Measure & Stir

A Craft Cocktail Blog for the Home Bartender that Focuses on Original Creations Drawn from Culinary Inspiration.

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Hot and Bothered: The Art of The Toddy

This winter I did a series of hot drinks, and this is my one stop landing page for all things toddy. You might have already seen my tutorial on Hot Drinks in my recent Mixology Crash Course, but whereas that post was focused on fundamentals, this series is more in keeping with my core mission here: original compositions.

Every toddy comes with a lesson!


Seventh Inning Stretch: Root Beer, Bourbon, Salted Peanuts, Oksusucha

In which I make a syrup with root beer botanicals.

Hot Toddy Lesson One: Pay close attention to your serving temperature. There is a perfect window, and you need to find it.


Cinnamon-Smoked Coffee Toddy, My Way

In which I update one of my old standbys.

Hot Toddy Lesson Two: Give your toddy some body by lengthening it with a flavorful liquid.


Glogg: Norwegian Mulled Wine

In which I make the Norwegian version of this classic crowd-pleaser.

Hot Toddy Lesson Three: Use a base of brown spirits and winter spices.


My Toddy’s So Buddha-Licious

In which I make the best pun of my career.

Hot Toddy Lesson Four: A toddy is a classic punch.


Boozy Hot Chocolate

In which I covertly reference Army of Darkness.

Hot Toddy Lesson Five: Use a lower ABV when lengthening with milk.

Let’s pour a hot drink for 2016.


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Mixology Crash Course: Garnishes

This is part 10 of a series on Mixology Basics.

Garnishes exist for several reasons. Back in the old days, it was customary to place fresh citrus peels in a punch bowl as a signal of the freshness of the punch. From there, the practice evolved, and garnishes now have several functions:

  • We drink first with our eyes. The garnish decorates the glass and announces the flavors of the potion therein.
  • The garnish is aromatic: cold, diluted spirits don’t have much of a fragrance, but a fresh citrus peel or a sprig of mint provides an olfactory experience as a counterpoint to the drink’s flavor.
  • The garnish is sometimes a snack. In a perfect world, it is a little bite that changes or amplifies the flavor in the drink itself. The olive in a martini is the classic example.


Ideally, every drink should have a garnish. You can mix and match garnishes to suit your different drinks. Have some fun with it. Try to create interesting contrasts and visuals. Here is a list of the most common garnishes, for reference and inspiration:

  • A swath or strip of citrus peel, expressed over a drink
  • A wedge or wheel of citrus fruit, with a cut made so that it can sit on the edge of the glass
  • A brandied cherry, on a skewer
  • fresh berries, either skewered or cut to sit on the edge of the glass
  • a cinnamon stick, used to stir the drink
  • a star anise
  • a sprig of fresh herbs, such as mint, rosemary, or thyme, possibly clipped to the side of the glass with a miniature clothespin
  • a chunk of pineapple, maybe skewered, maybe accompanied by a brandied cherry
  • a paper-thin slice of dehydrated citrus fruit
  • any kind of fruit cut into a festive shape, such as a slice of starfruit
  • salt or sugar on the rim of the glass, maybe mixed with a flavoring agent

A drink without a garnish just looks naked. When in doubt, garnish a sour with a wedge or a wheel of citrus, but be aware that most people will see this as an invitation to squeeze it into the drink and upset the balance you have created. For an aromatic drink, you can always fall back on a citrus peel.




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Mixology Crash Course: Closing Thoughts

This is part 12 of a series on Mixology Basics.

Thank you for reading all of this. I hope it wasn’t too long, and I hope that it helps you. It is a work in progress and I am sure I will be covertly updating it for many months to come. As mastery goes, mastery of mixology is relatively easy to acquire, and it is a fun journey to take.

Now, having laid some really actionable knowledge on you, I’m going to wax philosophical. That’s my prerogative.

1st Meditation on Connoisseurship: The Secret Ingredient is the Narrative

In any connoisseurship, be it coffee, whiskey, wine, chocolate, cheese, or cocktails, the greatest part of our enjoyment comes, not from the thing itself, but from the story that surrounds it.


I have consumed many fine things from all of these categories, and while the low quality stuff is indisputably bad, the quality to price difference among middle and high tiers scales logarithmically; which is a fancy way of saying that large increases in cost and rarity correspond to ever smaller increases in quality.

