Cold Comforts

Cold ComfortsCold ComfortsCold Comforts

I n winter, the heart longs for rich, warm, comforting drinks that stick to the ribs. Better still if what sticks also zings on the way down.

Few spirits are as hearty and walloping as a nice bourbon. Leave it to the Union League Cafe (1032 Chapel St, 203-562-4299) to pour on some extra elegance via The Kentucky Pear (pictured third), which pairs Maker’s Mark with Poire Williams, an eau de vie made from iconic, flavorful Bartletts. The cocktail gains extra character from housemade ginger-pepper syrup, freshly squeezed lemon juice and a spear of roasted pear breaching the surface like a soft iceberg.

By the time you get a chance to try the Whipped Eggnog Martini at Wheelers Restaurant & Taproom (180 Amity Rd, Woodbridge, 203-553-9055), it may be award-winning. It’s currently competing in a holiday cocktail contest sponsored by Tanduay Asian Rum, a Philippine label launched in the United States last year, whose own Silver Asian Rum won the title of “Best White Rum” over nearly 1,500 other contenders at San Francisco’s 2014 World Spirits Competition, and whose gold variety is in the ’nog martini. (Outside the U.S., Tanduay—founded in 1854—has long been known as the second-largest rum producer in the world.)

The drink starts with that dark rum, infused by Wheelers with a blend of sugar pumpkin, Hubbard squash and spices, including vanilla. This infusion is either mixed with labor- and time-intensive homemade eggnog—adapted from a family recipe by brotherly owner-managers Rob and Mike LaTronica—or, says Mike, an “almost as good” combination of Hood Eggnog and half-and-half. “We usually save the homemade nog for weekends,” he adds. Poured into a chilled martini glass lined with caramel glaze, the drink is topped with creamy meringue made in a whipped-cream shaker and garnished with a rum-infused cinnamon stick. Tanduay’s contest winner won’t be decided until January 6, but the eggnog martini will be a centerpiece of Wheelers’s New Year’s Eve celebration. Although it’s rich, it’s not overly sweet—and goes down very easy.

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Concoctions that have always pleased inner children are given thoroughly adult spins at 116 Crown (116 Crown St, 203-777-3116). Hot choco-holics will love the bite Campari brings to “Red Hot Chocolate,” which also features Germain-Robin brandy, chocolate drops and fresh milk, while mulled-cider addicts should cherish the nuances of “Blackforest Cider,” a mélange of Laird’s AppleJack, Żubrówka bison grass-infused vodka, cider mulled with rosemary, pink grapefruit juice and a touch of local honey.

Learn some rollicking sea chanteys to accompany Il Grande Mare (“the great sea,” pictured right, first) at Park Street’s brand-new Tarry Lodge (278 Park St, 203-672-0765), the Italian bistro co-owned by celeb chef Mario Batali. The drink begins with Jefferson’s Ocean: Aged at Sea—an extremely small-batch bourbon distilled in Kentucky, then stowed for four years aboard a research vessel “stopping in 5 different continents.” Graced with notes of caramel and salty sea air, it’s blended with spicy Amaro Meletti and the restaurant’s housemade lemon-rosemary syrup, then garnished with a big aromatic rosemary sprig. Earlier this week, Tarry Lodge’s general manager Steve Bayusik was trying to decide whether to make the drink with a less rare bourbon since, once it runs out, there’s no more Jefferson’s Ocean left to buy. Another drink with ocean-faring undertones is the Nuovo Mondo, a.k.a. the “new world” (pictured left, first), inspired by “corpse reviver” cocktails of old. Made with Uncle Val’s botanical gin, Carpano Bianco vermouth, Cointreau and fresh lemon, it’s a bracing way to shock your frozen limbs back to life.

Spanish-Mediterranean restaurant Olea (39 High St, 203-780-8925), another newcomer to the city, makes good use of an under-appreciated winter fruit with its cranberry mojito (pictured second, in front), featuring Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva dark rum and fresh cranberries and limes. Another worthwhile winter special is the tricky New Orleans classic Ramos Fizz (pictured second, behind), which looks as pure as mother’s milk yet, in this incarnation, features sinfully tasty Hendrick’s Scottish Gin—infused with rose and cucumber— along with heavy cream, egg white, orange flower water and, for the fizz, seltzer. Stop by the bar during happy hours (Mon-Sat 4-6pm) and enjoy a “chef’s choice” complimentary tapa with every drink, such as an Empanadilla de Calamar, a Point Judith squid turnover, or a Cojonudo, a teeny eggs Benedict-style treat made with quail egg, piquillo peppers and chorizo sausage.

When the mercury drops, wine drinkers see red. That’s as it should be, says Linda Fitzpatrick, proprietor of Cave à Vin (975 State St, 203-777-6206), who touts the “Holiday Spiced Wine” from the venerable Brotherhood Winery in Washingtonville, NY. A sweet red steeped with cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, here it’s served hot and sassy with a cinnamon stick and orange slice and is available for $5 during the wine bar’s daily happy hours (4-7pm). Oenophiles who insist their reds be room temperature might prefer the Primus cabernet sauvignon 2011 from Colchaqua, Chile—blending flavors of licorice, pepper, black currant and blueberry—or a Peter Lehman shiraz from Australia’s Barossa Valley. Putting a twist on the phrase “mixed drink,” the adventurous can try all three together in a flight of 2-ounce tastes.

Whether your heart longs for spirits, wines or both, it’s winter, and New Haven’s mixed-drink fire is stoked and crackling.

Written by Patricia Grandjean. Photographed by Dan Mims.

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A former senior editor at Connecticut Magazine, Pat Grandjean is a cultural omnivore who loves everything from Beck and “Doc Martin” to Shakespeare and Quentin Tarantino. She currently spends much of her free time volunteering at the New Haven Animal Shelter and cleaning apartment closets.

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