Wine Enthusiast Podcast: Don’t Overthink Hot Cocktails

Illustration of two people sitting by a tent and camp fire outside in the snow enjoying what appears to be steaming hot drinks.
Illustration by Rachel Joan Wallis

While the idea of a warm alcoholic beverage might be generally unappealing to some, there are classics, like the hot toddy or mulled wine, that have stood the test of time and proven themselves to be very necessary wintertime staples.

In this episode, we’re trying to shake off the remaining days of winter by warming up with a tasty hot drink.

Senior Digital Editor Dylan Garrett, who happens to be a former bartender, and Spirits Editor Kara Newman have a very real, very candid conversation about the powers—and pitfalls—of this unique category of beverage enjoyment. This lively exchange covers the fun, the fandom, the failures, the fantasies and just about everything else in between when it comes to hot drinks.

To fortify yourself through these last weeks of winter, be sure to check out these 11 hot cocktails for cold winter days, 8 warm whiskey cocktails, or consider where you stand on the hot buttered rum debate by checking out the recipe here.

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Episode Transcript

Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting.

Speakers: Lauren Buzzeo, Dylan Garret, Kara Newman

Lauren Buzzeo 0:08
Hello and welcome to the Wine Enthusiast Podcast, your serving of drinks culture and the people who drive it. I’m Lauren Buzzeo, the executive editor at Wine Enthusiast, and in this episode, we’re trying to shake off the remaining days of winter by warming up with a hot drink. While the idea of a warm alcoholic beverage might be generally unappealing to some, there are classics like the hot toddy or mulled wine that have stood the test of time and proven themselves to be very necessary wintertime staples. Senior Digital Editor Dylan Garrett, who also happens to be a former bartender, and Spirits Editor Kara Newman have a very real, very candid conversation about the powers and pitfalls of this unique category of beverage enjoyment. So grab a mug of your go-to warming pour and listen up to this lively exchange about the fun, the fandom, the failures, the fantasies and just about everything else in between when it comes to hot drinks.

Dylan Garrett 1:12
Hey, I’m Dylan Garret, senior editor with Wine Enthusiast and the guy who won’t stop referencing how he used to be a bartender, and I’m here today with our Spirits Editor Kara Newman, drinks expert, author of numerous cocktail books, and generally all around humble and engaging human being. How are you doing on this fantastically freezing 18-degree day in New York City, Kara?

Kara Newman 1:31
I’m doing fine, Dylan, how are you?

Dylan Garrett 1:32
Oh, that is a very nice way of putting it because I am freezing. Which is weird, because we just had like two gorgeous 52-degree days. And then I woke up today to snow outside. And yeah, I’m assuming you had something similar.

Kara Newman 1:45
It’s still February in New York and, you know, it is what it is?

Dylan Garrett 1:49
Yeah, basically. That’s it. That’s a good, good take on it. But hey, brings us to our topic of the day, which is one that I’m sure is on plenty of people’s minds in the middle of February: hot cocktails.

Kara Newman 2:01
One of my favorites, especially this time of year.

Dylan Garrett 2:04
I’m sure you’ve had plenty in the last few months.

Kara Newman 2:07
Absolutely. I mean, now that I’m actually stepping out and actually going to places here and there again—I’m still a little skittish about indoor dining and I’m really enjoying outdoor dining. And hot cocktails are very much my speed right now.

Dylan Garrett 2:25
It’s it’s almost even more so for the hands and the fingers than the actual drinking of them. I just want to cradle them until I’ve sucked all the warmth out into my slowly thawing limbs. So I mean, what’s your go-to been so far this season or in general?

Kara Newman 2:43
Well in, in general, I mean, it’s the old school hot toddy, of course. I mean, the first time I ever had hot toddy, I remember I was in Ireland on vacation with my husband. And I remember I came down with this absolutely spectacular head cold. Oh, it was just awful. And the only thing I could think of to make myself feel better was to go to a pub and have a hot toddy. And I don’t know if that it actually worked, but it made me care a whole lot less.

Dylan Garrett 3:17
Yeah, it’s definitely one of those things where I don’t know if there’s actually any science behind it making you healthier or curing—actually, I’m pretty sure there is no science behind that. I’m pretty sure it works the opposite way. But it feels better. And that’s the important thing.