In many cases “better and worse” come down to your mood, and the people you are with. Good coffee is good, good wine is good, but great coffee and great wine are mostly so because of the company you keep and the stories they tell.

If you want your guests or customers to truly enjoy your creations, you must tell them a story; you do this through the drama of the preparation, the setting in which you serve your drinks, and the lore that surrounds the ingredients, processes, and history of the drink.

This is the reason that cocktail history is a popular subject among booze nerds, and the reason that wineries brand themselves with history and tradition and stories about their grapes and their founders. Wine connoisseurs don’t drink wine, they drink stories. It is thus with any gourmandise.

2nd Meditation on Connoisseurship: Signaling Games

A trend I have noticed among enthusiasts of fine spirits is that the more deeply entrenched within in the hobby they become, the more strongly they cleave to most extreme offerings from within their milieu. Beer drinkers crave the bitterest IPAs, scotch drinkers the smokiest, savoriest islay malts,  cheese aficionados the most pungent of fermented curds.

I think this happens for two reasons. The first is to win a signaling game, wherein the products that are off-putting to newbies demonstrate the credentials of the connoisseur to his fellows. Of course, one of the hallmarks of a signaling game is that you are acting sincerely, and you do not realize you are playing it.

As your circle of enthusiasts increasingly gravitates to more challenging ventures, you try to keep up with them and to one-up them; my beer is more strongly hopped, the cheese I enjoy has a fouler aroma than yours, the wine I pour is rarer and dryer and yet more tannic. I am not a beginner to this hobby, I can enjoy these off-putting things.

This is why gourmet restaurants and foodies are locked in an endlessly escalating spiral wherein chefs try to serve unfamiliar ingredients and techniques and foodies compete to be the first person to say, “been there, done that”.

Third Meditation on Connoisseurship: Rising to the Challenge

And yet there is a second, more wholesome reason for these spirals, and that is: everyone likes a challenge. If people take their first tentative steps into a hobby out of a desire to fit in with friends or to signal their high status, they surely stay, at least in part, for the element of challenge.

When you first try a bitter spirit, you may have a mixed reaction. There is something pleasant mixed with something abrasive, and that abrasion is intriguing. But once you become accustomed to it, you end up chasing that sensation, and a drink that once challenged you becomes mundane. In this way do our preferences creep.

On Naming Drinks

I am making space for this note only because it endlessly annoys me when amateurs mix up a mundane variation on a Tom Collins ora Manhattan and then post on cocktail forums asking for help “naming their new drink”. To be honest I wouldn’t name any of my drinks if it weren’t for the necessity to present them to the internet.

No one cares what you call your whiskey sour with lime instead of lemon juice. No one cares what you call your old fashioned that you made with a spiced liqueur and two (scandal!) dashes of boutique bitters. If your drink is a subtle tweak of a classic, it doesn’t deserve a name.

The Joy of Mixology

As a counterpoint to the above, the joy of mixology is the joy, not merely of connoisseurship, but of creativity. Most spirit enthusiasts can only enjoy their hobby by playing the role of explorer. This is not to discount the pleasure of discovery, but to contrast it to the yet more sublime pleasure of creation.

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Mixology Crash Course: Tiki

This is part 11 of a series on Mixology Basics.

Tiki is a deep subject, though it is not, to be honest, my area of expertise. There are whole blogs dedicated to the genre, and I will not claim to do it justice. Still, as this is meant to be an overview, I cannot omit it entirely.

What is tiki? Tiki is a feeling you get, deep in your heart. It’s warm sunshine, lazy beaches, tropical fruits, exotic spices, and enough rum to drown a rhinoceros.


It sounds like Martin Denny (no really, click that link and listen to it while you read this part) and its hallmarks are plastic palm trees, paper umbrellas, and a Polynesian adventure aesthetic.

The most iconic Tiki drink is the Mai Tai, which is the only one I’m going to give you. Tiki recipes are contentious, and there are at least three major recipes that go around. Tiki was started by a couple guys back in the thirties named Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic, and the main past time of Tiki enthusiasts seems to be arguing about the historical recipes of various Tiki icons. For my thoughts on that, see below, under The Secret Ingredient is Narrative.

Anyway, I’m an engineer, and I don’t much care for cocktail history. A Mai Tai, as I see it, is a drink that satisfies the following requirements:

  • Contains some proportion of rum, lime juice, orange liqueur, orgeat, and possibly rock candy syrup. Nothing else.
  • Garnished with mint, additional garnishes are allowed.
  • Served over cracked ice.

