It’s that arctic time of year when the least hardy Minnesotans curse Mother Nature and question their decision to plant roots in frozen soil. We layer up and excavate our vehicles each day to go to and return from work in the dark, making sunlight feel like a precious commodity. During the long, bleak North Country winters, it’s important to keep a glass half full (or better yet completely full) of hot cocktail.
“This is what people are looking for right now,” said Riley Gahagan, co-owner and bar manager of the Mill Northeast. “They want that drink they can sip on, take their mind off the cold and the snow.”
At bars and house parties across our snow-covered state, we find mulled wines and ciders, hot chocolates and hot toddies. Gahagan’s northeast Minneapolis restaurant is no exception. His current menu features a trio of liquid heaters, including a winter Old-Fashioned.
If whiskey’s organ-thawing powers weren’t naturally strong enough, the barman gives the rye a sousvide-like bath by dunking a glass container of the spirit in hot water before stirring the drink, sans ice, with a dose of warm water. “It’s not necessarily ‘temperature hot’ but it warms you from the inside,” he said.
Of course, certain pairings play well with temperature-rising libations. At red-hot North Loop restaurant Spoon and Stable, which offers a daily rotating warm drink, bar manager Robb Jones has been tweaking the kiddie classic hot chocolate for adult palates.
“My favorite thing we’ve done is a spicy hot chocolate with a really smoky mescal,” he said.
A full-bodied cognac is a natural companion for seasonally ubiquitous mulled wines and ciders, such as the spice-blending apple cider currently offered at Saffron in downtown Minneapolis. Rye whiskey, too, cuts through the aromatic medley of cardamom, caraway, clove, cinnamon and Szechuan black peppercorn. Bar manager Nikola Govich is currently mulling his next round of steamy sippers. Ginger is a can’t-miss ingredient, especially with honey in a classic hot toddy, he notes. “Basically anything you put in there — a little lemon with some ginger syrup and almost any spirit — is going to be awesome,” Govich said. “It’s got that nice spiciness with the heat.”
Particularly brave home bartenders might attempt a Blue Blazer — a classic mix of Scotch whisky and hot water, set aflame and passed back and forth between two mugs before sweetening with a teaspoon of sugar. But be warned: Even pros like Govich, an Eat Street Social alum, are hesitant to wield this fiery cocktail stream.
“I’m really bad at that,” Govich admitted. “At Eat Street Social we were always doing that. Literally, I threw fire on [fellow bartender] Adam Gorski one night in the tiki room. He was fine, but it was a good story.”
If tossing around liquid fireballs sounds intimidating, here are a few easier at-home recipes that shouldn’t result in burning down the house, or worse, your friends.
Michael Rietmulder writes about cocktails, beer and nightlife. Follow him on Twitter: @mrietmulder.