Kara Newman 3:31
Exactly. We feel better in the moment. I mean, especially if you’re not talking about something that’s serious. I mean, a head cold feels like child’s play compared to you know, a global pandemic.

Dylan Garrett 3:42
Yeah, absolutely. Do you remember what type of whiskey you had in Ireland?

Kara Newman 3:47
It was definitely Irish whiskey. It was possibly Powers, but this was quite a while ago. I do remember that iconic, I guess, the Irish Coffee glass. I remember wrapping my hands around it and a lemon slice on top and just feeling overall just better in the moment for sure.

Dylan Garrett 4:09
I think the first time you and I ever did a podcast together was years ago and you asked my desert island whiskey and it was Powers Gold Label. So hey, means a lot means a lot to this salty old bartender. See, the hot toddy itself, I mean, I love a good hot toddy this time of year especially lately, like you said with the outdoor dining and just spending so much time walking around the city and getting like the wafting smells from the bars around. When it comes to any kind of like hot or mulled cider. I’m like an old cartoon character smelling a pie on a windowsill. I will just like float in the air towards it. And it’s that same like big like cast iron or fake cast iron black crock pot that every bar has. It just has like cider stewing in it. My local tried to switch to a mulled wine and I just shamed them until they went back to the hot cider, which was my personal go-to.

Kara Newman 5:02
That’s awesome.

Dylan Garrett 5:03
I guess that actually takes us to the spirits themselves. Do you are you generally default to a whiskey base when having a hot drink? Or do you just kind of mix it up depending on the type of drink and what you’re in the mood for?

Kara Newman 5:17
I think it depends on the drink and what I’m in the mood for. I’ve been doing definitely lighter style whiskies. You know, an Irish whiskey, a blended whiskey. I’ve been doing rum in sort of hot toddy style. And then I recently discovered in Julia Momose new book, the Japanese-inspired cocktail book, and she has a great drink called the Hotto Campari. Basically it’s a hot toddy with Campari and I was just so taken with it. That’s been my go to in the past couple of months.

Dylan Garrett 5:54
I don’t think I’ve ever actually had anything with hot Campari in it. And I don’t know whether I’m—no, it’s got to be delicious. It was delicious, right?

Kara Newman 6:01
It was, it’s really good. I don’t know why we don’t drink more hot amaro. It’s just, it’s delightful.

Dylan Garrett 6:08
Yeah, I’ve been, as opposed to the default whiskey, I’ve actually been switching up—I mean, if it’s just like, there’s a crock pot of something warm, and it’s like a choose-your-own-spirit thing at a bar, I’ve just been leaning more into rum for it lately. I just think it heats up better and it doesn’t overwhelm the drink. And it doesn’t feel like a—I feel like a lot of like whiskey-spiked drinks. It just tastes like whiskey tacked on to the drink, whereas like rum, especially because most of it has a lot of sugar and ciders and, you know, honey-based toddies and whatnot. I’m just really enjoying messing around with different types of rum as opposed to my old whiskey standards.

Kara Newman 6:44
Are you a hot buttered rum guy? Yes or no?

Dylan Garrett 6:46
No, no. And let me tell you Kara, one of the recipes that I wrote for Wine Enthusiast was just like a super simple classic hot buttered rum recipe. It’s currently like one of the most popular recipes on the Wine Enthusiast magazine website. And I don’t know how to tell people, I hate hot buttered rums. Like, I’ll write the recipe for it and, I think, I’m hoping it came out well, because people seem to enjoy it. But occasionally I’ll get like a reader question about like, is this supposed to taste great? I’m like, I don’t know. I think it tastes horrible in general, but best to you. There’s something about the texture and the mouthfeel of it. It’s just not personally for me. How about you?

Kara Newman 7:26
No, no, same. Yes. It’s sort of like slimy, sloppy, unappetizing.

Dylan Garrett 7:32
Exactly. I also hate mayonnaise for the same reason. And now I’ve officially tied together hot buttered rum and mayonnaise in people’s minds. So we should probably just walk away

Kara Newman 7:42
Somewhere some subversive bartenders creating like a hot mayonnaised rum recipe somewhere. You know it.

Dylan Garrett 7:51
I’m sure it’s happening. Yeah.

