Hot Spiced Wine at Cave à Vin, New Haven, CT

Warm and Fuzzy

It isn’t officially winter yet, but it should still feel more like winter than it does. Even Saturday’s snowfall was followed by a melty, muggy day.

Fortunately, local watering holes have proceeded on schedule, with cocktails that conjure the season even if the season is taking its time.

Classic winter flavors—spiced, sweet, toasty, rich—are here, albeit with unique takes. Olives and Oil is serving up a Tuscan Toddy Punch ($10) that calls for a roaring fire and some Dickens. Featuring chamomile-infused rye and hot lemon ginger tea steeped with Lazzaroni Amaro, a minty, herbal liqueur, the bitter depths were lightened with winter citrus—lemon and orange—and dashed with nutmeg. It’s a smooth, sophisticated drink made a little more playful by the nostalgic, twilight taste of the chamomile.

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Peace on Earth - 2017 Christmas crèche exhibit at the Knights of Columbus Museum

At Zafra, the Ron Zacapa Hot Buttered Rum ($8) begins with a swirl of honey in the glass and a generous serving of butter infused with the usual suspects: nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon. The golden brew is festive without being frou frou, and the spice and luxurious melted butter plays up the lovely, assertive flavors of the titular rum, a Guatemalan blend with notes of cocoa, honey and coffee.

Another, more maximalist take on rum is at Barracuda: the Puerto Rican Christmas ($10), a drink inspired by coquito, the island’s coconut-centric take on eggnog. Served cold, it’s a snowy white cocktail with flecks of holiday spice. Also reminiscent of horchata, it blends coconut milk, condensed milk and coconut cream into a silky base for white and coconut rums.

Just up the block, Heirloom has the most showstopping display of the lot with the Smoking Humidor ($14), a tequila drink inspired by barbecue that’s been on the menu since summer but has a wintry star. Jalapeño tequila, pineapple and lime juices, coconut cream and mint set the stage for a hunk of cherrywood, charred with a torch until it glows red and begins to smoke. An overturned glass captures the plumes and then the cocktail is poured, displacing fumes like a witch’s cauldron. The first sip is tart, smooth and tropical. Then comes the long draw of spice from the jalapeño, which is both mellowed and complicated by the blizzard-friendly smoke.

If you like your tequila with fewer bells and whistles, Geronimo’s Maple Julep ($13) also brings it north with a simple recipe of maple cane syrup, lemon and a long pour of Corralejo Añejo. Garnished with mint leaves and plenty of ice, it’s a good drink for people who grudgingly take their winter clothes out of storage at the last minute.

Meanwhile, two drinks in East Rock embrace the holiday spirit without a trace of hesitation. Festive enough to summon the ghost of Bing Crosby, Cave à Vin’s Hot Spiced Wine ($8) is jammy and unapologetically sweet, served piping hot and garnished with a thick orange wedge and an earthy cinnamon stick.

Just down the street, Oak Haven is offering up a Spiked Coffee ($8), described as the “boozy bastard child of hot chocolate and Irish coffee.” Strong, hot coffee meets crème de cacao, xocolatl bitters and bourbon cream. The chocolate and coffee play well together, of course, and the heavy dose of sugar and caffeine lifts up a weary winter drinker. Garnished with fresh whipped cream and a candied black cherry, it could make a good morning out of a long winter’s night.

Whenever one of those arrives.

Written and photographed by Sorrel Wesbtrook.

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