Beyond that, I don’t have strong preferences. Some Mai Tais call for floats of rum, some for an additional garnish of a spent half lime hull, and others for such heresies as pineapple juice, grenadine, or passion fruit syrup. Those are all Tiki ingredients, but they do not a Mai Tai make.

Mai Tai
1.5 oz of a traditional process rum, such as J. Wray and Nephew
.5 oz of a dark rum, such as Appleton 12
.75 oz of lime juice
.5 oz orange liqueur
.25 oz orgeat syrup
Shake and then strain into a glass full of cracked ice. Garnish with mint sprigs.

OK, I was fibbing. I’m going to give you one more, sort of. To me, Tiki is a lot like Brown, Bitter and Stirred, in that most of the drinks in the subgenre converge on an archetypal form. As with BBS, a good tiki drink is like a good curry; many ingredients and flavors combine to form something muddy and yet distinctively itself.

It’s not uncommon to see a tiki drink with eight to ten ingredients. You can make something that tastes like a tiki drink by 1) owning a bunch of tiki ingredients and 2) combining them in a way that balances sweetness, acidity, and booze. At it’s core, a tiki drink is a sour, usually a huge one. Here is a (non-exhaustive) list of tiki ingredients:

  • Rum: dark, light, spiced, traditional, old, young, etc.
  • More rum.
  • Lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, pineapple, and guava juice
  • Coconut cream
  • Strawberry purée
  • Passionfruit syrup, vanilla syrup, orgeat (almond) syrup, cinnamon syrup
  • Allspice dram
  • Falernum
  • Orange liqueur

Beyond this, many tiki drinks will incorporate a single stand-out flavor, such as coffee liqueur, or mezcal. In the same way that you might have a mango curry, you might have a mezcal tiki drink. Here’s a rough cut:

Generic Tiki Thing
1 oz light rum
1 oz dark rum
1 oz of your favorite rum
1 oz of orange or pineapple juice
1.5 oz of lemon or lime juice
1 oz of spiced syrup (cinnamon, vanilla, clove, cardamom,  etc. or a combination)
1 oz of a strongly flavored liqueur or juice of your choosing
Shake it up and pour it over crushed ice. Garnish it with as many fragrant and outrageous things as possible.

This probably serves two people comfortably.


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Mixology Crash Course: Syrups and Infusions

This is part 9 of a series on Mixology Basics.



Simple syrup is a foundational ingredient of mixology, for the simple reason that it is much easier to incorporate sugar into a drink that has already been dissolved into water, than trying to stir granulated sugar into high proof liquid, in to which it does not wish to dissolve.

  • It is important to make your simple syrups with the same ratio of sugar to water every time, in order to produce consistent output.
  • Make your simple syrup in the microwave, it’s faster, cleaner, and it won’t hurt anything. Microwaves don’t magically ruin sugar water.
  • When making a flavored syrup, the goal is to extract as much flavor from the infusing reagent as possible into the water. Some flavors are more water soluble, and some flavors are more alcohol soluble. For the latter, take a look at infusions, below.
  • The easiest way to extract a flavor into a syrup is by simmering the thing you wish to extract in the syrup. Whatever that thing is, break it up into small pieces before simmering it, as a greater surface area will result in a faster and richer extraction.

By way of example:

Raspberry Syrup
80g raspberries
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
Combine all in a pot on the stovetop and lightly crush the raspberries. Bring to a boil and then remove from the heat.

Once the syrup has cooled, strain through a fine-mesh strainer and optionally add .5 oz vodka, as a preservative.

And what, you are wondering, should I do with my raspberry syrup? The possibilities are endless, provided those possibilities include making things taste like raspberry. They range from the mundane:

Raspberry Soda
1.5 oz raspberry syrup
8 oz soda water

to the classic:

Clover Club
1.5 oz gin
.75 oz lemon juice
.5 oz raspberry syrup
.5 of an egg white

By now it should not escape you that the clover club is a gin sour with raspberry syrup in lieu of simple, enriched with egg white. The Clover Club is a perennial favorite, and you will find that most any fruit-flavored syrup will complement this formulation.

The same technique that you use for raspberry syrup will work for most any berry or fruit; pineapple, blueberry, shnozberry, even peeled ginger; the sky’s the limit.