Kara Newman 7:53
This might be the foulest thing I’ve ever talked about on this podcast.

Dylan Garrett 7:58
Well, okay, so speaking of foul things, let’s get weird. What’s—because you mentioned like Campari, which I’m thrown for a loop, but I can imagine it working—what is the one… Actually, okay, so two part question. Let’s say, what cocktails do you wish someone would attempt to make a hot variation of? And what do you think is the most disgusting cocktail that someone can make a hot variation of?

Kara Newman 8:27
Oh, God. Um…

Dylan Garrett 8:29
I’ll actually start and say I did one about two years ago, just like a one-off recipe for the Wine Enthusiast site that was a hot eggnog and our executive editor Lauren Buzzeo still makes a gagging noise whenever anyone brings it up. She refuses to try. I’m of the opinion it’s basically like a crème Anglaise. It’s like drinking a custard. It’s beautiful, but just like the sheer thought of it is not working for some people.

Kara Newman 8:58
I mean, I think that the Hotto Campari was to me like this mashup of a hot negroni and a hot toddy that worked. I can’t imagine. I mean, I’m hesitating because I was going to say something like a gin and tonic, but I’m wondering about how hot juniper would would turn out. Would that be lovely or would that be just, you know, would it blunt everything that’s lovely about gin?

Dylan Garrett 9:28
That’s actually a really good question, because I feel like you don’t get a lot of citrus in hot drinks. And I’m like a big citrus, acid forward person. You don’t really get like, sour hot drinks much. Maybe we should mess around and try something with that.

Kara Newman 9:40
Do it. You’re up for the challenge. I know you are.

Dylan Garrett 9:43
So the one that I actually used to make this at one of my bars and it’s not my recipe. I stole it from I want to say it was like a promotional Hendrick’s Gin cocktail book. And to me hot gin just sounds, again gut reaction, like the most disgusting thing I could ever think of trying to make something out of so challenge accepted. And I still make this in winter sometimes. It’s like my little like ace in the hole drink. But you take gin, infuse a couple of sprigs of thyme in it for even just like 10 or 15 minutes, and then green Chartreuse. And then this is the tacky, making tips bartender trick is you light the Chartreuse on fire, you put them into two separate mugs, and you do the, you know, the blue blazer move, the pouring the flame from one glass to another thing? And it actually comes out, despite the fact that it’s like all show and I’ve burnt myself more times than I can count. Once you like drink this thing, it’s something about the like the burning off the alcohol and the Green Chartreuse and you get that huge perfume of like the 11 secret herbs and spices. No wait, that’s KFC, whatever, all the Chartreuse herbs and spices in your nose and the hot gin and like you feel like you could walk through a blizzard after having one of these things and the snow would just melt around you. It’s beautiful.

Kara Newman 11:00
That sounds amazing. I mean, now you have me thinking. I mean, basically what is tea? You know, it’s hot tea leaves and botanicals and spices. And what’s gin? It’s botanicals and spices and etc. So yeah.

Dylan Garrett 11:13
I mean, basically the tasting notes on a box of tea are the same as the ones you find on a bottle of gin.

Kara Newman 11:19
Maybe we’re onto something. I don’t know.

Dylan Garrett 11:21
Okay, so well, we’ll collab after this and come up with our new brand.

Kara Newman 11:26
I have had an amazing Chartreuse and hot chocolate combo.

Dylan Garrett 11:30
Ooh, that sounds delicious.

Kara Newman 11:31
So good. So good. I can’t remember who was also making them with Chartreuse marshmallows. And that was just divine.

Dylan Garrett 11:41
I mean, Chartreuse is just like a beautiful thing. Well, if you’re like a showboaty bar type of person, it lights on fire really easily. But also, yeah, I mean…

Kara Newman 11:52
I’m sensing a trend here, you’re setting things on fire.

Dylan Garrett 11:54
I, you know, look, it’s tacky, but it really does a lot to get you that extra dollar tip in a professional, commercial bar-type setting.

Kara Newman 12:05
The podcast medium here is so wasted. This should be a visual. You know, we should be watching Dylan setting things on fire.

