Toddy time. Photo courtesy of Maybeck’s

Resy At Home

Holiday Cocktails Are All About Warmth (Also: It’s Toddy Season)


With the holidays approaching, it is definitely hot toddy time in the United States. And restaurants and bars across the country are ready. 

Perhaps none are more prepared than Kumiko. The acclaimed Japanese-influenced bar and restaurant in Chicago is not just selling toddies, but toddy building blocks so that the warming drinks can be built at home. The toddy is both simple and traditional: a cold-weather drink made of spirit, sugar, lemon juice and hot water.

“We have a series of hot toddy bases,” said owner Julia Momose. “They come with instructions as simple as, ‘pour into your favorite mug and top with hot water,’ to at the most complex, some measuring suggestions.”

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Given that, pandemic notwithstanding, this is the season when groups gather around the table and health (hopefully, in socially distanced pods of ten people or fewer), Kumiko is also offering large format cocktails. Each has four to eight servings, and include big batches of their Imo Old Fashioned (Japanese sweet potato with Toki Japanese whisky, green cardamom, Okinawa black sugar and kinmokusei flower); and Apples and Artichokes (Cynar, sweet-potato shochu aged in sherry barrels, calvados, and Cocchi di Torino).

What the newly opened Settle Down Tavern lacks in have-toddy-will-travel ingenuity it more than makes up for in volume. The Madison, Wis., bar has an entire hot toddy menu, with nine selections. Among them is the namesake Settle Down Tavern Toddy, with a base of rye whiskey and Meletti amaro; and Cinnamon Smoke Crunch, featuring mezcal and Allen’s Coffee Brandy, a liqueur rarely seen outside Maine. And, of course, since this is Wisconsin, there is an Old-Fashioned Toddy, made with domestic Korbel brandy, and orange and cherry liqueurs. 

Brown liquor …

But there may be no more in-the-spirit restaurant to visit during the Thanksgiving season that Huber’s Café, the venerable Portland, Oregon, dining institution. Known for its way with turkey for more than a century, Huber’s shines in November, with turkey meals to stay and turkey packages to go all month. The café’s famous Spanish coffee isn’t advertised as a holiday drink per se. But anything that’s boozy, warm and lit on fire — and the rum-filled Spanish Coffee is all that — ought to qualify. And it is an outstanding example of another classic category of winter drink, the spiked coffee cocktail (think Irish coffee).

The South may not get very cold during fall and winter, but that doesn’t mean they sleep on warming winter drinks. Often these are built on the innate toasty attributes of brown spirits. The Crunkleton in Chapel Hill, N.C., rolls out The Bitter Southerner #8 which owner Gary Crunkleton describes as being “full of Thanksgiving cheer.” It is made of high-proof Bourbon, ginger syrup, lemon curd, lemon juice and served over crushed ice. Meanwhile, at The Grey in Savannah, Georgia, bartenders are pouring out the Feet Don’t Fail Me, made with Scotch, aromatic pine liquor, lemon juice, honey and orange bitters; as well as the Pachuca Sunrise, containing coconut fat-washed rum, sherry (both manzanilla and amontillado), passion fruit and falernum.

Up north in New York, Sugar Monk in Harlem has brought out the Proenca for Thanksgiving. The drink is made with ingredients that owner Ektoras Binikos said he associates “with cozy times and gatherings with friends and family, perhaps around a fireplace, like the scotch infused with cinnamon, cloves and oranges, and the Palatine Amaro that has cardamom, cedar and allspice.”

Preparing the Azuki, an example of creamy winter cocktails, at Bar Goto in New York. // Photo courtesy Bar Goto
Preparing the Azuki, an example of creamy winter cocktails, at Bar Goto in New York. // Photo courtesy Bar Goto

… and cream

And of course there is that creamy holiday standby, egg nog, and similar drinks with eggs or cream. Those looking for a relative of egg nog may want to head to Bar Goto on the Lower East Side, meanwhile, has gone the Scotch route as well. It has a dessert-like drink called Azuki, which is a potent hot chocolate composed of Scotch, Sherry, anko and a cream float on top. Anko is a sweetened paste made from Azuki beans which owner Kenta Goto said is “used in pretty much everything celebratory in Japanese cuisine.” Llama Inn in Brooklyn has gone an even creamier route, offering a Lacuma Sky made with milk, heavy cream, sugar, eggs, bourbon, vanilla and lucuma puree, made from a fruit native to South America.

Finally, if you really can’t wait until after Thanksgiving to enfold yourself in Christmas spirit, worry not. Many of the national outlets of the annual Miracle and Sippin’ Santa seasonal bar franchises kick off their stays in mid-November. You can find them everywhere from Ashburn, Va., to White River Junction, Vt. Among the most dependable is the one that occupies Latitude 29, the tiki bar in New Orleans. Why? Because it is run and owned by Sippin’ Santa co-founder Jeff Berry. He’s got a Blitzen Bowl with your name on it. 

Robert Simonson writes about cocktails, spirits and bars for The New York Times. He is the author of four books on cocktails, most recently “The Martini Cocktail,” which won a Spirited Award in 2020 and was nominated for a James Beard and an IACP Award. Follow him on Instagram. Follow Resy, too.