While so many things this year are unpredictable, we can at least count on the change of seasons. Summer’s floral rosés and icy gin and tonics give way to cold-weather staples like aromatic mulled wine and hot toddies, heavy on the whiskey.
“A hot cocktail is always something that gives us comfort, from the vessels that we use for serving it, to the aromas that we encounter when we enter a room—the essences released from spices and the caramelization of fruits,” says Yana Volfson, beverage director for Cosme, ATLA, Elio in Las Vegas, and Ticuchi in Mexico City.
While many continue to offer outdoor dining, bars and restaurants have been elevating hot cocktail menus, offering boozy, soul-soothing drinks to help combat the drop in temperature. Follow their lead and recreate the warmth in your own kitchen all winter long.
Below, experts recommend the best tools for making perfect (and perfectly easy) hot drinks at home.
Surprise! The sous vide method is not only amazing for perfectly-cooked pork shoulder, but it can also add depth and flavor to hot cocktails. Mike Podlogar, ready-to-drink cocktail specialist at Boardroom Spirits in Landsdale, P.A., says he loves to use a sous vide machine to make a variety of liqueurs, and to infuse whiskey for a signature drink.
"Local Pennsylvania pears, a mix of spices, and our Northbound Bourbon are sealed and placed in a water bath heated by the machine for two hours, imparting a massive amount of fruit flavor for the ultimate hot toddy," Podlogar says.
Asthor Sigurvinsson, sommelier at Moss Restaurant at Iceland’s Retreat at Blue Lagoon, suggests the The Anova culinary sous vide precision cooker. “Most people use this for cooking, but those in the cocktail scene have been using it to make syrups for a long time,” he says. “It is an especially useful tool for making glögg (mulled wine), a warm winter drink where the ingredients for one portion can be assembled and stored in a sous vide bath, and then used when needed.
Anova Culinary Sous Vide Precision Cooker Nano, $129 at amazon.com
Jess Weinstein, the director of bar concepts at Washington, D.C. 's Maydan, runs a “night tea” program. While she loves a good old-fashioned tea kettle, she says that the electric version is a must-have for brewing yourself a cup, with or without booze.
“Different teas should be brewed to get the best possible flavor and aromas out of the blend,” she says. “Using a pot with a temperature gauge will help you get the best out of your drink.”
Though her best hot tea-tip may be her simplest: “Don't forget to warm up your tea cups with a little hot water before you fill it with your ingredients. Cold tea cups from cold corners of cold kitchen cabinets make for cold tea drinks.”
Miroco Electric Kettle, $29 at amazon.com
“With rosé season in the rearview and the chilly winter nights on the horizon, it’s always good to have two everyday kitchen items on the ready—a standard coffee mug and a basket tea infuser—should one have a craving for a hot, boozy beverage,” says Thomas Roman, senior VP of food & beverage at Nashville’s Bobby Hotel. Roman’s choice is a classic hot toddy, made with an infuser for easier steeping.
Dev Johnson, principal bartender at Employees Only and partner in Liquor Lab, agrees. “In general, loose-leaf tea adds a fuller flavor than the store bought tea bag,” he says. He suggests the Alessi T-Timepiece over a ball-shaped infuser, since this cleverly-designed version lies flat on the bottom of the glass.
Alessi T-Timepiece Tea Infuser, $36 at amazon.com
“All my hot drinks tend to start with roasting spices and aromatics in a hot pan to start building flavors for the finished products,” says Thaddeus Dynakowski, GM at Fiore Fine Foods in Philadelphia. He prefers a cast iron version for getting consistent, even heat.
“Infusing things like cider and teas in a pan is a great way to improve the depth of flavor for just about anything,” he says, including the bourbon cider with toasted cinnamon currently on the restaurant’s menu.
Lodge 8-Inch Skillet, $19 at surlatable.com
At Fight Club in Washington, D.C., fire pit-warmed patios are open for ordering s’mores kits and large-format hot cocktails. Beverage director Mackenzie Conway opts for serving drinks like the Mike & Ike's Hot Cider spiked with scotch or rum in vintage copper kettles. “It allows me to use whole pieces of baking spices, juiced citrus, etc., while the spout acts as a filter,” he says. “This both maintains temperature and prolongs extraction, which makes for subtle taste changes throughout the guest experience.”
Chantal Copper Classic Tea Kettle, $160 at surlatable.com
In the colder months at Dunton Hot Springs in Colorado, the river camp transforms into a winter wonderland, with horse-drawn sleigh rides, cross country skiing, and snowshoeing. To help guests stay warm, dining room and beverage manager Robert Pratt uses thermos carafes for batches of mulled cider finished with cognac. “It keeps it hot for 12 hours and doesn't allow the alcohol to vaporize quickly,” he says.
At Swiss restaurant Stable in D.C., beverage director and co-owner Silvan Kraemer uses the carafes to keep drinks like their spiced mulled wine toasty behind the bar—this 101-ounce insulated version works for up to 24 hours.
Cresimo 3L Airpot Thermal Coffee Carafe and Coffee Server, $37 at amazon.com
“The coffee pot might be your new favorite thing for making a hot toddy in a crowded kitchen during the holiday hustle and bustle, when counter space becomes as valuable as oceanfront real estate” says Fitz Bailey, national brand ambassador for Coopers' Craft. Add water to the machine, and then honey, lemon juice, and bourbon to the empty coffee pot, he says. “Hit brew and watch as perfectly heated water mixes into a delicious hot toddy before your eyes.”
Cuisinart DCC-3200P1 Perfectemp Coffee Maker, $100 at amazon.com
Already a kitchen hero for hands-off, big-batch soups and stews, a slow cooker also does wonders for your hot cocktails. The easy set-it-and-forget-it tool behind the bar also cuts down on individual prep, says Fight Club’s Mackenzie Conway. “I can slowly steep teas for a toddy or infuse baking spices into a cider for quick service with low active labor.”
Cuisinart Programmable Slow-Cooker, 3.5 Qt, $60 at surlatable.com
A milk frother can effortlessly upgrade your morning coffee, but at Employees Only in New York, Dev Johnson uses one for speedy hot toddy's and Irish coffees. The Nespresso Aeroccino3 works with the push of one button, delivering smooth and frothy milk peaks in exactly one second.
Nespresso Aeroccino3 Milk Frother, $76 at amazon.com
“I love serving hot drinks out of a samovar,” says Yana Volfson. “It’s a beautiful piece of art, and for me, a really nice, nostalgic moment.” The Cosme beverage director created a drink called Midnight Ponche, with Casa Dragones Blanco tequila, cinnamon-infused Lairds, Velvet Falernum, and apple cider, and says the samovar is a fun way to keep the cocktail warm when you’re entertaining.
Khokhloma Electric Samovar Set with Tray & Teapot, $330 at amazon.com