling on the couch or cozying up to the bar, winter drinks are hot stuff this time of year. They come traditional or contemporary, hot or cold, alcoholic or non. And you can just as easily create them at home as you can order one.
"They're really easy to make," said Tim Troup, bartender at Downtown 140 in Hudson, Ohio. Troup tends a packed bar almost every night, so he would know. "This is our busiest time of year. I want to make something simple and still delicious and creative."
Anyone who has ever entertained for the holidays knows what he means.
"When people are entertaining at home, they want something kind of easy," said Shawn Kelley, public relations director for the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. "My advice is to go with a drink with five ingredients or less."
There are plenty of ways to do that and with the simplest of ingredients, too. Pop peppermint or cinnamon sticks into hot chocolate, or add rose water or flavored liqueurs - like ginger or chai - to regular tea.
Some classic holiday cocktails are the easiest to make. Irish coffee is just Irish cream and a regular cup of coffee. Mulled wine and spiced cider require nothing more than a spice sachet and a few minutes on the stove - perhaps a bit of rum, if you want that cider spiked.
Troup makes his cider with cognac, spiced rum and hot apple cider and serves it in a brandy snifter. He tops it with whipped cream and a sprinkle or two of nutmeg and cinnamon. Talk about decadent.
But Troup's personal favorite is a bit simpler: butterscotch schnapps in hot chocolate or coffee. It's another easy at-home drink, perfect for an evening by the fire.
Of course, for fireside sipping, there is no more classic holiday beverage than eggnog.
Michael Green, who consults on wine and spirits for Gourmet magazine, sets mulled wine and eggnog apart as "base" recipes for the holidays.
"I don't like to put such a heavy twist on a classic that it becomes sort of goofy, but I think you can choose from one of these big-picture recipes and freshen them with spice, liqueur or a serving vessel."
White Chocolate Raspberry Truffle
Makes 1 serving
1.5 ounces Godiva White Chocolate Liqueur
1 ounce Chambord Raspberry Liqueur
Add white chocolate and raspberry liqueurs to coffee. Top with whipped cream, chocolate shavings and a single raspberry.
-- Tim Troup, bartender, Downtown 140 in Hudson, Ohio
Makes 8 servings
6 eggs, separated
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups brandy or rum
1/2 cup Kahlua liqueur
4 cups milk
2 cups cream
Separate the yolks from the egg whites. Beat yolks while adding sugar until mixture is smooth. Add brandy or rum and Kahlua.
Beat in the milk and cream. Chill. Whisk the egg whites until stiff and fold into eggnog mixture.
Serve in a punch bowl, and add whipped cream and nutmeg for garnish.
Note: Consuming undercooked or raw eggs carries the risk of salmonella poisoning. Eggnog can be made with egg substitutes, but the taste and consistency will vary.
- Michael Green, wine and spirits consultant to "Gourmet" magazine
Earl Grey Hot Chocolate
Makes 1 serving
3 Earl Grey tea bags
1 cup boiling water
4 ounces top-quality chocolate, melted
Pour water into mug. Steep tea bags. Add chocolate. Blend well. Microwave for 45 seconds but don't boil. Serve immediately topped with whipped cream. -- Mrs. Ticklemore's Tea Room in Akron, Ohio