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Article posted: 12/28/2011 6:00 AM

Winter cocktails so hot they're cool

By Deborah Pankey

Move over mojitos. Hot toddies are back in town.

As the temperatures dip, bartenders at hip cocktail lounges and neighborhood pubs have pushed warm cocktails to the center of the bar.

Nation's Restaurant News reports such classic winter warmers as hot buttered rum, hot toddies and spiked coffee have become fashionable this season and innovative mixologists are adding distinctive touches like cardamom-scented bitters and pumpkin-infused rum to their drink menus.

At Shaw's Crab House, for example, the hot buttered rum features a house-made batter of butter, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and allspice mixed with aged Puerto Rican rum.

Warm drinks help stimulate late-night business at bars and restaurants where couples, especially, seem to gravitate toward a comfy couch and glowing fire with a toasty mug in hand.

Thomas Robertson, certified sommelier and beverage instructor at Triton College in River Grove, says he sees the warm cocktail trend building steam at home.

"There's nothing like warming up after dinner with coffee or cocoa with some Baileys or Frangelico," Robertson says. "Or maybe a shot of sambuca and some whipped cream."

He says darker spirits like whiskey and bourbon lend themselves especially well to heated drinks and are the alcoholic component of a hot toddy.

The term "hot toddy" doesn't really refer to a specific recipe, he explains, but rather to a category of warm alcoholic drinks traditionally consumed in the evening and thought to fight cold and flu.

"Every family has its own recipe," Robertson said. "If they're loyal to Jack Daniels, or Jim Beam or Southern Comfort, that's what they make it with."

If your family doesn't have a passed-down-through-the-generations recipe for hot toddies, seek out Powell and Mahoney's Hot Toddy mixer from its line of vintage cocktail mixers. Heat it with some whiskey, rum or brandy for some holiday cheer, or drink if sans the booze infusion.

For winter entertaining, Robertson recommends setting up an international coffee bar where guests can create their own caffeinated concoctions. Offer a carafe of coffee alongside a variety or liqueurs like Baileys Irish Cream, brandy and peppermint or raspberry schnapps. The same setup can work with hot chocolate.

"With so many different choices of liqueur, you spend a little bit of money now and you'll have enough for next year.

"Experiment," Robertson said. "You never know what will become your favorite."

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