The sensory pleasure of warm drinks in the cold weather months goes beyond the obvious internal benefits. Warm liquid concoctions create an aura of amiable people huddling close together in front of a soothing fire. Steaming cups of nogs, grogs, toddies, flips, punches, slings or mulled drinks connote companionship, even reverie, during the period of the year when darkness and chilly weather reign in the Northern Hemisphere.
But, warm libations are hardly a discovery of the late 20th century. The vast majority of America’s first immigrants hailed either from the northern nations of Continental Europe (Scandinavia, Germany, France, Netherlands) or the British Isles (Ireland, Scotland, England). In these cool regions, warm drinks were commonplace to combat dank climates and cold domiciles, and the immigrants brought with them the custom of having heated, congenial meeting places. A roaring, centrally-located fireplace formed the core of any colonial tavern, offering considerably more than warmth and light. These public houses were places for the populace to gather and chat and play games such as cards, bowling, darts or billiards. Local news, business transactions and plain old general gossip were traded freely and frequently over steaming tankards of mulled wine, “flips,” warmed ales or fortified wines, ciders mixed with herbs, molasses, or honey, or punches based in rum, the predominant distilled spirit of colonial America.
Prior to the eventual move by early mixologists to ice-filled cocktails in the mid-19th century, warm drinks were the rule, not the exception, in the taverns and inns that serviced the eastern seaboard colonies. The drinks themselves were often peculiar, if not downright dubious. These mixtures were heated to a froth with red-hot irons with bulbous ends (known as flip irons, hottles or loggerheads) that were routinely kept in the perpetually blazing fireplaces of the colonies’ eating and drinking establishments. In fact, the now familiar expression of “coming to loggerheads,” which implies a state of argumentative disagreement, was born in America’s colonial taverns because the irons could likewise be wielded as a blunt instrument of persuasion in a dispute between multiple parties.
Fortunately, the enjoyment of warm drinks on the threshold of the millennium doesn’t include the threat of literally being at loggerheads.
CONTEMPORARY WARM DRINKS
Contemporary warm drinks have long been associated with the winter skiing culture. “Aprés-ski” is the enjoyment of warm libations after a day schussing down the powdery slopes of Vail or Killington and has become every bit as vital — and emblematic — as the skiing itself. Any travel brochure that touts the glories of snow skiing invariably shows a picture of relaxed skiers lounging around a fireplace sipping steaming mugs.
But warm drinks that combat the chill and wet of the winter months and enhance indoor activities reach far past the ski lodge society. The beverage alcohol foundations of warm drinks fall into five basic categories: brandy, rum, whiskey, wines and liqueurs, plus intriguing combinations of the five.
Brandy has been viewed as a restorative against the rigors of inclement weather or dank conditions for centuries. The heroic image of a St. Bernard with a mini-barrel of brandy strapped around its neck trudging through the snowy Alps to rescue a person in distress is actually, to the surprise of many people, fact rather than fiction. But high-quality brandy, including V.S. cognacs and armagnac, is frequently seen as a key ingredient in classic warm drinks. These include the Tom and Jerry, a seductive mix of brandy (premium rum or bourbon or a combination with brandy may also be used), allspice, milk, egg and sugar; the Mulled Claret (made with brandy, red wine, ruby port, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, lemon peel), the Hot Brandy Flip (brandy, whole egg, nutmeg, sugar), or the Wassail Punch (a traditional group dynamic concoction featuring cognac (or premium rum) that is vigorously spiced and fruited), which encourages hours of heartfelt singing round the piano each Christmas season.
Brandy likewise makes appearances in more than a few superb, palm-warming coffee drinks. A genuine classic is the Café Brulot, in which cognac is united with cinnamon sticks, sugar cubes, cloves, black coffee, and the zest of orange and lemon. Another tried-and-true, if less illustrious, legend is the Café Diablo, which resembles the Café Brulot except that Cointreau and heated cura