Dylan Garrett 12:11
Oh, I have a lot of very terrible cell phone videos of me making that drink. I will send some to you on the side. Maybe we can stick one in the transcription notes of this if it wouldn’t violate some health code somewhere. I mean, I’ve never done that.

Kara Newman 12:25
Show notes.

Dylan Garrett 12:26
So yeah, I mean, we’re talking about all these ingredients that surprisingly work well, when he did. Is there just a drink that you would never want anyone to attempt to make a hot version of?

Kara Newman 12:38
I mean, nothing I can think of offhand. I mean, I feel like everything’s just been tried in one form or another. I mean, if the hot buttered rum can’t be rescued, then, I mean, I don’t know what can.

Dylan Garrett 12:55
Yeah, this is came up before we hopped on this call today. I was talking with Emily Saladino, our associate managing editor, about basically the same question when we were just riffing ideas. She said martini and I don’t know if it was a joke, and she was trying to get a rise out of me or if she really wants to try a hot Martini. We’re going to have to go back and revisit that. I just know you’ve been drinking a lot of martinis this year.

Kara Newman 13:17
I have, I have. By the way, I think Emily now needs to accept that challenge. I think that’s a gauntlet thrown.

Dylan Garrett 13:24
I think she needs to be the one to write this. She can’t outsource this. She has to make this drink and we have to be able to witness her actually drinking it. I want the Zoom chat to freeze the moment, whatever face she makes when she sips it for the first time. So when she hears this, she knows.

Kara Newman 13:44
Absolutely. Yeah, no, I mean, I guess this winter, I’ve definitely gone in the other direction. I’ve been drinking way too many martinis. That’s been my go to for everything. I don’t know why. Maybe I’m just not ready for the fancier, more interesting drinks. I’m just hitting this austere period where all I want is a martini.

Dylan Garrett 14:04
Yeah, it’s cocktail comfort food basically, right?

Kara Newman 14:08
That’s a good way of putting it. That’s exactly what it is.

Dylan Garrett 14:10
So I mean, we’ve talked about how different types of spirits work and Chartreuse and rum and whiskey. Are there any other ingredients you’d like to kind of default into throwing into your own hot cocktail concoctions at home that, you know, maybe could give a try?

Kara Newman 14:24
Well, actually one of the most interesting hot drinks I had recently, there’s a new setup over at Amor y Amargo. They set up like a ski chalet style set of outdoor cabanas, and they’re serving hot amaro drinks. And I feel like this is what’s been missing from my home bar, you know, hot amaro drinks. And I said to Sother Teague who runs Amor y Amargo, you know, I said, “What is all this about? You know why has it never happened in my life before?” He said, “Well, I’m from the south and we have hot Dr. Pepper all the time.”

Dylan Garrett 15:02
It is delicious. It is delicious.

Kara Newman 15:05
Yeah? He said this is the same thing, you know? It’s just like alcoholic hot Dr. Pepper.

Dylan Garret 15:10
Actually, I’m trying to think, what is the base flavor of Dr. Pepper actually supposed to be? Is it plum or something?

Kara Newman 15:16
Oh, I have no idea. I thought of allspice, but I think that’s more like cola.

Dylan Garrett 15:21
There’s some kind of like fruit that I remember the first time someone was like, “That was the original base of Dr. Pepper.” I was like oh really? Maybe it was prunes or something?

Kara Newman 15:28
I like they’re trying to parse out Dr. Pepper tasting notes. Do Mountain Dew next!

Dylan Garrett 15:35
We’ve covered spirits so much at this point. Anyway, I get more of a thrill from trying to break down—what is Mountain Dew? Where’s the dew from? What’s the terroir of that?

Kara Newman 15:45
This is so wrong.

Dylan Garrett 15:47
I know we could we could actually just start a whole new podcast. Dylan and Kara break down various proprietary brands sodas.

Kara Newman 15:55
Followed by potato chips of course.

Dylan Garrett 15:57
Oh god. I mean, see now this is what—we’ll save this for a pitch meeting later. I mean, my go-to is I just always have I’ve just been actually cooking jalapeno slices in my hot chocolate at home a lot lately. And then whatever spirit I stick on top of that.

Kara Newman 16:13
Woah.

