If there was one word to describe the change of seasons, as we leave the long days of summer behind and settle into the darker days of fall, it might be “warmth.” Thick sweaters, blazing fires and turning back the clocks go hand in hand with all things cozy . . . including cocktails.
Warmth in a cocktail is about more than just temperature; taste, smell, and color should all reflect the season. Fruit flavors from apple, orange and fig paired with warm spices like nutmeg, cinnamon and clove are common ingredients in these festive drinks.
At the Newes of America pub in Edgartown, hot spiced cider is served daily, brewed in batches with a secret blend of spices and finished with a slice of orange. “Once the fireplace gets going that means the cider is going,” said bartender Lucas Butynski. Spiced rum can be added to make it more soothing. “It’s one of our more popular after dinner drinks.”
Butynski said it’s not uncommon to see wet boots lining the fireplace on stormy, winter days. “When it gets to this time of year you come in with a little bit of cold on you, you get that warmth from the fire and the Hot Toddy starts flying,” he said.
The Hot Toddy has a long history. It’s said to have originated in India, named after a drink made from the sap of the toddy palm tree, but served cold. It made its way to Britain and the American South, but Scotland transformed it into the classic drink that we know today, made with bourbon, lemon, honey, hot water and a dash of nutmeg. Historically it was used to treat a cold, and was rumored to be used by revolutionary war soldiers as a form of liquid courage.
“If you don’t like whiskey or bourbon, it’s not for you,” Butynski said.
The Newes offers several other warming drinks on their winter beverage menu: the Kelley House coffee has Irish Cream, Irish Whiskey and Butterscotch Schnapps, while the Colonial Hot Chocolate is made with Chambord and Irish Cream. Both drinks are topped with whipped cream.
“A lot of these warm drinks are built to be savored. The pace just comes down,” Butynski said.
Up the street and tucked inside the Harbor View Hotel, Henry’s bar features several festive drinks on their seasonal menu, including the Brandy Alexander, a classic drink made with brandy, creme de cacao, heavy cream and a sprinkle of nutmeg.
“Brandy is something that you’re going to sit by the fireplace with,” said Greg Fournier, food and beverage manager at the Harbor View.
The Brandy Alexander first hit the scene in the 1920s, though its exact origin is unknown. Some say a bartender in New York named Troy Alexander created it for a dinner honoring Phoebe Snow; others say it was created for the wedding of The Princess Mary and Viscount Lascelles in 1922. It was John Lennon’s drink of choice and has been memorialized in both music and film. In fact, the drink has had such a long and beloved history that there’s a even a Brandy Alexander day, celebrated on January 31.
“We’ve kind of had a boom in Prohibition-style cocktails for a while,” said Fournier. “I think it goes back to the spices and flavors you’re used to growing up with. It’s nice to give people something that they enjoy and identify with.”
Alchemy’s Conundrum is also inspired by an older era, mixing several flavors to create a warm and refreshing cocktail. It’s made with Sauza Hornitos, muddled orange, black cherries, fresh ginger, fruit juices, and a salted rim. “It tastes nothing like what goes into it, which is how it got its name, The Conundrum,” said general manager Jay Kuss.
“People like the complexity of it. It plays with the palate a bit,” said bartender Eric Carroll.
Also on the cocktail list at Alchemy is the Autumn Old Fashioned, made with Maker’s Mark, fresh fig, maple syrup and cardamom bitters. It’s a sophisticated drink, and not quite as popular as The Conundrum, which is a lighter choice.
“It’s not a beginner drink,” said Kuss. “It’s more of a PhD level cocktail.”
As its gets closer to Christmas, Alchemy will roll out their nostalgic winter warmers as well: the Hot Port, Hot Buttered Rum, Hot Toddy and Irish Coffee.
And of course, the Brandy Alexander.
“That’s a really popular drink in the wintertime,” Kuss said. “When you start working with spices like cloves and nutmeg it brings you back to childhood. You think, wow, my grandmother used to have those.”
1 ounce, brandy
1 ounce, crème de cacao
2 ounces, heavy cream
Pour ingredients into a shaker with ice, shake to mix and pour into a glass.
Grate fresh nutmeg on top.
1 slice, orange
1 ounce ginger puree
1 tsp cherry juice
2 ounces Sauza Hornitos tequila
1/2 ounce cointreau
1 ounce orange juice
1/2 ounce lime juice
1/2 ounce lemon juice
Muddle orange and cherries in salted glass.
In a shaker, mix the remaining ingredient and pour into salted glass.