Another popular one is honey syrup, which is made by using heat to dissolve honey into light simple syrup.

Honey Syrup
1 cup water
3/4 cup honey
1/4 cup sugar
Microwave it.

And what should you do with your honey syrup? Why, you should make the Bee’s Knees, which is almost the same as the Clover Club!

Bee’s Knees
1.5 oz gin
.75 oz lemon juice
.5 oz honey

As you can see, mixology is inundated by the narcissism of small differences. But suppose you wanted to make, not a fruit syrup, but a spiced syrup? When it comes to spices, you can usually get away with the microwave, though there is nothing wrong with the stovetop. Cinnamon syrup is particularly versatile. Drop a few cinnamon sticks into your simple syrup recipe, and away you go.


Since we’re already cribbing from Jeffrey Morgenthaler, let’s take a moment to reflect on his grenadine recipe.

1 cups fresh pomegranate juice (approximately 1 large pomegranate) or POM Wonderful 100% pomegranate juice
1 cup sugar
1 oz pomegranate molasses
.5 tsp orange blossom water

Grenadine is a magical syrup made from pomegranate juice, lightly seasoned with orange flower water.  If you make grenadine this way, you will be happy, and your cocktails will sparkle.

The canonical grenadine cocktail, of course, is the Jack Rose:

Jack Rose
1.5 oz Apple Jack (I prefer Calvados, personally)
.75 oz lime juice
.5 oz grenadine

This is a light, fruit, summery kind of drink. Don’t take it too seriously, and if you like, bump up the grenadine to .75 oz. It’s great served up, and it’s great as a collins.

Oleo Saccharum

Oleo saccharum is latin for “oily sugar”, and it’s a special, decadent kind of syrup which is appropriate for festive occasions, or any time you feel like taking it to the next level. To make oleo saccharum, macerate citrus peels in sugar for half a day.

First, select one ore more appropriate citrus fruits. Oranges, lemons, and grapefruits are all good choices, though tangerines, quinces, and buddha’s hands are all possible. Lime tends to be a non-starter.

Remove as much peel from your citrus as possible, being careful not to get any pith. It’s possible to trim your peels after they are cut, and it is worth doing. Pith is bitter and will spoil your syrup.

In a large, covered bowl, combine the peels with at least a cup of sugar. This is not really exact, but I find that the peel of three oranges is suitable for one cup of sugar. Toss the peels in the sugar to coat, and don’t be afraid to give it a good muddling.

If you desire, fresh herbs or spices can also be added at this time.

Wait at least four hours, and notice how the sugar melts and pulls all of the oils out of the peels, becoming a rich, flavorful syrup.

Strain, and use it in your favorite sour. Why not try this?

Elevated Paloma
1.5 oz reposado tequila
1 oz grapefruit oleo saccharum
.75 oz lime juice
4 oz soda water
Serve in a highball glass full of ice.



Infusing is a technique for rendering an aromatic ingredient’s flavor into a spirit. When it comes to infusions, the question you need to ask yourself is “why?”. Liquor is expensive, and for the home mixologist, it is easy to waste a lot of spirits.

There are two reasons one might use an infusion over a syrup. The first is that it is possible to pack extra flavors into a smaller space. You might want to add the flavor of a spice to a drink without the sugar that goes along with a syrup.

The caveat here, and also the second reason to favor an infusion, is that, for any particular reagent, a different subset of its flavors will be alcohol soluble vs. water soluble.

Alcohol infusions are great for capturing aromas, but they miss a certain slice of the flavor which is hard to describe. My heuristic is: for aromatic ingredients, capture them in an infusion; for ingredients with strong flavors but mild smells, capture them in a syrup or a juice.

Sometimes, to get the best of both worlds, it is advisable to make a liqueur.

cacao nibs day 1

The process for making a liqueur is simple:

  1. Make an infusion
  2. Make a syrup using the same flavors as the liqueur
  3. Combine them to your desired level of proof.
  4. Rest the liqueur for a few weeks to let it mellow and meld.

Ah, but how, exactly, does one make an infusion? If you are making a liqueur, it is advisable to use a very high proof spirit. A higher concentration of alcohol will produce a richer, fuller extraction. Cask strength bourbon, navy strength gin, or good old everclear are all suitable choices.