Dylan Garrett 16:14
I’m just keeping like a base jalapeno tincture, which is literally just me taking like stems and all the stuff from when I’m cooking and I throw it in a bottle with some, well, Rivers actually was the last one. But any kind of high-proof spirit and then just throw a couple dashes into my hot chocolate. Because it’s like you get the warm but I feel like especially in this weather the second you actually pour the drink into a mug you have like a countdown timer of like five and a half minutes before it gets to like room temperature and then freezes—at least if you have a landlord who’s as cheap with the heat as mine. Add like a little bit of habanero in there I feel like I at least get like the mouth warming thing that extends the hot drink shelf life.

Kara Newman 16:53
That’s so interesting. You don’t think it gets too hot? Like it doesn’t extend out and get hotter and hotter.

Dylan Garrett 17:00
Oh, it absolutely does. It hurts after a while. That’s the draw, I guess, sometimes. But I was actually at a friend’s apartment just prior to the holidays last year and he had made a, I want to say it was mulled… It was a non alcoholic mulled punch and then he had had a few bottles next to it. But it was grapefruit, elderflower syrup and cranberries, like actual cranberries, but hot grapefruit juice. And it was like one of the most delightful things I’ve ever had as far as like a hot beverage goes. It kind of made me actually think of like—oh, and pomegranate was in there, too. It was almost like a nonalcoholic mulled wine, if that makes sense.

Kara Newman 17:51
Hmm, that sounds interesting.

Dylan Garrett 17:53
So hot cranberry. That one kind of threw me for a loop.

Kara Newman 17:57
That’s could be really nice. It’d be really pretty too. I was kind of thinking about something else. So we started talking about hot martinis, my mind automatically went to, you know, should it be the olive or the lemon? And wouldn’t it be interesting if somebody engineered a series of hot cocktails that are also maybe a little bit on the savory side and were designed to hold like little appetizers and keep them warm. Like little tater tots on top of I don’t know, a hot potato vodka martini.

Dylan Garrett 18:30
Okay, anything would tater tots and you already, I’m right there with you. You’re almost kind of like, it’s like flipping like the Bloody Mary and brunch summertime script to like a hot drink. That’s also just a vehicle for snacks.

Kara Newman 18:42
Interesting. Yes. Yes. Like that, like that only hot. It’ll actually keep your garnish hot.

Dylan Garrett 18:50
Are there really any like savory, like properly savory hot drinks that are like in the hot drink cannon?

Kara Newman 18:58
I can’t think of any but I’m sure there must be. I mean, there’s so many tea drinks. I mean, you can always engineer a tea, you know? I don’t know. What’s the Dirty Martini equivalent?

Dylan Garrett 19:11
I just can’t think of anything that’s—

Kara Newman 19:13
It’s soup. You’re doing broth-tails.

Dylan Garrett 19:19
It reminds me about one thing I did have once so many years ago. And I actually think that it was in the print version of our magazine back in like 2016 or something. But it was a chicken soup hot toddy. So it was basically and it was a gin base, I want to say, so it was gin, hot chicken broth, and just a bunch of other little spices and whatnot in there. And that was delicious. It was like the same like kind of like a placebo hot toddy effect of like, well, we all know that hot toddies don’t actually cure you, but this one is also a chicken soup so it’s got to be legit.

Kara Newman 19:53
Oh, you have to see that recent Campbell’s Soup broth cocktails. I don’t know if it was exactly a scandal. Let’s call it that good mini scandal. They were trying to, you know, make fetch happen, you know, trying to make Campbell’s broth cocktails happen and everyone in Canada, I think that’s where it was in Canada, sort of collectively rolled their eyes and said, “We’re not doing this.” But it was actually not that far a cry from, you know, that chicken soup cocktail, or I think I saw someone taking tom yum soup and making that into a cocktail.

Dylan Garrett 20:21
Okay, that sounds kind of delicious. And one of my top five soups. One of my top three soups. It might be my top soup, Kara.

Kara Newman 20:29
I like that you have top soups.

Dylan Garrett 20:31
I mean, come on. If you’re not spending your time during, you know, the past two years of lockdown, like meticulously ranking your soups. I mean, obviously, you’re doing more productive things than me. Anyway. So that actually makes me think if there was a twist on like a hot Bloody Mary, would it basically just be like, Campbell’s tomato soup, plus horseradish and lemon?

