For about as long as people have been mixing cocktails, they’ve been heating them as well. One of the earliest recorded Hot Toddy recipes—among the most universal of the hot alcoholic drinks—dates back to Jerry Thomas’ 1862 Bartender’s Guide, whose specs featured just brandy, white sugar and hot water, a mixture far different from what most think of as a Hot Toddy today: whiskey, hot water, citrus, honey and spices.
Somewhere in time, though—potentially with the arrival of effective indoor heating—hot cocktails fell out of fashion beyond the occasional aforementioned Toddy.
But the team behind the award-winning The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog has been working to change the perception of hot cocktails. As with most of their menu, co-founders Jack McGarry and Sean Muldoon sought out cocktails with deep historical roots, going through old cocktail books for iconic recipes lost to time, then adjusting their specs and flavors for the modern palate while still staying true to the spirit of each drink.
Even with these tweaks, though, McGarry admits that it can takes a little push to get customers to welcome a warm cocktail.“I don’t think people are as into hot drinks as they used to be,” he says. “Hot drinks kind of became the Cosmopolitan of their day [because] there was no inside heat.” Now, the physical warmth of the bar removes the necessity for a physically warm beverage. But, says McGarry, “done right, they’re beautiful.”
Making a great hot drink, unsurprisingly, has a lot to do with temperature—at The Dead Rabbit, bartenders go so far as to keep the mixes in a sous vide machine at a perfect 75 degrees. “Sometimes, you get hot drinks and they’re so hot, they’re undrinkable,” cautions McGarry. In the case of the bar’s famous Irish Coffee, the right temperature prevents the coffee from taking on a burnt, metallic taste. Another key component to the Irish-American classic is the glassware: a stemmed six-ounce, tulip-shaped glass showcases the drink’s layers of dark coffee, whiskey and sugar beneath very soft, barely whipped heavy cream.
McGarry also offers a version of the Lawn Sleeves, a member of the bishop family of hot drinks. (“The Pope is made with Burgundy, the Cardinal with Champagne, and finally the Lawn Sleeves with Madeira,” explains The Dead Rabbit Drinks Manual.) To make the classic drink, he macerates the wine for three days with lemon, sarsaparilla tincture, sugar and spices before warming it and garnishing with freshly grated nutmeg and expressed lemon, for a spiritous, highly concentrated drink best served in a sherry glass or a small mug.
Another wine-based cocktail, the Excellent Negus, is an adaption from the 1869 book Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks that sees a combination of sherry and cognac instead of madeira, plus vanilla syrup, sugar, lemon and nutmeg, all elongated with four ounces of water. “A bishop is a spiced wine,” explains McGarry, whereas “a negus is just a lengthened spiced wine.” Less concentrated than a bishop, McGarry recommends serving the negus in a wine glass to best capture the festive aromas of the cocktail.
The Lamb’s Wool, meanwhile, found its beginnings as a wassail—a hot, mulled cider thought to have originated in England’s West Country—and takes its name from the Celtic pagan festival, La Mas Ubal, the Day of the Apple. Traditionally a spiced drink made with porter, McGarry updates the classic just slightly with the addition of Irish whiskey, for a boozy, not-so-sweet riff on the Whiskey Toddy.
Cross that Whiskey Toddy with a Hot Buttered Rum and you’ve got McGarry’s Hot Buttered Blackstrap. Perhaps the most indulgent of Dead Rabbit’s hot drinks, the cocktail sees the addition of three varieties of rum alongside tea-infused bourbon, housemade lemon sherbet, two types of bitters and a knob of butter.
“Whenever I get a cold, the first thing I always want is a hot Whiskey Toddy,” says McGarry. “Not that it makes me better, but it makes me feel better.”