The biggest mistake that people make with infusions is infusing for too long. Often you will hear a friend brag of how they “infused for a month” or more. This is pure folly. Depending upon the reagent, some infusions are ready within a few hours, and most are ready within a few days, though some can take up to two weeks.

Over-infusing is a real thing. Have you ever steeped a tea bag for too long in hot water? The result is bitter, acrid, overly tannic tea. Infusions that run for too long can pick up off notes, so be mindful.


Infusion Time Cheat Sheet

  • Chili peppers infuse the fastest. Depending on the type of pepper and the volume of spirit, one hour is easily too long. Most chili pepper infusions are far too hot, because the bars that use them over-infuse them.
  • Tea takes about six hours.
  • Fresh herbs like to go over night.
    • Avoid mint infusions, as they end up tasting like toothpaste.
    • Similarly, sage infusions get skunky.
  • Spices take about three days, though some can be faster.
  • Most fruits and vegetables take a week or two.

Rate of Extraction vs. Surface Area

Of course, as with any kind of steeping process, the rate of extraction is a function of surface area. Ground up spices will infuse just as fast as you can stir them in and strain them out, but ground spices are also hard to strain out cleanly, unless you grind them fresh, will have already dried out too much to convey good flavor.

A bunch of thin peeled ginger slices will infuse much faster than a single large chunk. Save yourself the time and prefer many small pieces over a few large ones.

I’ll make a special note about coffee, since any coffee nerd will tell you, a good extraction is all about the size of the grind. Let’s say you drop whole, unground coffee beans into vodka. It will take about three weeks to reach the place you want, though agitating the mixture might speed it up a bit.

On the other hand, a medium, pour-over style grind will be ready over night, just like a cold brew.

Fat Washing

Let’s finish off this topic with an oddball. Did you know, most of the flavor in meat comes from the fat? And further, the flavors of fats are partly alcohol soluble? Yes, it’s true, you can infuse animal fats into liquor. This is not a method for the faint of heart.

To fat wash a spirit, pour a quarter cup of warm (not hot) liquid fat into about a cup of liquor and give it a good shake. It will separate in pretty short order, but that won’t hurt anything. If you want a deeper infusion, shake it longer, although in my experience it reaches a saturation point pretty quickly.

To remove the fat, leave the infusion in the freezer over night. All of the fat will solidify at the top in a frozen disk. Remove this, and then strain out any (still-frozen) stray particles using a coffee filter. I have found that liquors treated this way develop a bit of an oily mouthfeel.

Bacon Old-Fashioned
1.5 oz bacon fat-washed bourbon
.5 oz maple syrup
2 dash angostura bitters
garnish with an orange peel and a strip of candied bacon.
embrace the void

This drink is more novel than delicious.

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Mixology Crash Course: Fruits, Eggs, and Dairy

This is part 8 of a series on Mixology Basics.



The most efficient way to get seasonal fruit into your drink is to own a high quality juicer. I highly recommend them, but they are not essential. It’s true, you will never quite realize your dream of fresh pineapple juice without one, but there are other solutions.

Fresh Fruit Smash

The easiest way to incorporate fresh fruit into a drink is to make a smash. For this technique, you will need a muddler. Soft fruits such as berries are more suited to the muddler than the juicer, even if both are available; firm produce such as carrots are only suitable to the juicer, and produce of medium firmness, such as pineapple, is amenable to either.

Fresh Fruit Smash
1.5 oz base spirit
.75 oz souring agent
.5 oz simple syrup
a small handful of fresh fruit (e.g., ~8 blueberries, 3 strawberries, 2 1″ pineapple chunks)
Using a muddler, thoroughly crush the fruit in your mixing tin along with your base spirit. Add the other ingredients, strain, then shake and strain again. Garnish with unsmashed pieces of the same fruit that you smashed.

It’s also acceptable, in some cases, to leave the drink more rustic. Give your guests big chunks of pulpy fruit floating in their drink, along with little shards of ice. It works well at a BBQ or other outdoor gathering. My favorite combinations are:

  • Bourbon, grilled peaches, lemon juice, brown sugar syrup
  • Bourbon, pineapple, lemon juice, simple syrup, garnished with mint
  • Gin, blueberries, lime juice, simple syrup

If You Own a Juicer…

First, for the sake of argument, let’s say you are fortunate enough to own an electric juicer, perhaps of the masticating variety. Before making a drink with a fresh juice, it is advisable to strain it through your fine mesh before using it as an ingredient. You’re going to have to push it through that strainer one way or the other, and it’s better to do it up-front, before your guests arrive.

