Measure & Stir

I make drinks

06. 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 serve 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.