Kara Newman 20:54
With a tater tot garnish.

Dylan Garrett 20:55
With the tater tot garnish. Full circle.

Kara Newman 20:58
You know what, Dylan? I think we have somehow managed to create some sort of record for the most unappetizing list of drinks ever mentioned on this podcast, and I’m leaning into it.

Dylan Garrett 21:09
No, I love this. I don’t know whether we’re inspiring people or if everyone tuned out around the seven minute mark and was like, “Yep, nope. We’ll see what they’re doing two weeks from now.”

Kara Newman 21:19
Okay, we’re having fun.

Dylan Garrett 21:21
But yeah, I don’t know anything else come to mind as far as just stuff you’ve had? I mean, I really definitely want to stop by Sother Teague’s place and try the hot amaro bar because that just sounds amazing. Also, I don’t actually know how to ski, but every year I tell myself, I’m going to learn, but I think I actually just really want to go and do the apres ski, whatever, drinking by a hot fire in a cabin at the end of it.

Kara Newman 21:45
There is nothing wrong with that.

Dylan Garrett 21:47
Yeah. But unfortunately, since that’s been a little like out of the realm the last couple of years I’m like so then I would actually just have to take up skiing for skiing sake. And that sounds horrifying and a great way to hurt myself. So if I can get a little bit of the hot drink thing at a bar in New York City without having to learn a new skill, that would be fantastic.

Kara Newman 22:06
You can always snowshoe across if you’re so inclined.

Dylan Garrett 22:09
I mean, honestly, after that blizzard a couple of weeks ago, it was pretty close. But yeah, I don’t know. Any other parting drinks come to mind?

Kara Newman 22:19
Oh, let’s see nothing in particular. We talked about hot toddies and we talked about Chartreuse and hot chocolate and the hot buttered rum. I mean, there are just so many good options out there.

Dylan Garrett 22:31
So when in doubt, if you want to try something, I mean, hot beer was trending I want to say like a year and a half ago on the internet. That was another one that I tried and we wrote a recipe for and I’m not fully sold on it myself, but I appreciate the effort.

Kara Newman 22:44
That sounds like something you see on TikTok.

Dylan Garrett 22:46
Right? Was it on TikTok? I don’t TikTok personally, so I don’t know what the good drinks are, what the good TikTok trending drinks are. I’m already, by saying the word TikTok three times in that sentence, I feel like I just aged 10 years and I don’t really know where I’m going with this.

Kara Newman 23:02
I though you were going to say that you just invoked someone, you know? Like you just did the like the horror movie equivalent of invoking the TikTok drink tok demons.

Dylan Garrett 23:12
Yeah, I’ll just spin around in the bathroom mirror three times been an influencer will pop up behind me and judge me for being too out of touch. But anyway, so yeah, thank you so much for joining Kara. This was fantastic. And you’ve definitely given me a few things I want to try and I think we both gave each other a few drinks that neither of us ever want to try.

Kara Newman 23:35
It’s been fun. It’s been real.

Dylan Garrett 23:37
Alright, well, thank you again so much, and stay warm out there.

Kara Newman 23:41
You too.

Lauren Buzzeo 23:45
While hot nog might not be my jam, I definitely understand the appeal of it all and continue to be on board with select warm drinks to fortify me inside out during the coldest of days. Dylan and Kara had a ton of great ideas to explore, too. And, like a mug of citrusy, earthy tea, I for one really look forward to trying the hot gin and tonic when that recipe is tested and vetted. But in the meantime, be sure to check out winemag.com for all your other go-to hot drink needs, like our classic hot toddy, the polarizing hot buttered rum, mulled cider, and more. Subscribe to the Wine Enthusiast Podcast on Apple podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you find your podcasts. And if you’d like today’s episode, we’d love to read your review and hear what you think. And hey, why not tell your drink loving friends to check us out too? You can also drop us a line at podcast@winemag.com. For more wine reviews, recipes guides, deep dives and stories, visit Wine Enthusiast online at winemag.com and connect with us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @WineEnthusiast. The Wine Enthusiast Podcast is produced by Lauren Buzzeo and Jenny Groza. Until next episode, cheers.

Published on February 16, 2022
Topics: Podcast