Top 5 Cold Weather Cocktails

cocktail-1705561_1920As much as it depresses me to admit it, especially after the two weeks of balmy, summer-like temperatures we just had here in the Hudson Valley, it looks like we’re in for a cold weekend. But don’t disappear into your blanket cocoon just yet, because nothing helps to keep out the chill like a strong, boozy, winter cocktail.

Don’t get me wrong – no one is saying you can’t drink a Manhattan on a 90-degree day, but sweating profusely over a glass of bourbon is as deeply unpleasant as it is a great way to give yourself a headache. Cocktails like the ones I’m about to mention are best enjoyed while sitting by the fireplace after shoveling the driveway or after a long day of cross-country skiing.

Anyway, without further ado, and in no particular order, here are 5 cocktails that are perfect for when it’s too cold to do anything but sit inside and have a drink.

Manhattan
Having been around since the 1800s, the Manhattan is about as classic a cocktail as you can make. There’s a lot of debate about which whiskey and which vermouth make the best Manhattan – some swear by rye whiskey, while others use bourbon for a slightly sweeter cocktail. Then there’s the question of whether it’s wasteful to make a cocktail with top-shelf whiskey. The bottom line is cheap whiskey won’t ruin your Manhattan, but good whiskey will make it that much better.

Ingredients
2 oz. Rye whiskey (Tuthilltown Spirits Manhattan Rye is fantastic)
1 oz. Sweet vermouth (extra points for Carpano Antica Formula)
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Maraschino cherry (optional but highly recommended)

Directions
Combine the rye, vermouth, and bitters in a shaker with ice. Shake or stir well, then strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry. (Variations: swap out the rye whiskey for scotch, and you have a Rob Roy. Use 1/2 oz. sweet and 1/2 oz. dry vermouth and it’s a Perfect Manhattan.) [Recipe from Chowhound.]

Suburban
I stumbled across this cocktail while researching variations on the Manhattan, and by the time I finished drinking my first Suburban, I continued to stumble for the rest of the night. This heavy hitter got me through the brutally cold winter of 2014 and is still one of my favorites.

Ingredients
1 1/2 oz. Rye whiskey
1/2 oz. Dark rum (try it with Albany Distilling Co Quackenbush Stillhouse Rum)
1/2 oz Port
1 dash orange bitters
1 dash Angostura bitters

Directions
Stir all ingredients with ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. (Variations: none. It’s perfect – don’t mess with it.) [Recipe from Esquire.]

Hot Buttered Rum
Hot Buttered Rum might be the quintessential winter cocktail, right after Robitussin in Gatorade and Swiss Miss hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps. While it’s delicious in its classic form, the nice thing about it is that you can replace the rum with pretty much whatever brown spirit you have in your cabinet.

Ingredients (makes 4 servings)
2 cups water
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup dark rum (Myers, Gosling’s, or Appleton Estate work great)

Directions
Combine water, butter, brown sugar, and spices in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the rum. (Variations: replace the rum with bourbon, rye, scotch, brandy, or añejo tequila.) [Recipe from Epicurious.]

Moscow Mule
This spicy cocktail is especially effective at getting the chill out if you use a good, spicy ginger beer, like Reed’s Extra Ginger or Natural Brew Outrageous Ginger Ale.

Ingredients
2 oz. Vodka (Peace Vodka from Catskill Distilling Company is a great option)
1/2 oz. Fresh lime juice
3 oz. Ginger beer
Lime wedge for garnish

Directions
Combine vodka and lime juice in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a mug filled with ice. Top with ginger beer and garnish with a lime slice. [Recipe from The New York Times.]

Lagavulin, neat
While not for everyone, Lagavulin is undoubtedly one of the quickest ways to warm up on a blustery winter night. This cocktail is by far the most challenging on this list to make, so read the directions carefully.

Ingredients
Lagavulin 16 (amount may vary)

Directions
Pour Lagavulin 16 into your favorite glass. Add nothing. Sip slowly. [Recipe from Ron Swanson.]

Is your favorite winter cocktail missing from this list? Let us know in a comment or give us a shout on Facebook or Twitter!

Spirits Review: the Glen Silver’s Special Reserve Blended Scotch Whisky

If you were to ask me, “If you were stranded on a desert island and you could only have one type of alcohol, which would it be?”, I’d probably say, “Tequila.” It’s strong, it’s warm weather-friendly, and as long as it’s 100% agave, it’s not very easy to mess up.

Glensilver

The Tasting Lab, neater than it has been in quite some time.

But hold on a second – that’s not to say that tequila is hands down my favorite spirit. There are just too many to pick from, and to me, the optimal spirit depends on the circumstances. It’s usually assumed that the desert island scenario refers to a tropical island, palm trees and all, and if that island was tropical, then yes, tequila would be my first choice. But if this were an island somewhere a little farther away from the equator, maybe in the Arctic, or even in the middle of one of the Great Lakes, tequila wouldn’t be my first choice. It would definitely have to be scotch. The peaty smokiness, the fiery black pepper tinge, and the light sweetness of scotch make it a perfect cold weather spirit, and on a slightly chilly night like last night, that’s what was on the menu.

I’m usually a fan of the brutally peaty Islay malts, but sometimes I don’t have the cash to splurge on a bottle of Laphroaig or Lagavulin. Sometimes I just want something I can drink a lot of, and not feel bad that I just drank what could have been a week’s worth of groceries. And that’s where the Glen Silver’s Special Reserve comes in. This modestly-priced blend comes in at $15.99 per bottle – even less than some of its bottom-shelf competitors. I have to admit that the low price put me off at first, but I enjoyed the 8- and 12-year scotches from Glen Silver’s, so with confidence, I removed the golden screw cap on this rather nice-looking bottle and went to work. Before I get into the taste, here’s some info on this blended whisky.

Stats

Packaging: 750ml bottle

Alcohol content: 40% (80 proof)

Price: $15.99 + tax

Aging: No age statement.

Appearance

Deep golden brown with slender but extremely slow legs.

Aroma

Sherry oak, light honey, toffee, and peat.

Taste

Neat, this whiskey was somewhat full-bodied with notes of black pepper, tar, hay, and a bit of honey sweetness. Adding a few drops of water mellows it greatly, allowing a subtle nutty taste to come through. The finish is long with lots of oak and a bit of peat. Judging solely from the price tag, I was expecting some of that distinct cheap whisk(e)y taste – that overwhelming peppery bite and vodka-like alcohol aftertaste that you get from ordering a shot of whiskey at a bar, without specifying what kind – but the Glen Silver’s Special Reserve, while not mind-blowingly complex, was smooth and tasty.

Final Thoughts

While the price is suspiciously low, the Glen Silver’s Special Reserve is one of the better blended whiskies I’ve had, including some of the higher-end, bigger-name blends. It’s smooth, but it still has that peppery, smoky edge I look for in a fuller-bodied scotch. I could happily sip a couple of glasses of this on the rocks before (or after) dinner, but since it’s so inexpensive, I wouldn’t feel bad making a Rob Roy or a Rusty Nail out of it. It’s no single malt, but the Glen Silver’s Special Reserve has definitely earned a space in my liquor cabinet.