You might also take to seasoning your juices with sugars or powdered acids. The two most useful acids to keep on hand are malic and citric, and both are easily available in powdered form. The goal is to find a proper balance of sweetness and acidity. Fruits aren’t always ripe, and sometimes mother nature needs a little boost.

Clarified Juice

Sometimes, for a truly elegant effect, you might want a clarified juice. Of course, you’ll never be able to get it perfectly clear, but you can get it pretty close. The mad science way to do this is with a centrifuge, but for most people, myself included, a budget option is to let your juice run through several layers of cheesecloth.

Secure several layers of cheesecloth over a large vessel and slowly pour the juice on top. Allow the entire arrangement to sit in the fridge, perhaps overnight. Most of the water will drip through. You can then discard the cheesecloth and the solids.


Egg Whites

Many sour drinks call for egg whites, such as the Pisco sour, above. Egg whites are easy to manipulate, but many novice cocktail drinkers are intimidated by an American superstition that if one particle of raw egg touches you anywhere on your body, you instantly die of ebola salmonella.

Let me assuage your fears. First, you are combining the deadly and neurotoxic and carcinogenic and probably racist egg whites with three times their volume of strong liquor, which almost instantly kills any bacteria. Second, it is quite rare for fresh eggs to actually be contaminated with ebola salmonella. Third, cocktail drinkers the world over consume drinks with raw egg whites every day, and they don’t get sick. So get over yourself.

The purpose of egg white in a drink is to add froth and body. When handled correctly, the egg white becomes emulsified in the drink, yielding a rich, velvety texture and a pleasant head of foam.

The classic way to integrate an egg white is the “dry shake”, which consists of shaking your drink once without ice for about a minute, and then again, with ice, to chill and dilute it.

This is tedious and laborious, though it is a skill you should have in case you are mixing on the road and you have to get creative. In the ideal case, you will use an immersion blender or a milk frother to perfectly whip and aerate the eggs in a matter of a few seconds.

So of course you are wondering, what can I do with this radical and dangerous knowledge? And my top suggestion is to make Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s Amaretto Sour, which I will reproduce here, for posterity:

Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s Amaretto Sour
1.5 oz. amaretto
.75 oz. cask-proof bourbon (such as Booker’s)
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
.5 oz. fresh egg white

I tweaked it slightly from the one at Imbibe, because I do not find any additional simple syrup to be necessary. It is also reasonable to use any standard bourbon in place of the suggested cask-proof bourbon, though cask-strength will give you a better drink. How far are you willing to go for mixological perfection?

I will also note that you can substitute almost any liqueur for amaretto, here, and still end up with a tasty drink.


You should treat drinks with milk or cream much the same way you treat drinks with egg whites. Either use a dry shake, or an immersion blender to aerate and whip the milk as much as possible. Milk should be frothy.

Milk Punch
3 oz whole milk
1.5 oz brown spirits
.5 oz simple syrup
(optional) 1 dash of vanilla extract
1 dash angostura bitters
Garnish with grated nutmeg

For the brown spirits, feel free to use any combination of dark rum, bourbon, and brandy, as long as the total proportion adds up to 1.5 oz. For the whole milk, feel free to replace as little or as much as you like with heavy cream. It all comes down to mood and personal taste.

Milk is not difficult to work with, but it does have one hidden danger, which is also present in some cream liqueurs: acid will curdle it. That should be abundantly obvious, but it is easy to forget, especially when making original compositions, that fortified wines and even many syrups (such as your raspberry syrup, above) are acidic enough to curdle milk.

Before you add an ingredient to a milk drink, stop, taste the ingredient, and check for the presence of acid.

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Mixology Crash Course: Hot Drinks

This is part 7 of a series on Mixology Basics.

Hot Drinks

You can highballify anything, but turning a cold drink into a hot one takes a little more finesse. There are, as with other styles, standard forms that are worth memorizing and mastering.

There is no universal template for hot drinks, since the classics take a variety of shapes, but we will spend some time on the general composition of the hot toddy, below.

  • Hot drinks are “built” in the glass, which means they are generally mixed without an intermediary vessel.
  • Just as you chill a glass before serving an aromatic cocktail, you should warm a glass before serving a hot drink. Fill your intended serving vessel with near-boiling water and allow the heat to sink into the glass for a minute, and then discard the spent hot water before pouring your drink.
  • Hot drinks should not merely be warm; they should also be warming. It is rare to see a hot drink without some kind of spice. Cinnamon, star anise, cloves, allspice — even black pepper or cumin — lend a pleasant, bone-warming glow to your drink.
  • On that note, clear spirits have no place in a hot drink. No one wants a mug of warm gin.
  • Whereas a cold drink will dull the burn of alcohol, a hot drink will emphasize it. Hot drinks require more dilution.


Classic Hot Drinks

Hot Toddy
1.5 oz base spirit
.75 oz lemon juice
.5 oz sweetener
3-4 oz hot water
garnish with a cinnamon stick

The standard hot toddy is the above made with simple syrup and bourbon. A hot toddy made in this way is so wonderful on a winter night that we could almost stop here. I regard this drink as more of an ideal than a particular recipe. Almost any selection of brown spirits and liqueurs will work in the hot toddy formulation, provided you smooth out the wrinkles with spices.

Of course, I’m sure I or you could come up with a bad variant if we really tried, but the point is, you have to try. If you stick to high quality ingredients, you will mostly produce high quality output.


If you really want to make a splash, you can server your hot toddy with some theatrics. A fun variant on shaking or stirring is “throwing”, an it’s a technique that’s easier to show than to describe. Watch the illimitable Jamie Boudreau throwing a hot toddy “Blue Blazer” style.

In brief, he mixes an overproof drink, lights it on fire, and then tosses it between two tumblers with handles (that last point is critical) before topping it off with boiling water. You could light yourself, your guests, and your domicile on fire with this technique, and that’s what makes it cool.

He also uses a blend of brown spirits in his drink composition, a choice that has its roots in New Orleans. Blending a portion of rum, bourbon, and brandy together in place of a single base spirit is a fun substitution in any drink that calls for a single brown spirit.

Milk Punch
1.5 oz  (total) of one or more brown spirits
.5 oz sweetener
3-4 oz warm milk
garnish with a cinnamon stick or a star anise

Milk punch is traditionally served cold, a topic I discuss in Etc. below, under the subheading Dairy.

Two notes on the milk punch: one, don’t scald the milk: heat it gently to a temperature of no more than 76C (170F). Two, be ready to take a nap.


Irish Coffee
1.5 oz Irish Whiskey
.5 oz simple syrup
4 oz hot brewed coffee

Irish coffee is Irish because it’s made with Irish whiskey. I will suggest that I like it better with dark rum, but that would probably be a Guyanese coffee, or insert demonym here. My favorite rum is El Dorado 12 year, and it comes from Guyana, so there you go.

You can you just about any coffee you fancy, here. Traditional dark roasts will stand up nicely to spirits. Light fruity third wave coffees can provide intrigue and complexity. Just be smart, and match your coffee to your spirit.

Another common variant here is to replace whisky and sugar for coffee liqueur. If that liqueur is Tia Maria, it is called Spanish coffee, if it is Kahlua, it is called Mexican. In either case, it is topped with whipped cream.

For some pyrotechnics, you can pour half a shot of overproof rum in the glass, light it on fire, and then sprinkle in some grated cinnamon. The cinnamon will spark up and the fire will warm the glass. Once you have some oos and aahs, pour it out. The burnt cinnamon easily becomes acrid, and the overproof rum is not pleasant to drink, you only did it for the look. If anyone asks, tell them you’re releasing the oils from the cinnamon.


Mulled Wine
1 bottle of your favorite inexpensive red wine
6 oz brandy
50 g brown sugar
2 cinnamon stick
2 star anise
6 cloves
an inch of peeled ginger, cut into slices
the peel of one orange, pith removed
6 dashes of angostura bitters
Simmer for ten minutes, then ladle into mugs

Mulled wine is great for a group situation. I like mine on the dryer side, though most recipes call for significantly more sugar.

The same recipe will make fantastic apple cider, if you swap the wine for the rawest, most unfiltered apple juice you can find, and omit the orange peels. Orange peels have no place in apple cider. You can further omit the spirits completely, if you are practicing temperance, but in that case, it is wise to lower the sugar content accordingly.

In wine, brandy or calvados is preferred; in apple cider, calvados or bourbon.